Lara Lattman

| 01/19/2021

Using Bitters to Aid Digestion

Using Bitters to Aid Digestion

Yes, those bitters! But more specifically, I am talking about bitters formulated from plants to help with digestion. This is a topic I could talk for a long time about, as bitters have so many health benefits! 

 What are they?

           Bitters as a supplement can come as a liquid tincture or as a pill, and are formulated with herbs that contain chemicals that stimulate the bitter receptor on the tongue.  Thus, they taste very bitter, which is not a flavor most people love, but it very important to digestive health.  Some examples of herbal bitters are artichoke, chamomile, dandelion and gentian.  Traditional cultures have bitter flavors throughout their foods, but today, the Standard American Diet is full of processed foods that are salty and sweet, all but eliminating the bitter flavor from our plates.  Most Americans spend money on toxic chemicals to kill the dandelions in their yard rather than harvest the leaves for a salad.

What do they do?

            The bitter compounds in these plants hit the receptors on the tongue that signal to the brain something has been eaten and it needs to get ready for digestion.  Different from the sweet flavor, which signals something simple to digest has been eaten, bitters signal a complex, whole food and the need for digestive fire.  The bitter flavor stimulates the production of gastric acid, which in turn tones (or closes) the esophageal sphincter.  Moving on down the digestive line, enzymes from the pancreas are called for, and bile is released from the gall bladder. 

Symptoms alleviated by bitters:

  •             Acid reflux
  •             Gas
  •             Bloating
  •             Fatigue after eating
  •             Sugar cravings


            Now, you may be wondering, if bitters stimulate more acid, how could this help with reflux? The answer lies in the toning of the esophageal sphincter.  The majority of people suffer from reflux due to an insufficiency of stomach acid, not an overproduction.  Stomach acid is what tells the esophagus to close off so that when the stomach gets to its mechanical action of digestion, the acid doesn’t splash up.  This splash is what creates the sensation of reflux, and what irritates the soft tissue that is not protected by mucous.  So, if we support stomach acid, the gate closes, and all the acid stays in the stomach where it belongs.

            Due to the bile stimulating properties, bitters also aid in detoxification which can be very helpful in cases of elevated cholesterol and glucose.

How do you take them?

            To help with digestion, bitters should be taken up to 10 minutes before a meal.  However, if you forget, or didn’t know you were going to be eating in 10 minutes, they are effective taken at any time around the meal, even after.  If you are using a liquid tincture, you must drop the bitters right onto your tongue, swish them around a bit, then swallow.  If you are using bitters in a pill form, you must let that pill sit on your tongue and being to dissolve so that you taste the bitter flavor.  Remember that all these benefits begin with the bitter taste receptors on the tongue.  At first this can be a really shocking taste, but the more you use them, the more normal they begin to taste.  

             In my practice I often advice patients to take bitters before each meal for a period of time, and when digestion has been strengthened they can be used on an as-needed basis.  The thing I love about bitters is they teach your own body to function more optimally, and begin to shift your taste buds away from the salty and sweet processed foods toward enjoying more whole, savory ones. 


            This article is meant as information only, not a diagnosis.  Please consult with your health care provider before starting any new supplements.


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Lara Lattman

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