Note from Cara: This is a guest post by Melanie of Honest Body, she’s a GAPS mom and has a fabulous GAPS class starting later this month!
The GAPS™ Diet includes some of the healthiest and most nourishing foods. But what if you eat all this amazing food and you have difficulty DIGESTING your GAPS foods?
As a nutritional therapist, a large part of my training centered on the six foundational pillars of health: Diet, Digestion, Blood Sugar, Fatty Acids, Mineral Status, & Hydration. Notice that Digestion is second only to Diet.
How does digestion work?
Digestion is like dominoes.
If you set it up right, you have a beautifully orchestrated chain of events, that convert that creamy seafood bisque and green salad into the nutrients you need to be well.
In this article we’ll discuss the upper GI workings…because without the upper, there is poor digestion the rest of the way down. We’ll also discuss the three ways in which digestive supplements help.
The sight, smell, and appreciation for the food in front of you triggers brain responses that start digestion. It is important to RELAX (not always easy when you have hungry critters, I mean children, anxious to get as much food on their plates in as little time as possible. My dinner table is a trip!)
1. Supplements that help the brain and the digestive process in general are: Vibrant Blue Oil’s Parasympathetic Blend
Proper chewing breaks down our food mechanically, and chemically (salivary amylases released in the mouth), which makes much less work for the stomach. With proper chewing our food is turned to “bolus” and then proceeds to the stomach via the esophagus. Without proper chewing (like 30 chews per bite!) you will NOT get as many nutrients from your precious food.
No supplements for this one, but a fun game of counting chews might be in order!
The stomach is all about acid. Its designed for a normal pH of 1.5 – 3.0. Hydrochloric acid is secreted from parietal cells in the stomach lining…at a pH of .08…acidic enough to burn a hole in the carpet. If all is well, the stomach lining is protected from this acid by a mucous barrier. Sufficient acid does the following:
- Bathes & disinfects the stomach
- Kills bacteria & parasites
- Activates pepsin, so we can digest our proteins
- Stimulates gastrin (digestive hormone)
- Breaks down proteins and chelates minerals into useable forms
- Cleaves B12 from the proteins it is bound to & starts transforming it into a useable form
- Prevents putrefying of proteins in the stomach and slow digestion
- Sends the acidic food (now called chyme) into the small intestine. Enough acidity triggers the next stages of digestion
2. Supplements/foods that help stomach acid: Broth before meals, Betaine HCl, cabbage juice, apple cider vinegar tonic, Urban Moonshine Digestive Bitters
Liver/Gallbladder, Pancreas, Small Intestine:
When food comes into the upper part of the small intestine acidic enough, the dominoes break into several different directions.
- Hormone messages go OUT to the pancreas and gallbladder
- The gallbladder sends IN bile to emulsify our fats and break them down into fatty acids
- The pancreas sends IN bicarbonate of soda to neutralize the acidic chyme
- When pH is neutral then the pancreas sends IN enzymes to finish breaking down proteins, fats & carbohydrates
3. Supplements/foods that help the liver/gallbladder: Biotics Beta TCP, ox bile, beet kvass, beet juice, Vibrant Blue Oils Pancreatone, digestive enzymes, healthy fats, and fermented cod liver oil
Won’t GAPS fix my digestion?
You may wonder why the GAPS diet alone won’t fix your digestion. It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You need the nutrients that GAPS provides, to build healthy digestive processes, hormones, etc. But for a while you may need supplemental help to access those nutrients. Your protein digestion might need help, your body may have a difficult time emulsifying the new amounts of healthy fats you are eating, your enzyme production may be impaired due to low stomach acid, etc. Some do fine without supplements…for others they are a necessary bridge.
How to use the digestive supplements
NOTE: It is always advisable to work with a qualified health care practitioner when determining what is right for your situation. This advice is meant to be general only and is not a substitute for consulting with your practitioner.
1. Vibrant Blue Oils, Parasympathetic Blend
A parasympathetic, restive state, is where digestion begins. Some of us are too stressed to relax for a meal…the parasympathetic blend helps. (And smells wonderful too) It aids in digestion, absorption and assimilation. Here is a link to its usage sheet – Parasympathetic Blend.
2. Betaine HCl (+ or – pepsin)
HCL + Pepsin or Betaine HCl should be supplemented at the beginning of the meal. However, if you forget to take them at the beginning, you can take them at the end of the meal or even after the meal. For people with low stomach acid production, it is beneficial to take these supplements between the meals as well, to make sure to empty the stomach for the next meal. Here is a helpful article that explains HCl supplementing.
HCl dosing for adults
I recommend that an adult should start from 1 capsule at a time and see if that helps. If it is not enough, then they can gradually increase the dose to their individual level, which can be from 2 capsules per meal to 4-5 capsules per meal (or more, in my case!).
Slowly increase your dose by one capsule per day until you start to feel a warming sensation when you take it. Then back down by one capsule and that is your dose. So for instance, if you felt a warming sensation at 4 capsules, then your dose would be 3, until you start to feel a warming sensation at 3 and you can continue to reduce your dose as your body indicates less of a need. Recommended brands for adults and older children are Pure Encapsulations, Thorne Research, & Twin Labs.
Note: Some people need a LOT at first. I myself worked up to 4,900mg at a meal! Biotics Betaine HP Plus was cost effective in this regard. I was able to steadily reduce to the point of only needing HCl occasionally.
What about children? For children I recommend using cabbage juice, fermented cabbage juice, or a small helping of fresh cabbage at the beginning of the meal or 10-15 minutes before the meal. Cabbage has the ability to stimulate stomach acid production and works nicely in both children and adults. In some cases, in children, particularly those suffering with reflux and excessive burping, I recommend supplementing a stomach acid booster. Betaine HCl, without pepsin, is a better choice for children. Two brands with low or no pepsin are Biotics Hydrozyme or Premier Labs
3. Urban Moonshine Digestive Bitters
Urban Moonshine is a solid herbal company making a variety of really nice products. I’ve had personal conversations with them and have listened in on their informational telecasts. I’m especially happy that they produce their bitters in my state of Vermont. They know their herbs. Herbal bitters have the added benefit of helping the liver and curbing sugar cravings. I recommend the Original (appropriate for Intro stages 3 – 6 and beyond) or the Citrus (appropriate for Full GAPS only). Take approximately 1/4 tsp. before or after meals.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar tonic
Drinking a raw apple cider vinegar tonic before meals also stimulates stomach acid. Simply mix 2 teaspoons ACV per 3 – 4 oz. water and drink 15 – 30 minutes before each meal. Drinking this regularly also has the added benefit of helping inflammation.
5. Biotics Beta TCP
Beta TCP both builds bile, and helps to thin it out. It contains the co-factors necessary for digesting fats, supporting the liver & gallbladder and has many other uses such as conjugation of hormones around the monthly cycle, nausea, headaches, morning sickness, hemorrhoids, heart burn, low blood sugar, and light colored stools. If you know you have gallstones, don’t use this product without support from a practitioner as this product can cause stones to move. This product also helps to convert glycogen to glucose to balance blood sugar. It’s helpful for hemorrhoids because it reduces pressure in portal circulation by decongesting the liver. Take 1-3 capsules per meal with food, up to 5 in extreme cases.
6. Ox Bile
This supplement is very useful for people whose gallbladder has been removed. Apart from this, some people simply cannot digest fats for other reasons (please see FAQs on the GAPS.me website for more info on liver/gallbladder support).
Supplementing ox bile can be very helpful in these cases, particularly at the beginning of the GAPS program. I recommend taking 1-2 capsules with meals. If you feel “bilious” or have indigestion at the end of the meal, take another 1-2 capsules. You’ll have to find the right dose by a little trial and error, as with HCl. Use it short term (1 – 2 months) and stagger your doses if you DO have a gallbladder, so that you don’t become dependent on it. Beta TCP can be a good follow-up product to ox bile.
7. Vibrant Blue Oils, Pancreatone
Pancreatone supports the overall pancreas health and function… Here is a link to the usage sheet PDF for more information.
8. Digestive Enzymes
Usually a short term solution. When stomach acid is producing well, digestive enzyme production usually improves as well. Digestive enzymes should be used between meals or at the end of meals. They generally work in the intestines and help to break down protein, carbohydrates and fats. Some people feel that they help, but others do not. So, this is an optional supplement for adults on the Full GAPS Diet. I don’t recommend using them during the Introduction Diet with adults or children (unless you feel they really help).
How about you?
Those are the ways that digestive supplements can be helpful for GAPS. What about your experience?
I’d love to hear how you have used digestive supplements and what differences you noticed?