Your digestive system is one of the most active parts of your body. But it’s an often-ignored area of health. That is, until something goes wrong. And you get constipated. Or the opposite.
Maybe you’ve tried upping your fiber. You’ve tried a probiotic. Perhaps you’ve even given up dairy. But still no improvement. It could mean that your digestive system is missing three key nutrients.
Well, remember, the human body in an engineering marvel. So, let’s think about this for a moment…
Your body must get certain essential vitamins from foods you eat. It can’t make these vitamins on its own. So, when you eat food, what part of your body breaks down and begins to absorb these essential vitamins?
You got it–your digestive tract.
And these three key vitamins are exactly the ones that your digestive system needs. Unfortunately, very few of us get enough of these three essential vitamins from diet alone. So, what should work like a charm can turn into a vicious cycle when you don’t get enough of these vitamins.
So, let’s look at three main vitamins you need for a healthy digestive system:
1. The B vitamins
There are actually 8 B vitamins. And they are all essential for digestive health. But since they are water-soluble vitamins, you can’t store them in fat cells or tissues. Therefore, you must get a regular supply from the foods you eat. Or from a dietary supplement.
How do B vitamins aid digestion?
In general, they help move energy obtained from food into the tissue cells, where it is needed. In particular, vitamin B1 (thiamine) helps convert carbs in the diet into energy. This fuels your cellular metabolism and helps regulate your appetite.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) helps keep the mucosal lining of your digestive tract in good shape. It also helps to break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the foods you eat. Without vitamin B2, you may have trouble digesting food. And converting the nutrients into energy. Low B2 can also cause tongue and mouth sores and swelling. Clearly, this uncomfortable situation will also interfere with normal eating and digestion.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) plays an important role in the breakdown of carbs, fats and alcohol. Lack of niacin causes pellagra, with severe vomiting and diarrhea. Obviously, this too will interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients. And it can lead to dehydration.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) helps the body process proteins in the diet.
Biotin helps produce healthy cholesterol. And remember, every cell in your body needs cholesterol. Biotin also processes proteins, carbs and fatty acids. And it helps eliminate the waste your body produces when it breaks down protein.
Folic acid is the final B vitamin related to healthy digestion. Research links higher levels of this vitamin with a lower risk of colon cancer. In addition, we know that low folic acid in women can result in birth defects. This is why many foods today, such as cereal and bread, are now fortified with folic acid.
You can find B vitamins in meat, dairy, eggs, green leafy vegetables, beans, seafood, and whole grains. However, studies show that many people don’t get enough B vitamins from their diet. So, I recommend everyone take a high-quality B supplement.
2. Vitamin C
All the connective tissues in your digestive tract contain collagen. This protein helps hold your tissues together. Your body regularly replenishes this collagen to keep your tissues strong. And to heal damaged tissues in your digestive tract.
But you need vitamin C to make this all happen.
In fact, vitamin C helps your body produce enough collagen to keep the tissues of your digestive tract healthy. So, if you suffer from a bout of irritable bowels once in a while, make sure to take plenty of vitamin C to help your tissues recover.
Vitamin C is also important for healthy teeth and gums, a key to proper eating and digestion. Vitamin C also helps with healthy iron balance. (Most people do not require iron supplements. Getting plenty of vitamin C will help you get all the iron you need without supplements or fortified foods.)
Good natural dietary sources of vitamin C include berries, broccoli, citrus fruits, peppers, and tomatoes.
3. Vitamin D
Of course, many studies link low levels of the “sunshine” vitamin with a higher risk of colon cancer. Indeed low vitamin D seems to increase your risk of many types of cancer. Deficiency also increases overall mortality.
But researchers are now beginning to look more closely at the importance of vitamin D in the colon, specifically. In fact, we now know that men and women who live farther away from the equator, in latitudes where the sun is weaker, get Irritable Bowel Diseases (IBD) much more commonly. Researchers think IBD, like multiple sclerosis, might have something to do with low vitamin D levels. Indeed, we already know that vitamin D plays a role in taming inflammation. And regulating the immune system. So it makes sense that Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both inflammatory problems, might respond to vitamin D.
You find vitamin D naturally in foods like eggs, liver, and oily fish such as
salmon and tuna. But about 1 billion men and women worldwide have a frank vitamin D deficiency. Including millions in the U.S. And up to 75 million having inadequate levels. So, I believe most people in the U.S. would benefit from a high-quality vitamin D supplement.
Of course, these three vitamins have many health benefits beyond keeping the digestive tract healthy. But as I said earlier, few of us can get to adequate levels from diet alone. So, I recommend finding high-quality supplements.
Lastly, make sure to drink plenty of water. Or better yet, drink red bush in your water. I recommend the Red Joe brand. Unlike water, red bush helps keep you hydrated on a cellular level. And proper hydration keeps your digestive tract running smoothly as well.
1. “Vitamin D and gastrointestinal diseases: inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer,” Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2011 January; 4(1): 49–62