From constant stomach pain to bloating, waves of nausea, watery stools and backed-up bowels, signs of digestive distress are more common than you might think. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, nearly 70 million people in the United States experience some form of digestive dysfunction.
When it comes to finding relief from the pain of gastrointestinal distress, people can turn to probiotics and prebiotics. “While probiotics and prebiotics are tools that play a role in optimizing gut health, they are not the only tools that are important for improving the balance of the gut community,” says JeJe Noval, Ph.D., MS, RDN , one. registered integrative and functional dietitian specializing in digestive and hormone health. A healthy gut also requires a balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of the following vitamins and minerals.
As the second most abundant trace mineral in the human body, zinc has multiple functions. While it’s known for its role in immunity, wound healing, growth and development, zinc is also essential for gut health, according to a 2022 study published in Biomolecules. In fact, “zinc plays a crucial role in maintaining proper gastrointestinal health by helping to produce the stomach acid needed for effective digestion,” says Sara Korzeniewski, RD, FDN-P, a registered dietitian, functional physician, trainer transformational and CEO. of the Organic Dietitian. She adds that zinc and sodium are necessary for optimal levels of stomach acid to effectively perform this function.
But the benefits for growing your gut don’t stop there. Noval adds that “zinc may also help restore the tightness of the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract.” This means that zinc “is necessary for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal lining, preventing leaky gut syndrome and food intolerance,” explains Korzeniewski. “Some good sources of zinc are milk, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds,” says Noval. But “the best dietary sources of absorbable zinc include oysters, red meat and poultry,” Korzeniewski points out.
Magnesium is an incredible mineral that keeps the bowel moving and functioning smoothly. More specifically, it “helps to relax the intestinal muscles, which further aids in the smooth movement of food through the digestive tract and prevents constipation. Inadequate magnesium intake can lead to GI problems such as constipation, bloating and abdominal pain. Therefore, it is essential to include magnesium-rich foods in one’s diet as tolerated, such as spinach, avocados, anchovies and dark chocolate,” says Korzeniewski.
Although selenium is primarily known for its role in thyroid hormone metabolism, it is also a key mineral in digestive health. “Selenium plays a critical role in maintaining healthy digestion by supporting pancreatic homeostasis, which regulates the production of digestive juices. This essential mineral also helps prevent inflammation and oxidative damage that can negatively impact gastrointestinal health,” explains Korzeniewski.
Noval chimes in, saying, “Selenium may also help balance the gut community.” According to a 2021 study published in Limits in nutrition, a diet containing sufficient selenium can improve intestinal microflora and protect against intestinal dysfunction. To make sure you’re getting enough of this vital mineral, “top food sources of selenium include corn, garlic, goat’s and cow’s milk, Brazil nuts (depending on soil content), beef, pork chops, chicken breast , seafood and eggs, says Korzeniewski.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D does more than keep your bones in shape. says Korzeniewski Eat well, “Vitamin D is an essential nutrient essential in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal tract. The active form of vitamin D helps regulate the function of the immune system, including the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), which is critical to the gut’s immune response. As such, “vitamin D deficiency can adversely affect the gut, including impaired immune function and increased inflammation,” adds Korzeniewski. Along with adequate sun exposure, she says the best dietary sources include foods like oily fish, pastured egg yolks, pastured butter, grass-fed beef, liver and organ meats, among others. others.
5. Vitamin A
Your eyes aren’t the only organs that benefit from getting enough vitamin A. Like zinc, vitamin A is an important nutrient that “helps grow, repair, and maintain the lining of the gut, which acts as a barrier against harmful toxins and pathogens,” says Korzeniewski. “Vitamin A also improves the immune system by increasing the production of immune cells that keep the gut healthy,” adds Korzeniewski.
On the other hand, a deficiency in vitamin A “can worsen the gut community,” notes Noval. A review of 2022 published in Nutrients mentions that vitamin A deficiency can significantly alter the diversity of gut microbiota, reducing beneficial bacteria and increasing harmful bacteria. Fortunately, vitamin A is found in optimal form in foods such as eggs, fish, liver and fortified foods. Plant foods like leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash contain beta carotene, which your body can convert to vitamin A (although the rate of its conversion depends on genetic factors, according to a 2022 review in Limits in nutrition).
6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is known for its immune-supporting benefits. But your gut also relies on vitamin C to function at its best. Most importantly, “Vitamin C plays a crucial role in gastrointestinal health by acting as an antioxidant and aiding in the absorption of nutrients. It also helps synthesize collagen, which promotes gut health,” Korzeniewski points out. You can get all the vitamin C you need in a day by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The best sources include kiwi , guavas, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli and of course oranges.
7. B vitamins
Of the eight B vitamins, some stand out for their ability to support gut health. “For example, vitamin B1 is necessary for the digestive system to function properly, while vitamin B6 contributes to the synthesis of neurotransmitters that regulate bowel movements. Other B vitamins, such as B9 and B12, are critical for the formation of healthy intestinal cells and the prevention of digestive disorders,” says Korzeniewski.
Additionally, “Certain B vitamins affect the proliferation of certain bacteria in the gut community,” says Noval. For example, a 2021 review published in Nutrition research emphasizes that High intake of vitamin B2 is associated with an increase in Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and gut-healing properties. Fortunately, you can find B vitamins in a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, nuts, mushrooms, leafy greens, avocados, eggs, fish, meat, and milk.
Other factors affecting gut health
Although the gut needs adequate amounts of the nutrients mentioned above, additional aspects of gastrointestinal health are often overlooked. “Intestinal healing is a complex and multifaceted process involving many factors. This includes dietary changes and other lifestyle modifications, such as improving sleep quality, reducing environmental toxins, and regulating the nervous system,” says Korzeniewski.
In addition, both nutritionists agree that addressing stress and unresolved trauma can greatly transform your gut health. “Our bodies are incredibly resilient and well-equipped to maintain strong health, but our resilience is reduced when we experience psychological stress, trauma, and other negative events. Therefore, addressing these underlying factors that contribute to gut problems is essential to healing the gut and effectively optimizing gut health,” says Korzeniewski. “As such, embracing joy, passion, and other positive aspects of life can significantly improves overall gut health and function A holistic approach to improving gut health will yield better long-term results than probiotics and prebiotics [alone]”, adds Korzeniewski.
One way to improve gut health is to ensure a nutrient-dense diet rich in zinc, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins A, D, B, and C. Each of these micronutrients plays a critical role in maintaining the lining of the gut. , reducing intestinal inflammation. keeping digestive juices flowing and helping the bowels function smoothly. But beyond the dietary aspects of gut health, it can also be helpful to assess your sleep quality and toxin exposure, as well as address any underlying stress. “Finally, it’s important to note that gut healing is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and what works for one individual may not work for another,” says Korzeniewski. Therefore, you may find it helpful to work with a registered dietitian who can guide you through your unique gut healing journey.