8 Impressive Digestive Bitters Benefits for Gut Health

8 Impressive Digestive Bitters Benefits For Gut Health Dr. Will Cole

Stomach problems are no fun, but they are something most of us have dealt with at one point or another. Whether that’s bloating, gas, constipation, or heartburn, we could all benefit from a little digestive support from time to time. That’s why I love digestive bitters.

As a functional medicine expert, I love these natural botanicals as they offer an alternative solution to alleviate digestive distress without having to turn to over the counter medications that often have their own less than ideal side-effects. But what exactly are digestive bitters and want to know how bitters benefits can help your gut health? Read on to learn more.


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What are digestive bitters?

Digestive bitters are distilled bitter tasting botanicals - herbs, spices, flowers, etc. - that are designed to activate your digestive system. Cultures around the world have used digestive bitters for centuries due to their medicinal properties for a wide variety of health problems. You can get digestive bitters as a tincture supplement made with a single botanical or as a multi-herb blend.

How do digestive bitters work?

Your tongue alone has between 2,000 and 4,000 taste buds (1) that help you taste sweet, sour, and you guessed it, bitter flavors. This doesn’t even include the bitter taste receptors (T2Rs) found in other areas of your body, including your lungs! When you eat something bitter, bitter taste receptors (T2Rs) tell your brain to activate your vagus nerve which then alerts your digestive system to stimulate the production of saliva, bile, and stomach acid.

But what is the purpose of bitters? By enhancing your digestive response, bitters are able to improve sluggish digestion, alleviate digestive distress, and enhance the other areas of your health seemingly unrelated to your gut. Not everyone needs to take digestive bitters, but if you notice yourself struggling with poor gut health or digestive stress, digestive benefits can make a huge difference.

Digestive bitters benefits

The benefits of bitters can be life-changing if you struggle with poor digestion. These are the top reasons to consider adding digestive bitters to your wellness routine.

1. Alleviates digestive distress

Cramping, nausea, bloating, and gas are all uncomfortable symptoms that can hinder your daily activities without so much as a warning. Instead of worrying whether or not your next meal (even one made with so-called “healthy” ingredients) is going to send you running to the bathroom, try taking digestive bitters before or after your meal.

During your gut healing journey, taking digestive bitters can help relax the muscles in your gut that contribute to cramping and bloating while certain bitters like ginger, chamomile, and mint have the ability to soothe gut-related inflammation and ease nausea.

2. Improves digestion + nutrient absorption

Digestive bitters work to enhance the production of saliva and bile, both of which help to break down your food more effectively making it easier for your body to digest. Plus, when your body is able to digest your food better, it is able to absorb more of the nutrients present in the food you eat including fats, protein, and micronutrients.

3. Improves acid reflux

I love digestive bitters for low stomach acid - the underlying reason for heartburn and acid reflux - because they increase the body’s levels of stomach acid and gastric juice. When your body has enough stomach acid, it prompts your esophageal sphincter at the top of your stomach to stay sealed, keeping your acid down where it belongs.

4. Reduces appetite

Can bitters help you lose weight? That’s something I’m asked a lot in my telehealth functional medicine clinic. Studies show the answer to that is yes in the sense that bitters can suppress your hunger hormone ghrelin helping you feel fuller for longer, thus reducing your desire to reach for unhealthy junk food.

5. Supports immune function

Remember how I said that you have bitter receptors on your lungs? Although more studies need to be done, researchers may have found a correlation (2) between the activation of T2Rs and upper respiratory infection.

6. Regulates bowel movements

When your digestive system is functioning properly, including absorbing nutrients quickly, that is also going to translate to the effective removal of waste and food byproducts - aka frequent and healthy bowel movements!

7. Stabilizes blood sugar

Bitters benefits also include more stabilized blood sugar levels by facilitating the release and utilization of insulin. And because digestive bitters can help you feel more satiated, they can also curb your sweet tooth which will help prevent blood sugar spikes the more sugar you eat.

8. Enhances detoxification

Your liver and gallbladder work hand-in-hand as major organs in your body’s detoxification system. Since digestive bitters enhance the production of bile that breaks down waste and eliminates toxins from your body, they are able to reduce the toxin load in your body that inhibits your body’s detoxification system from doing its job.

Risks of digestive bitters

One of the reasons I love digestive bitters is because they are safe for most people with minimal (if any) side effects. However, some herbs can interact with certain medications and might not be ideal, especially at higher doses, for people with health conditions like kidney or liver disease. That’s why it’s always best to check with your doctor before trying digestive bitters so they can recommend the right digestive bitters for you and at what amount. Also, some herbs might not be safe at certain doses if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Otherwise, listen to your body and take note if you are experiencing any symptoms like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, gas, or bloating as these can be signs that you are taking too much. More extreme symptoms like swelling of your throat and tongue, trouble breathing, wheezing, fainting, or clammy skin could be signs of an allergic reaction so be sure to go to a hospital right away if you experience any of these symptoms.

How to use bitters

Can you take bitters everyday? Like anything, bitters benefits are typically more amplified when taken on a consistent basis if you are actively dealing with digestive problems. However, you can take them if you are having a specific period of digestive distress. So when should you take bitters? Digestive bitters are best taken right before or immediately after eating a meal.

To take, about 30 minutes before eating, drop the recommended dose onto your tongue to activate your bitter receptors, hold in your mouth until you start salivating, and then swallow. 

Types of digestive bitters

One thing I love about digestive bitters is that a lot of them have additional health benefits beyond just improving digestion. Some of my favorite digestive bitters include:

  • Ginger
  • Black feverfew
  • Dandelion
  • Artichoke leaf
  • Bitter melon
  • Burdock root
  • Wormwood
  • Licorice root
  • Milk thistle

Where to find bitters

I get a lot of questions on where to find digestive bitters as well as how to make them. Even though you can make them yourself, it is usually easier to buy them as tincture supplements or in the form of tea. Burdock root, licorice root, dandelion, milk thistle, and ginger are commonly found in a lot of herbal teas. You can find these at any health food or natural supplement store. I also recommend cooking with more digestive bitters by adding dandelion greens to your salads and adding more fresh ginger root into your recipes!

Seeking help from a functional medicine expert

Instead of forcing yourself to grin and bear it when it comes to your digestive problems, consider taking advantage of these bitters benefits and try some of these natural botanicals before your next meal.

However, if you are still dealing with digestive distress and underlying gut problems, a functional medicine practitioner can help you get to the root cause behind your symptoms. In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, we run extensive labs and conduct a comprehensive health history in order to identify any underlying dysfunctions and determine a plan of action to alleviate your symptoms once-and-for-all.

If you are ready to finally overcome your gut problems, schedule a telehealth consultation to learn more about how we can help you with functional medicine.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

Photo: unsplash.com

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  1. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. How does our sense of taste work? 2011 Dec 20 [Updated 2016 Aug 17]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279408/
  2. Lee, Robert J, and Noam A Cohen. “Role of the bitter taste receptor T2R38 in upper respiratory infection and chronic rhinosinusitis.” Current opinion in allergy and clinical immunology vol. 15,1 (2015): 14-20. doi:10.1097/ACI.0000000000000120

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, Gut Feelings, and The Inflammation Spectrum.

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