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Gwyneth Paltrow is reportedly a huge fan of digestive bitters. In fact, they’re even available to buy on her health website Goop’s online store. But just what are they? How do you use them, and how do they can give your skin a healthy glow? Here's the lowdown.
What Are Digestive Bitters?
Bitters are herbal supplements, usually found in a dropper bottle or spray form. They have been used for centuries to aid digestive ailments and are still heavily used in Chinese medicine today.
In short, they support digestive function by stimulating the bitter receptors on the tongue, stomach, gallbladder, and pancreas. This promotes stomach acid, bile, and enzymes to break down our food and helps us gain the maximum absorption of nutrients from what we’re eating.
You might even have heard of bitters being used in fancy cocktails to accentuate the taste of trending drinks. But aside from their use in certain alcoholic beverages, bitter flavors are not a common feature of our modern diets—despite poor digestion becoming an increasing problem in our modern lives.
Bitters commonly derive from the alcohol-based extracts of the bark, leaves, roots, or flowers of bitter-tasting plants. While there are many flavors, common examples include dandelion, cinchona bark, burdock, milk thistle, and angelica root.
How Do They Help Digestion?
A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, a healthy heart and brain, improved mood, good sleep, and effective digestion. It may even help to prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases. Signs of an unhealthy gut include frequent gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn.
Bitters can help the above complaints by promoting digestive juices in the stomach that improves digestion and mineral absorption. The digestive juices working correctly improves the breakdown of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Bitters also allow food to remain in the stomach longer, ensuring that it is optimally digested—which, in turn, reduces gas and bloating and helps promote regular and healthy bowel movements.
Having a well-working gut ensures the body has less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste, easing uncomfortable digestive symptoms. It is thought that stress depletes the digestive system over time, shunting blood flow away from our digestive system leading to reduced digestive juices. Bitters have been shown to help ease the symptoms of those with irritable bowel syndrome, a common, long-term condition of the digestive system, which can cause bloating and stomach cramps.
Bitters also work to tighten the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus, which helps to reduce reflux- and heartburn-like symptoms. While you may argue that eating a healthy diet alone should mean our digestion is taken care of, our modern diets are much higher in sugar, our food isn’t as fresh as it once was and things, generally, are more processed. This means we can’t rely as heavily on the nutritional value of our foods as we could in the past.
Another benefit of digestive bitters is that they have a positive impact on blood sugar. They slow the rate that sugar enters into the bloodstream, supporting liver function (the organ that stores and processes sugar) by encouraging it to produce more enzymes to break down toxins. In turn, this can help block sugar cravings. When we crave something sweet, the body is after a quick fix, so tasting something bitter reduces cravings and makes your body yearn for a healthier alternative.
The great news is, far from becoming immune to the bitter tastes, the more you use bitters, the more bitter taste receptors are produced—meaning you reap the effects more with each use.
What Are the Beauty Benefits?
Bitters have a cooling effect on our systems, as they reduce systemic inflammation that can then ease skin irritations such as acne or rashes. Beauty starts from the inside out, and if you’re feeling well and healthy, it’ll show. Our skin is one of the first places that we are able to see the effects of poor liver function, and as the bitters detoxify and support the liver, we should see the glowing effects on our skin.
Gwyneth Paltrow is reportedly a fan of bitters as well. Not only does she sell digestive bitters on her Goop site, but she’s also said she starts her day with a few drops of grapefruit seed extract in a warm glass of water to help maintain healthy digestion.
Should I Try Them?
Gut health has become a trending topic when it comes to wellness, and we seem to be understanding more and more that it plays a large part in our overall health. Even if you don’t suffer particular digestive problems, you will only benefit from aiding your digestive system and having well-functioning gut health. Digestive juices also deplete with age, so helping your system along would be beneficial.
Digestive bitters would be particularly helpful for anyone struggling with gas, bloating, IBS, or for anyone who struggles to eat larger meals (more stomach acid is required as the volume of food in your stomach increases).
While digestive bitters primarily help with digestive problems, they also help strengthen your body’s immune system. It’s believed the more enzymes we have, the stronger and more resilient our immune system is.
However, it’s not recommended you use bitters if you suffer from gastritis, stomach ulcers, gallbladder disease or kidney disease. And while some gentle chamomile bitters are suitable for occasional nausea and heartburn during pregnancy, other digestive bitters are not recommended for use by pregnant women, so always check with your doctor.
When to Use Them
The best time to use bitters is around 15 minutes before eating. This will stimulate the production of bile and prime your stomach to digest efficiently. Always follow the instructions given on your particular brand of bitter, but in general, you can add a few drops to a small glass of water. The ideal way to take bitters is with water, but if the taste is too much, you can add them to herbal tea. Heartburn sufferers are advised to start with a very low dose and increase slowly as tolerated.