How Bitters Aide with Digestion
My visit to Italy in 2009 is when I discovered the joy of bitters. I was introduced to them when I learned that many people who live there drink aperitifs and digestives before or after meals. At first I was enamored because they are like a small and delicious liqueur shot and it just tasted good! But when I learned more about the power behind bitters and how they influence our digestion the scientist in me became interested. They are not only delicious, but they also have health benefits.
Digestives, or bitters, are composed of many different bitter plants and just a half ounce or ounce is enough as it is pretty potent stuff. And although the bitters do have alcohol in them, the reason to drink them is not the same as with regular alcoholic drinks. The digestives are extracted bitter plants that are in alcohol and the reason to take them before or after meals is to increase and improve your digestion.
Bitters have been used around the world for thousands of years, and are especially popular in Europe. Many people make their own bitters with their own recipe, and often times that recipe has been passed down for years within their family. As I explored bitters more during my trip I discovered that similar concoctions were commonly being used within cocktails, and the cocktail lover within me became interested 😉
Over the next year I started to see bitters showing up in American bars, being served as additives to cocktails. Suddenly, cocktail bitters started to skyrocket in popularity. I myself started to utilize bitters in my diet and looked for what was available on the market, which wasn’t much several years ago. I decided I wanted to add bitters to Bridget’s Botanicals repertoire and wanted to make and share them with my clients. They are after all, a great introduction to the botanical and herbal world and I liked that I could sort of disguise that within cocktails to bring herbs into more people’s lives. So in 2017 I launched my Wild World Bitters line at the ‘Cocktails on the Rocks’ event at Red Rocks Park in Morrison, Colorado.
So how do bitters actually work in our body? When bitters enter our mouth, we start to produce more saliva and our saliva helps to break down food. A dropper full of bitters before a meal automatically activates the enzymes in your mouth and this helps break down the food a little better. That’s the first step on the journey into your body.
In the stomach we have molecular biology pumps that secrete hydrochloric acid which is responsible for breaking our food down. Problems start to happen when we don’t have enough acid or we are over producing acid.
If a person is having heartburn and taking over-the-counter medicine for it, the stomach actually reacts in the opposite way than you would think. It detects a decrease in pH and it starts to produce more acid in response, leaving us with a more acidic environment in our stomach. Bitters however, regulate the secretion of the hydrochloric acid into our stomach, which is the key to balanced stomach acid.
In the last ten years or so, there has been a lot of research about how the gut helps to regulate the immune system and the nervous system. The microorganisms in the gut are symbiotically producing signals for our body, or chemicals, which are actually matching our physiology and responding to those different signals to activate or regulate our nervous system and immune system. T2R receptors, which are connected to the nervous system, are found all over the body, but primarily are in the gut. I want to mention the plant-based diet again here because if you are eating foods that already help with diversifying the gut flora this only helps further support immune system. Here’s a cute educational simple yet effectively explained TED Ed video about you, your food, and your gut microbes.
It is truly amazing how much of our body is connected to our gut health, which implies just how important it is to take care of .
If you are having other problems such as frequent illnesses, depression, or anxiety, you may want to look to the gut for the answers. You can experiment and start to use bitters to see if they help and positively influence you. As with any herb, I encourage you to try them for at least one month, but ideally three months, before deciding whether it’s having an impact on your wellness journey.
Get Ahead of Holiday Digestion Issues
Now that we have more knowledge of the science behind the microflora in our gut it is clear how important it is and how much it can affect us. And what better time of year to work on digestion issues than the holidays. All the family gatherings, big meals, and holiday parties make for abundant and wonderful food, but also sometimes very uncomfortable GI issues. This is a great time to incorporate bitters into your diet. You can do a dropper full right into mouth, or in a glass of water, or you can have fun with bitters and try them in cocktails, or even drink them straight. Infusing them in
cocktails can be a great and somewhat sneaky way to help your stubborn parent/sibling/spouse with their holiday digestion issues 😉 When they talk about how great they feel the next day you can tell them why!
Types of Bitters for Meals and Cocktails
Bitters are very balancing in general and the extracts of the herbs are of course bitter, so that adds a different element to food. They can balance flavors of food and be used in something such as salad dressing, along with other beneficial oils. I recommend my Frolic and Awaken bitters on dessert items and baked goods as they are not quite as bitter as some others.
Historic bitter herbs include wormwood, dandelion leaves, endives, yellowdock, burdock, gentian (well-known for use in cocktails), lavender, rosemary, yarrow leaves (great in salad).
In closing, bitters are more of a traditional, long-term solution for digestion; one that a lot of Europeans have been using for centuries. They can really positively impact your gut health and thus your overall health.
If you would like to get started with bitters, I offer a Wild World Bitters sample pack of three different bitters. This makes a great holiday gift, especially if gifted before a big holiday meal 😉 Note: the Primal bitter is the best for digestive issues.