Do you feel bloated after eating or miserable for days ridden with gas and constipation? If you experience these or symptoms like reflux you’re not alone and may be one of the millions who suffer from some form of digestive disease. Digestive diseases were reported to have affected 60-70 million people in 2009 by The National Institutes of Health. Just four years later, in 2012 people are continuing to be diagnosed with digestive disorders like celiac, Crohn’s, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Treatment plans for these conditions are primarily designed to relieve symptoms, while decreasing inflammation and any further progression of the disease. A comprehensive treatment plan often includes significant dietary changes, the introduction of prescription and over the counter medications, and dietary supplements. Symptoms frequently associated with digestive disorders include constipation, diarrhea, excessive production of gas, reflux, food intolerance and the malabsorption of vitamins and minerals.
Prescription and over the counter medications used to treat other health conditions can also have a negative impact on digestion and bowel regularity. Muscle relaxers like lorazepam [Ativan], carisoprodol (Soma), and cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) as well as narcotic pain relievers like hydrocodone can cause stomach upset and slow down the movement of food through the digestive tract. While useful in the treatment of bacterial infections, antibiotics are another class of drugs that can alter digestion by decreasing the good bacteria useful in maintaining proper digestion and acid levels. Many dietary supplement and food manufacturers have become increasingly aware of the therapeutic and functional benefits of good bacteria, also known as probiotics, and have begun to increase consumer awareness through advertising and marketing. With so many products being promoted to relieve unwanted digestive problems it can create confusion for consumers on which products are best for their individual needs. Medications and dietary supplements often used in decreasing unwanted symptoms of digestive distress include digestive enzymes, probiotics (good bacteria), bowel stimulants, laxatives and fiber.
Digestive enzymes support digestion by facilitating the process of breaking down food and are available in prescription and over the counter products. Prescriptions like Creon are composed of specific enzymes that break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Enzyme formulas available over the counter can provide a broader spectrum of ingredients with more specificity for the foods being eaten.
Probiotics are living organisms naturally found in the gastrointestinal tract assisting in the digestive process, balance ph levels and the ratio of good to bad bacterial and fungal species. Probiotics are available in many different forms and strengths. They can be freeze dried and shelf stable or live, requiring refrigeration. When comparing probiotics formulas the number of live cells also known as CFUs is what determines the strength or potency of the product, not the weight or milligrams (mg).
Bowel stimulants and laxatives are often used to increase bowel movements and relieve constipation. Miralax, a laxative frequently recommended by physicians was once a prescription and is now available over the counter. Miralax is a chemical laxative that when mixed in water increases the fluidity of bowel movements. Magnesium citrate is also used to relieve symptoms of constipation and many of you may have used this product in large quantities in preparation for a colonoscopy. Unlike Miralax, magnesium citrate in smaller doses can support bowel regularity, provides additional benefits in supporting the nervous system and relieves muscle cramps. Senna, an ingredient used in stimulant laxatives like Senokot, is also used to relieve occasional constipation and is meant to be used for a brief period of time unless specified by your physician.
Soluble and insoluble fiber can support digestion in very different ways. Soluble fibers like citrus pectin, glucomannan and inulin are used to increase bowel movements by providing fiber that bulks the stool up while slowing down the rate of digestion. Soluble fibers are frequently used by individuals who are trying to decrease cholesterol levels and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Insoluble fibers like Psyllium are used to speed up the rate of bowel movements.
These products are just a few of the many you will find at your local health food store or pharmacy. If you’re in need of relief from digestive distress and are taking prescription medications, it is important to speak with professionals who are familiar with the functions and possible interactions of prescriptions, over the counter medications and supplements.