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What is a Digestive Aid?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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A digestive aid is a substance taken in either pill, chew, or powdered form to help aid in the digestion of certain parts of food. For example, someone with lactose intolerance may need a digestive aid to help with the digestion of lactose. The type of aid needed as well as the amount depends on the type of stomach upset being treated.

Lactose intolerance is one type of condition that is often treated with a digestive aid. Those who suffer from an intolerance often experience stomach cramping, gas, and bloating whenever they eat something which contains lactose. Milk and dairy products are the primary food sources of lactose, although it can also be found in some processed foods which contain milk byproducts.

Aids used in lactose intolerance patients usually contain lactase, an enzyme produced by the small intestine to help break down lactose. Generally a pill can be taken directly before eating dairy to promote production of lactase and prevent symptoms from arising. Powders and chews are also available, and they are taken in much the same way. Treatment is only effective when taken every time a lactose containing food is consumed.

Another type of digestive aid contains several million of certain types of bacteria. These bacteria aid in the digestion of food by keeping yeasts and "bad" bacteria at bay, as well as helping with the breakdown of certain foods. Yeast overgrowth in the stomach can cause food cravings, bloating, constipation, gas, and other painful symptoms. Bacteria supplements, called probiotics, often come in pill form and can be taken each day to help restore the stomach's natural balance.

Digestive enzymes can also be taken as aids. These are often prescribed by a doctor when a patient has been discovered to be deficient in one or more types of digestive enzyme. Supplements of essential enzymes help to properly break down food and allow the body to better absorb nutrients. Without the use of an enzyme digestive aid, patients may become malnourished and experience digestive upset like cramping and constipation.

In some cases, prescription medications may be given as digestive aids to help with more severe or bothersome stomach problems. Irritable bowel syndrome, for example, may be eased by dietary changes and the use of pro-biotics, but in some severe cases prescription medication may be needed. Medication may help to alleviate symptoms or help to treat any underlying causes of discomfort.

Patients should always visit a doctor about any stomach upset that is persistent or severe before trying a digestive aid. A serious underlying condition, although rare, could be blame. Stomach cancer, for example, is a rare disease with symptoms that may mimic less severe causes of stomach discomfort. Once a diagnosis has been made, a physician can more accurately pinpoint the best type of aid for each patient.

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Discussion Comments
By MissMuffet — On Apr 23, 2011

Last year I had a lot of trouble with my stomach, I could hardly get my clothes on as it was so bloated. Eventually I was diagnosed with a yeast infection, which really surprised me as I didn't know it could grow in that area.

I did have some medication for a while but once under control I found the best long term digestive aid in the local supermarket! I try to eat probiotic yogurt at least once a day, and so far I've not had any more problems.

By Bakersdozen — On Apr 20, 2011

@yumdelish - The most obvious solution is to cut out the problem foods, but lactose intolerance affects people in many different ways. It's probably better to keep a food diary and see which things make you feel bad. You may be okay with yogurt but not with cream, for instance.

I was buying vitamins last week and noticed several herbal aids for digestion. You could try something like that if you have an attack. Chamomile and fennel are also good for gas and stomach problems.

By yumdelish — On Apr 19, 2011

I'm pretty sure I have a problem with lactose, as every time I eat ice-cream I have all the symptoms. I started avoiding that but I now have the same stomach cramps and gas after my breakfast cereal.

I would rather try some natural digestive aids before I take medicine. Any ideas what I can do, beyond cutting out milk and dairy altogether?

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