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Slideshow: 8 digestive health supplements

Probiotics: Friendly bacteria?

Probiotics are live micro-organisms promoted as being beneficial for your digestive system. These so-called “friendly bacteria” are the same, or similar, to those found naturally in the body. Probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut, or as supplements in powdered, capsule or tablet form. The theory is that probiotics help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut – but clinical evidence to support this is limited and more research is needed. There is evidence to support the use of probiotics for antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. Some research suggests they may also be helpful treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and in lactose intolerance.

Liquorice: Cooling heartburn

Deglycyrrhizinated liquorice (DGL) is often claimed to soothe inflammation of the stomach lining and digestive tract and credited with helping symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux, but this is not supported by scientific evidence. Liquorice may cause irregular heart rhythm, high blood pressure and occasionally other heart rhythm abnormalities in some people. There’s no need to stop enjoying liquorice sweets, but if you suffer from heart problems and eat a lot of liquorice it's probably best to let your doctor know. Liquorice root is registered with the UK medicines regulator, MHRA, as a traditional remedy for coughs.

Peppermint oil: Easing IBS

Some peppermint oil products are registered with the UK medicines regulator, the MHRA, as a traditional remedy for indigestion, stomach cramps and wind. There is good evidence that peppermint oil is an effective treatment for some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and is particularly useful in relieving bowel muscle spasms. Peppermint oil can cause symptoms of heartburn or indigestion, which is why it’s more common to take capsules, which release peppermint oil in the intestine where it is needed. Peppermint oil can raise blood levels of the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin, so check with your GP first before taking peppermint oil capsules.

Camomile: Calming upset tummy and more

Camomile tea or tisanes are a popular alternative to green or black teas. Animal studies have shown that natural substances in camomile have a protective effect on the liver and may have natural sedative and anti-inflammatory actions, but more research is needed into its use for this in humans. There is evidence to support the anti-anxiety effect of camomile extracts in some individuals. Always talk to your GP before trying any natural remedy. Also it’s possible for some people with an allergy to melon or tomatoes to have a sensitivity to camomile as well.

Ginger: Sickness relief

Ginger products are registered with the UK medicines regulator, the MHRA, as a herbal treatment for indigestion, nausea, dyspepsia, feelings of fullness, wind and temporary loss of appetite. It may also help with travel sickness and period pain relief. There is some evidence to suggest that ginger may soothe symptoms of morning sickness during pregnancy. Ginger is available as a powder, in capsules or tablets, or as freshly cut root.

L-Glutamine: Intestinal help

L-Glutamine is one of the many amino acid ‘building blocks’ used to make protein. It’s naturally present in the protein foods we eat, and our body can also make it from other amino acids if necessary. Unusually for an amino acid it is the preferred fuel source for the cells of the small intestine which is why there is interest in it as a gut supplement. Early research in critically ill patients seemed to show health benefits, but later research less so. Taking supplements of L-glutamine does not benefit a low protein diet, so for best intestinal health eat a varied diet including regular protein foods, and leave this particular supplement on the shelf.

Psyllium: Helping constipation

Psyllium husk,sometimes called isphagula husk, is rich in gel-type fibres and is often an ingredient in bulk laxatives. The husks can absorb as much as 20 times their own weight in water, which makes poo bulky and easier to pass. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids when taking psyllium to allow the fibre to expand – without enough fluid you can make your constipation worse.

Artichoke: Tummy upset relief

Research shows artichoke leaf extract may help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as dyspepsia or indigestion. Daily use appears to reduce nausea, vomiting, wind and stomach ache. A supplement of artichoke leaf extract may also help lower blood cholesterol levels. Artichoke leaf extract has also been associated with improving liver function, but a trial in patients with the liver condition hepatitis did not support its use. Artichoke leaves are registered with the medicines regulator, MHRA, as a traditional medicine for treating indigestion, upset stomach, nausea, feelings of fullness and wind - particularly when caused by over-eating or drinking. Artichoke can cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to ragweed and related pollens.

Check with your GP

Always check with your GP if you are considering dietary supplements, especially if you are pregnant or have a medical condition. Herbal remedies need to be registered with the medicines regulator MHRA and can only be sold for the conditions for which they are registered. It's important to:

  • Check the label for interactions with other medicines
  • Check the substance is registered with the MHRA
  • Make sure you buy it from a reputable source


Feeling better when you have frequent diarrhoea