Over the last decade, gut health has continued to gain widespread attention for its impact on inflammatory markers and digestive health. And since digestion helps to break down food into nutrients for energy, growth, and cell repair, it’s important to ensure your system is in tip-top shape through nutrition and lifestyle choices.
However, research suggests that certain supplements can also help with digestion. But which ones are worth taking, or could they do your digestive system more harm than good?
In this article, we are diving into the science to see which supplements you may want to consider adding to your daily routine for better digestive health. From omega-3s to zinc, here are the best minerals and vitamins for digestion.
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Vitamin B12 1 2
Vitamin B12is a water-soluble vitamin that belongs to the B-vitamin family. It plays a critical role in the development and function of the central nervous system, red blood cell production, and DNA synthesis, and plays a role in producing chemicals that affect mood, emotions, sleep, and other brain functions [
Emerging studies also indicate that vitamin B12 can play a role in digestion, as it’s been found that B12 can support digestive enzyme production and help foster healthy gut bacteria [ 3 4
3]. Furthermore, researchers have found that B12 might influence the development of inflammatory bowel disease (a chronic condition that affects the GI tract) and that supplemental vitamin B12 might help bolster nutritional status [
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 varies depending on age and life stage, but the specific recommended intakes are as follows [ 1
Adult men and women: 2.4 mcg/day
Pregnancy: 2.6 mcg/day
Lactation: 2.8 mcg/day
Vitamin B12 supplementation is considered safe and has no Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) due to its low level of toxicity [ 1 1 5
1]. Even when taken at large doses (1,000-2,000 mcg), a B12 overdose is unlikely because the body only absorbs what it needs and will not store excess amounts [
Also known as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C 6
vitamin Cis an antioxidant that is necessary for collagen synthesis, helps with protein metabolism, and may help to prevent or delay the development of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers [
While this vitamin is often the poster child for immunity, research shows that it could do more for your health than stave off the common cold. Research shows that vitamin C is strongly associated with gut health and digestion, as it can help maintain balance in your gut microbiome, improve digestion, inhibit bacterial growth, and bolster gut barrier function [ 7 8 9
Experts have also found that vitamin C may play a potential role in preventing certain cancers of the digestive system, but more research is needed in this area [ 10
The recommended daily amount (RDA) for adults is as follows [ 6
Men and women 9–13 years old: 45 mg/day
Men 14-18 years old: 75 mg/day
Women 14-18 years old: 65 mg/day, with this number increasing to 80 mg/day and 115 mg/day for pregnant and lactating women, respectively.
Men over 19 years old: 90 mg/day
Women over 19 years old: 75 mg/day, with this number increasing to 85 mg/day and 120 mg/day for pregnant and lactating women, respectively.
People who smoke: an additional 35 mg/day than nonsmokers.
Vitamin C is generally well tolerated, but it may cause diarrhea, nausea, cramps, and other GI disturbances if taken at higher doses. Excess vitamin C might also cause excess iron consumption and could exacerbate iron overload in people who have hemochromatosis [ 6
Vitamin D 11 12 13
Vitamin D(otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin) has many critical roles in the body, and is essential for calcium absorption and immune function, as well as bone, muscle, brain, and heart health [
11]. There is also some evidence that vitamin D plays a role in digestive health, as studies suggest that it can regulate GI inflammation and may reduce the risk of colon cancer [
For vitamin D, the recommended daily allowance for both men and women 19-70 years old is 600 - 800 IU, but some evidence suggests that 2,000+ IU may be helpful for certain people [ 14
When consumed in excess, vitamin D can cause toxicity by way of hypercalcemia, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, dehydration, polyuria, excessive thirst, and kidney stones [ 14
Iron 15 16 17
Ironis a mineral that is essential for healthy red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout your body [
15]. While it’s important for growth, neurological development, cellular function, and the synthesis of certain hormones, iron has also been associated with healthy pregnancies and improved athletic performance [
Interestingly, studies indicate that iron deficiency anemia is associated with liver disorders and gastrointestinal conditions, like IBS, and can cause fatigue, weakness, and uncomfortable digestive symptoms (such as abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea) [ 18 19
The RDA for iron greatly varies between age, gender, and pregnancy [ 15
Women 19 to 50 years old: 18 mg
Women 51 years old and above: 8 mg
Pregnant and lactating women: 27 mg and 9 mg, respectively
Men and non-menstruating women: 8 mg
Vegetarians: 1.8 times the RDA to compensate for reduced iron bioavailability and absorption [ 20
Keep in mind that your personal needs may differ, especially if you have a condition that impairs iron absorption (like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease), or hemochromatosis [ 21
Even though iron is an essential mineral, it can do more harm than good if it’s not taken properly. Studies show that excess iron intake (>45 mg/day) can lead to iron toxicity, elevated ferritin levels, and a damaged GI system and may result in negative side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. It can also accumulate in your organs over time and cause fatal damage to the liver or brain [ 22 23
22]. Furthermore, studies in children have shown that excess iron causes inflammation and the growth of pathogenic bacteria [
Magnesium plays many critical roles in the body, including protein synthesis, bone health, energy production, disease prevention, and heart, muscle, and nerve function [ 24 25 26 27
24]. Yet, despite its importance in the body, magnesium is largely under-consumed and is easily depleted by both stress and sweat [
26]. As such, it’s estimated that 60% of adults do not meet the RDA for magnesium [
Research also shows that magnesium plays a role in digestive health, as it can act as a laxative by drawing water into the intestines to stimulate bowel motion, and help with stool softness and size [ 28
Magnesium needs vary by age and gender, as shown by the following [ 24
Males 14-18 years: 410 mg/day
Males 19–30 years: 400 mg/day
Males 31+ years: 420 mg/day
Females 14-18 years: 360 mg/day (400 mg/day during pregnancy)
Females 19–30 years: 310 mg/day (350 mg/day during pregnancy)
Females 31+ years: 320 mg/day (360 mg/day during pregnancy)
Magnesium supplementation isn’t right for everyone, as supplements may interact with certain medicines (including diuretics, heart medicines, and some antibiotics) and could cause negative issues if you have diabetes, or kidney, heart, or intestinal disease [ 29
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acidsare polyunsaturated fats vital to cell membranes and other body functions. Because your body can’t naturally produce them, omega-3s are considered to be essential nutrients that must be consumed through diet and supplements.
While these fatty acids are incredibly beneficial for overall health, studies also show that omega-3s play a role in digestion, as they can improve gut biodiversity and increase healthy bacteria within the gut [ 30 30
30]. Interestingly, research has found that people who have a higher intake of omega-3s tend to have lower inflammatory markers and a reduced risk of obesity compared to those who lack omega-3s in their diet [
The daily recommendation for all omega-3s is 1,600 mg/day for men and 1,100 mg/day for women [ 31
31]. If you eat fish, consuming 1-2 portions (~8 ounces) of fish per week may be adequate; however, if you don’t regularly consume fish, supplements can also be beneficial to help you meet your needs.
If you have high triglycerides, it may be best to avoid omega-3 supplements, as they have been associated with an increased likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation [ 32
Zinc 33 34
Zincis an essential mineral in many aspects of cellular metabolism and plays a role in protein and DNA synthesis, cell signaling and division, and supporting healthy growth and development during pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and adolescence [
33]. Research also shows that zinc supplementation can positively impact gut microbiota, decrease the duration of diarrhea, and may even reduce the risk of colon tumors in rodents [
The RDA for zinc is as follows [ 33
Men over 14 years old: 11 mg/day
Women 14-18 years old: 9 mg/day (12 mg/day and 13 mg/day for breastfeeding and lactation, respectively)
Women over 19 years old: 8 mg/day (11 mg/day and 12 mg/day for breastfeeding and lactation, respectively)
While zinc supplements are usually well-tolerated, they can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain in some people, along with coughing, headache, and fever in those taking more than 40 mg/day [ 35 33
35]. Zinc supplements have also been shown to interfere with the absorption of certain antibiotics and may reduce their effectiveness if taken simultaneously [
Digestion plays a large role in your overall health, as it helps to break down food into nutrients to be used for energy, growth, and cell repair. By keeping your digestive system in tip-top shape, you can also bolster your gut health and even prevent a variety of health concerns.
You can improve gut and digestive health with certain lifestyle and dietary changes. Still, some supplements like vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc may also support a healthy gut, improve digestion, and keep you regular.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.
Digestion helps to break down food into nutrients, which the body uses for energy, growth, and cell repair.
Studies show that the gut microbiome plays a role in digestive health and inflammatory markers.
Some of the best vitamins for digestion include vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc.
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