3 Ways Digestive Supplements Can Help Your GAPS Diet

A guest post on Health, Home, Happy

Digestive supplements are something everyone can use - but they are essential to helping when you are on the GAPS diet protocol.

The GAPS™ Diet includes some of the healthiest and most nourishing foods. But what if you eat all this amazing food and you have difficulty DIGESTING your GAPS foods?

As a nutritional therapist, a large part of my training centered on the six foundational pillars of health: Diet, Digestion, Blood Sugar, Fatty Acids, Mineral Status, & Hydration. Notice that Digestion is second only to Diet.

I’m going to explain a bit about how digestion works and give you 3 ways digestive supplements can help your GAPS Diet

Digestion is like dominoes.

If you set it up right, you have a beautifully orchestrated chain of events, that convert that creamy seafood bisque and green salad into the nutrients you need to be well.

In this article, we’ll discuss the upper GI workings…because, without the upper, there is poor digestion the rest of the way down. We’ll also discuss the three ways in which digestive supplements help.

Brain:

The sight, smell, and appreciation for the food in front of you triggers brain responses that start digestion. It is important to RELAX…not always easy when you have hungry children, anxious to get as much food on their plates in as little time as possible.

1. Supplements that help the brain are: Vibrant Blue Oil Parasympathetic Blend

Mouth:

Proper chewing breaks down our food mechanically, and chemically (salivary amylases released in the mouth), which makes much less work for the stomach. With proper chewing our food is turned to “bolus” and then proceeds to the stomach via the esophagus. Without proper chewing (like 30 chews per bite!) you will NOT get as many nutrients from your precious food.

No supplements for this one, but a fun game of counting chews might be in order.

Stomach:

The stomach is all about acid. Its designed for a normal pH of 1.5 – 3.0. Hydrochloric acid is secreted from parietal cells in the stomach lining…at a pH of .08…acidic enough to burn a hole in the carpet. If all is well, the stomach lining is protected from this acid by a mucous barrier. Sufficient acid does the following:

  • Bathes & disinfects the stomach
  • Kills bacteria & parasites
  • Activates pepsin, so we can digest our proteins
  • Stimulates gastrin (digestive hormone)
  • Breaks down proteins and chelates minerals into useable forms
  • Cleaves B12 from the proteins it is bound to & starts transforming it into a useable form
  • Prevents putrefying of proteins in the stomach and slow digestion
  • Sends the acidic food (now called chyme) into the small intestine. Enough acidity triggers the next stages of digestion

2. Supplements/foods that help stomach acid: Broth before meals, Betaine HCl, cabbage juice, apple cider vinegar tonic, Urban Moonshine Digestive Bitters

Liver/Gallbladder, Pancreas, Small Intestine:

When the food comes into the upper part of the small intestine acidic enough, the dominoes break into several different directions.

  • Hormone messages go OUT to the pancreas and gallbladder
  • The gallbladder sends bile to emulsify our fats and break them down into fatty acids
  • The pancreas sends IN bicarbonate of soda to neutralize the acidic chyme
  • When pH is neutral then the pancreas sends IN enzymes to finish breaking down proteins, fats & carbohydrates

3. Supplements/foods that help the liver/gallbladder: Biotics Beta TCP, ox bile, beet kvass, beet juice, Vibrant Blue Oils Pancreatone, digestive enzymes, healthy fats, and fermented cod liver oil

Won’t GAPS fix my digestion?

You may wonder why the GAPS diet alone won’t fix your digestion. It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You need the nutrients that GAPS provides, to build healthy digestive processes, hormones, etc. But for a while, you may need supplemental help to access those nutrients. Your protein digestion might need help, your body may have a difficult time emulsifying the new amounts of healthy fats you are eating, your enzyme production may be impaired due to low stomach acid, etc. Some do fine without supplements…for others, they are a necessary bridge.

How to use the digestive supplements

NOTE: It is always advisable to work with a qualified health care practitioner when determining what is right for your situation. This advice is meant to be general only and is not a substitute for consulting with your practitioner.

1. Vibrant Blue Oils, Parasympathetic Blend

A parasympathetic, restive state, is where digestion begins. Some of us are too stressed to relax for a meal…the parasympathetic blend helps. (And smells wonderful too) It aids in digestion, absorption, and assimilation. Here is a link to its usage sheet – Parasympathetic Blend.

2. Betaine HCl (+ or – pepsin)

HCL + Pepsin or Betaine HCl should be supplemented at the beginning of the meal. However, if you forget to take them at the beginning, you can take them at the end of the meal or even after the meal. For people with low stomach acid production, it is beneficial to take these supplements between the meals as well, to make sure to empty the stomach for the next meal. Here are instructions that explain HCl supplementing- https://honestbody.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Supporting-Digestion-HCl-Challenge.pdf

HCl dosing for adults
I recommend that an adult should start from 1 capsule at a time and see if that helps. If it is not enough, then they can gradually increase the dose to their individual level, which can be from 2 capsules per meal to 4-5 capsules per meal (or more, in my case!).

Slowly increase your dose by one capsule per day until you start to feel a warming sensation when you take it. Then back down by one capsule and that is your dose. So for instance, if you felt a warming sensation at 4 capsules, then your dose would be 3 until you start to feel a warming sensation at 3 and you can continue to reduce your dose as your body indicates less of a need. Recommended brands for adults and older children are Biotics Betaine Plus HP, Biotics Hydro-zymePure Encapsulations, Thorne Research, & Twin Labs.

Note: Some people need a LOT at first. I myself worked up to 4,900mg for a meal! Biotics Betaine HP Plus was cost-effective in this regard. I was able to steadily reduce to the point of only needing HCl occasionally.

What about children? For small children, I recommend using cabbage juice, fermented cabbage juice, or a small helping of fresh cabbage at the beginning of the meal or 10-15 minutes before the meal. Cabbage has the ability to stimulate stomach acid production and works nicely in both children and adults. In some cases, in children, particularly those suffering from reflux and excessive burping, I recommend supplementing a stomach acid booster. Betaine HCl, without pepsin, is a better choice for children. Two brands with low or no pepsin are Biotics Hydrozyme or Premier Labs.

3. Urban Moonshine Digestive Bitters

Urban Moonshine is a solid herbal company making a variety of really nice products. I’ve had personal conversations with them and have listened in on their informational telecasts. I’m especially happy that they produce their bitters in my state of Vermont. They know their herbs. Herbal bitters have the added benefit of helping the liver and curbing sugar cravings. I recommend the Original (appropriate for Intro stages 3 – 6 and beyond) or the Citrus (appropriate for Full GAPS only). Take approximately 1/4 tsp. before or after meals.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar tonic

Drinking a raw apple cider vinegar tonic before meals also stimulate stomach acid. Simply mix 2 teaspoons ACV per 3 – 4 oz. water and drink 15 – 30 minutes before each meal. Drinking this regularly also has the added benefit of helping inflammation.

5. Biotics Beta TCP

Beta TCP both builds bile and helps to thin it out. It contains the co-factors necessary for digesting fats, supporting the liver & gallbladder and has many other uses such as conjugation of hormones around the monthly cycle, nausea, headaches, morning sickness, hemorrhoids, heart burn, low blood sugar, and light-colored stools. If you know you have gallstones, don’t use this product without support from a practitioner as this product can cause stones to move. This product also helps to convert glycogen to glucose to balance blood sugar. It’s helpful for hemorrhoids because it reduces pressure in portal circulation by decongesting the liver. Take 1-3 capsules per meal with food, up to 5 in extreme cases.

6. Ox Bile

Beta Plus or Allergy Research Ox Bile

This supplement is very useful for people whose gallbladder has been removed. Apart from this, some people simply cannot digest fats for other reasons (please see FAQs on the GAPS.me website for more info on liver/gallbladder support).

Supplementing ox bile can be very helpful in these cases, particularly at the beginning of the GAPS program. I recommend taking 1-2 capsules with meals. If you feel “bilious” or have indigestion at the end of the meal, take another 1-2 capsule. You’ll have to find the right dose by a little trial and error, as with HCl. Use it short-term (1 – 2 months) and stagger your doses if you DO have a gallbladder so that you don’t become dependent on it. Beta TCP can be a good follow-up product to ox bile.

7. Vibrant Blue Oils, Pancreatone

Pancreatone supports the overall pancreas health and function. Here is a link to the usage sheet PDF for more information.

8. Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are usually a short-term solution. When stomach acid is producing well, digestive enzyme production usually improves as well. Digestive enzymes should be used between meals or at the end of meals. They generally work in the intestines and help to break down protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Some people feel that they help, but others do not. So, this is an optional supplement for adults on the Full GAPS Diet. I don’t recommend using them during the Introduction Diet with adults or children (unless you feel they really help).

Recommended brand: Houston Enzymes tablets or powder.

Digestive supplements are something everyone can use - but they are essential to helping when you are on the GAPS diet protocol.

How about you?

Those are the ways that digestive supplements can be helpful for GAPS. What about your experience?

I’d love to hear how you have used digestive supplements and what differences you noticed?

GAPS Supplements and so much more that will help you apply GAPS, is part of the GAPS Class that I will be running again soon. For a Free 30 Day GAPS Prep Guide and more information, go to the GAPS Class website.

23 thoughts on “3 Ways Digestive Supplements Can Help Your GAPS Diet”

  1. Hi, I’ve been on GAPS intro since 4 months and still have problems with indigestion if I don’t take a high amount of digestive enzymes at every meal. I think I have atrophic gastritis, because I can’t seem to tolerate the HCL supplements at all. SInce the enzymes are only a temporary measure, how do I replace my digestive enzymes with the HCL when I can’t tolerate it? Eating sauerkraut seems to help a bit but I think I need a lot more HCL than my body can produce on its own.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Linn,

      Thanks for the question. While it is difficult to give advice when not knowing your health history or how you are reacting to the HCl, I can recommend Biotics Gastrazyme as a safe supplement possibility, that can help repair and soothe the stomach and get it ready for HCl. It also has some enzymes in it. You can take small (2-3) or large (6-10 tablets) doses at each meal, its a very safe supplement.

      There are also safe, non-HCl, ways to gently raise your stomach acid levels, such as:
      Making sure you are sufficient in zinc
      Drinking either sauerkraut juice, apple cider vinegar tonic, or bone broth 15 – 30 minutes before a meal.

      Again, you’ll want to work with your own practitioner on this, but these are some general ideas.

  2. This. Is. Awesome. I just found your blog and have been binge reading everything. I have been wanting to start the gaps intro but here’s my dilemma. I have severe IBS and all of the veggies in the intro are extremely problematic for me. Jut looking at cruciferous veggies brings the bloat and pain. What do I do? Is this simply not the way of healing for me? Thanks you in advance for your help and all you do! I can’t wait to keep learning all I can!

    1. Jordan,

      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you like the blog.

      You definitely don’t need to use veggies that are problematic for you at the beginning. If you have a safe list of veggies, start there. Listen to your body. Intro will do wonders for what you are able to eat. Take it slow…with patience many are able to gradually expand their repertoire of safe foods 🙂

      Wishing you the best,
      Melanie

      1. Thank you Melanie! So to clarify, when doing the intro if I cannot have cabbage or cauliflower but the soup recipes call for both what veggies should I replace with? I was afraid to do any swapping since the intro foods are so limited and I assumed that certain veggies were recommended due to the healing properties? Thank you and sorry for the twenty questions! haha

        1. Hi Jordan,

          Any veggies that work for you are fine. All veggies have slightly different properties, but the point is to eat veggies, meats, healing broths, etc. You want to take the stressors out (that would include the difficult veggies in your case) Make your way forward with what vegetables you can tolerate 🙂

          Thanks,
          Melanie

  3. Hi,,

    You site is beautiful and helpful. I have the oddest symptoms in that I have belching after eat most ANYTHING, I already eat low/no fat and oil so it’s not that. I get bloated and gassy. I don’t have any reflux or burning at all!

    I’m hoping the approach of low stomach acid may help.

    I take digetive ezymes and probiotics. THe only things that stops it is activated charcoal.

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      Thank you for the sweet comment about the site. In regard to your symptoms, I would initially consider yeast overgrowth in the stomach, which can cause belching after eating. I would recommend a protocol like GAPS for balancing in general, and the hydrochloric acid will help immensely although it will take time. I would also recommend healthy fats and oils, as these are the building blocks of every cell membrane in the body, as well as many important hormones. The fats that fit us the best physiologically are animal fats (from healthy grassfed/pastured animals…it makes all the difference), butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and palm oil, with lighter uses of oils like avocado oil and nut/seed oils.

      The problem that comes up for so many in eating quality fats, when they haven’t been eating them, is that the gallbladder has gotten sluggish and so digestive support for fats needs to come in for awhile. My favorite supports for this are beet kvass (food form) or Beta TCP by Biotics Research (supplement form).

      Hope this helps a bit,
      Melanie

  4. I just bought the beta tcp, and I don’t think I have gallstones, but should I still try it or is there a possibility that I could find out that I have stones, the hard way?

  5. I recently discovered I have low stomach acid. I am up to 8 capsules of Thorne’s Betaine HCL & Pepsin per meal. It is really helping me to digest my food (finally)!

    I already eat a mostly organic, “clean” diet, but I would like to pursue healing my gut. I am contemplating the GAPS diet, but I’m wondering if you have any tips on whether or not I need to supplement with the Hydrochloric acid when all I have is a cup of bone broth. Though it’s easier to digest than meat, I know it’s still protein, so I’m just wondering what to do.

    Thanks for any guidance you can offer!

    1. Hi Stacy,

      You can adjust the amount of HCl you take based on what you are eating…you might need 8 capsules for a full meal, but perhaps only 1 – 2 for a cup of bone broth. Does that make sense?

      If you are looking for more GAPS diet guidance, feel free to join the Honest Body Academy, which includes the GAPS Class – https://honestbody.com/honest-body-academy/

      Thanks,
      Melanie

  6. Hello melanie!
    I am about to start beta Tcp and beta Plus. I am already taking 5 caps of betains hcl per meal. I am wonderring what would be the good timing for all these supplements. Should i take beta tcp before meals? Like 5 minutes before? Betaine at the begining and beta plus at the end? Or in the middle? I am quite confused.
    Very grateful for your help

    1. Hi Eva,

      I would suggest taking them in a way that works, and generally that is all in the middle of the meal. As for the Beta Plus, I would recommend doing a bottle of that first, THEN doing Beta TCP in place of Beta Plus.

      But bear in mind that each person’s body is unique so the above should not be construed as any kind of medical advice for you personally.

      Kindly,
      Melanie

  7. Jono Darville

    Hi! Thank you for your guidance. Is it alright to add Apple Cider Vinegar at Stage 1 of the GAPS Intro Diet if you are having digestive problems?

    Also, I have three quick HCL curiosities. Is HCL Stage 1 legal? Does a meal have to include meat to take HCL? And do you know why some people who need HCL are sensitive to it? I have terrible leaky gut/sensitive stomach but it seems that if HCL restores the proper gastric acid levels (as opposed to a surplus) necessary for healing/digestive function that HCL should be okay for anyone with low stomach acid regardless of the condition of their gut lining. Is it because the pills aren’t released in a delayed fashion?

    A sincere thank you again!

  8. The biotics Beta-tcp contains Magnesium Sterate. We avoid this in our family. Any other products that you know of that can accomplish the same thing?

    1. Hello Dee,

      Thank you for the question. You could switch to beet kvass with meals, as an alternative to Beta TCP. That with digestive bitters (Urban Moonshine) are a good support.

      Thank you,
      Melanie

  9. Hello Mellanie,

    I wanted to ask you about how one knows if low stomach acid is a problem?Could it be producing too much?Last summer my son suffered severe headaches after eating,also having pain in his abdomen area.(He was in a lot of stress during school.)It resolved now more or less after giving him bone broths and some supplements.But he still gets headaches.
    I started giving him some HCI with meals and he is belching even more now after a meal.
    He is on full Gaps.(his hair tests show he is very low in betaine).
    Any advise?

    Thank you

    Victoria

    1. Hello Victoria,

      Have you done the self-test on your son to see what amount of Betaine HCl he needs? If he is having belching that may be a sign of die-off, most likely yeast, in his stomach. I don’t know his condition specifically so it is difficult to advise, but he likely needs to keep on with the Betaine HCl and it will resolve over time.

      Kindly,
      Melanie

  10. Even the smallest amount of Hcl upsets my stomach and causes skin outbreaks. Must eat all veggies well cooked, even slightly raw causes discomfort. My problem is i have been on gaps for 7 months and I cannot progress past basic intro, any high histamine food or slightly difficult, or high fructose causes severe reactions. So I feel as you say that I need help to move on but I do not know what to try. Can take 1/10 of a probiotic capsule and 1 t cod liver oil presently. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Deborah,

      Thank you for writing about your difficulties. I can’t give any individual advice, but I might suggest that you check into H. Pylori based on what I’m hearing from you…

      Kindly,
      Melanie

  11. Hi!

    Thank you for a very informative post!
    I’m in the beginning of my GAPS journey and looking for a good Betaine HCL Pepsin supplement, but can’t really decide which one to get. Can you please tell what the point is of taking multiple pills, instead of buying a brand with a higher concentration? Do I want to look for a higher dose of Pepsin or Betaine? Most brands only have 10-20 mg of Pepsin. Twinlab and some other companies have over 100 mg of betaine, but I dont which ones are reliable.
    I’m currently using Doctor’s Best Betaine HCL Pepsin and have worked myself up to 5 pills without noticing anything.

    Thank you!

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