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4 Vitamins and Minerals to Watch for Gut and Digestive Health

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If your digestion is giving you trouble, it can seem like everyone is giving you a new piece of advice everywhere you turn. More fiber – no, less fiber – no, just eliminate FODMAPs and you’ll be fine with other types of fiber. Probiotics – no, prebiotics – no, symbiotics – no, digestive enzymes…

So what do you need with one more list of things to worry about? Other than the hope that it might help you resolve your issues? The selling point of this list is that you have nothing to lose. You should be able to tell right away if any of the deficiencies apply to you –– and if you think they do, the solution is cheap and easy: no tests to run, no supplements to buy, just minor diet changes.

If nothing on this list applies to you, you’ve spent 10 minutes of your life eliminating a potential problem and you can go on your way with peace of mind.

Iron

Iron is important for gut health because it helps support the gut bacteria. In this study, iron supplementation increased the number of gut bacteria and also increased a beneficial anti-inflammatory bacterial metabolite (butyrate).

Iron deficiency might be your problem if…

If this is your problem, eat more…

Spinach and other plant foods aren’t as good, because they contain a form of iron that is less absorbable.

A note on supplements: iron is an interesting nutrient because some people have too much of it (mostly men) and some people don’t have enough (mostly women who are pregnant or having regular periods). If you have too much iron, iron supplements can be dangerous. So see a doctor for blood tests before you start supplementing.

Selenium

This review looks at the critical role of selenium in gut health. Selenium affects the gut flora, and helps modify the inflammatory response in the gut. Selenium deficiency increases inflammation and oxidative stress, and the resulting damage to the lining of the gut can actually contribute to abnormal intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”).

Selenium deficiency is associated with a higher risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (including Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis).

This might be your problem if:

If this is your problem, eat more…

You can read more about selenium and the gut (and the thyroid!) here.

Vitamin DSun

The “sunshine vitamin” is a very common deficiency because even if you eat really well, you might still not be getting enough of it if you don’t get any high-quality sun exposure.

Lower Vitamin D is linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and Vitamin D supplements show significant promise for treating symptoms. There are several different reasons for that, but one of them is the way Vitamin D affects the gut flora. This is even more obvious in mice: Vitamin D knockout mice get very unhappy gut flora very fast.

This might be your problem if:

If this is your problem…

Zinc

Zinc is important for producing digestive enzymes. A new study found that even a very mild and temporary zinc deficiency can back up the digestive system and reduce enzyme production.

This might be your problem if

If this is your problem, eat more…

If you can pick out any theme from these four nutrients, it’s the importance of nutrient-dense animal foods and seafood. Red meat, liver, salmon, and other sea foods just keep showing up again and again. These foods are good for us, and replacing them with whole-wheat crackers and black bean burgers just isn’t the way to go.

By the way, if you’re looking for stuff like probiotics and prebiotics – those aren’t in this list because they aren’t technically vitamins or minerals. But you can find information about probiotics here, prebiotics here, and digestive enzyme supplements here.

Is there a nutrient that made all the difference for your gut health? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!