The digestive system extracts and absorbs energy and nutrients from the food we eat. It is one of those natural processes that we very rarely think about unless something goes wrong.
Unfortunately when it goes wrong, we really know about it – heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, trapped wind, IBS, bloating, and constipation can all be very uncomfortable – if not downright painful and inconvenient. Sadly, with more and more people relying on highly processed or so-called convenience foods, and not drinking enough water is leading to more people suffering with digestive health problems. The digestive system is incredibly complex and requires lots of energy and a good balance of natural bacteria for optimal health.
B Group Vitamins
- Thiamine, (otherwise known as vitamin B1) is essential for converting dietary carbohydrates and glucose into energy for the body’s cells, and may also aid in the regulation of appetite. Even a slight B1 deficiency can lead to arrested growth in children and at all ages can cause indigestion, fatigue and constipation.
- Riboflavin or B2 helps with the release of energy from food by oxidation and the utilisation of amino acids.
- Niacin, also known as vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid, is also important for the release of energy from carbohydrates and other digestive tract functions, including the breakdown of fats and alcohol. It’s also known as the anti-pellagra (a disease causing severe vomiting and diarrhoea) vitamin.
- B6, also known as pyridoxine, allows the body to use and store energy from protein as well as helping to form haemoglobin for transporting oxygen around the body.
- Biotin is an essential B-complex vitamin which helps produce cholesterol, key for metabolism of carbohydrates and fatty acids.
- B12 helps the body process folic acid and release energy from carbohydrates. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anaemia and reduced energy levels.
- Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C has many functions in the body and historically was known as the anti-scorbutic, or against scurvy, vitamin.
- Most widely known as an anti-oxidant vitamin, it’s usually associated with strengthening the immune system and preventing colds, but it’s also absolutely essential to help the body fully absorb iron from foods.
- Vitamin C is crucial in supporting the digestive process from the start as it helps maintain the health of teeth and gums too.
- Vitamin C also aids in the production of collagen, for maintaining all the connective tissues of the digestive tract.
- Vitamin D was, up until recently, called the calcifying vitamin as it’s essential for the absorption of calcium, which is vital for the formation and maintenance of strong teeth and bones, with a deficiency leading to rickets in children and osteoporosis later in life. Calcium is also beneficial for good heart health and key to how your nerves, muscles, and immune system function.
- Although the best source of Vitamin D is sunlight hence it’s often known as the sunshine vitamin - a supplement can often be useful now many of us stay out of the sun.
- The surfaces of the digestive and excretory tracts are lined with mucous membranes which secrete compounds that help with digestion – for example the mucosal lining of the stomach secretes stomach acid and also absorb nutrients from food. If these mucosal tissues are compromised, digestion and absorption of nutrients are affected, causing deficiencies. Vitamin A nourishes these tissues, helping to ensure that every part of the digestive tract functions properly.
As the digestive process is the way in which the body gets virtually ALL its nutrition and energy, it is of paramount importance that it is kept healthy in order for optimal function, so it is really useful to know exactly which vitamins can support that. As with any vitamins and minerals, by far the best way to get enough is to eat a varied and healthy diet, but that’s not always possible. For example, vegans may particularly struggle, as will fussy children and anyone with a poor appetite (ironically those for whom it could matter most) and with many vitamins destroyed by the preparation or cooking process, it can really make good sense to take a high quality supplement tailored for your needs.