Bitters and Digestion

As an adult, I have heard the word “Bitters” and assumed it had something to do with an alcohol-like drink, but I did not know exactly what it was until now. In other countries, people would have an “apèritif”, usually an alcoholic beverage, before dinner, to help stimulate the appetite. Examples of apèritifs are dry-drinks such as vermouth, champagne, gin or sherry, which have been described as “bitter”. These pre-meal apèritifs have bitterness; this is important because they stimulate bitter receptors to facilitate the digestion process. Research now shows that there are bitter receptors located all along the digestive tract making them key players in facilitating healthy digestion.

 In a recent article by Dr. Ronda Nelson, she explains that there are close to 30 different bitter receptors. Some herbs have also been shown to stimulate more than one of the bitter receptors at the same time. These herbs include gentian and wormwood making it especially effective when taking several bitter herbs at one time. The more receptors that are stimulated the better the digestion. Patients taking capsules containing only gentian root had dramatic improvement in a number of gastrointestinal complaints including constipation, gas, loss of appetite, heartburn, nausea and abdominal pain.

Bitter receptors have been found on certain specialized hormone cells located in the upper digestive tract known to trigger the release of bile from the gall bladder which helps to digest fat and protein digesting enzymes from an organ called the pancreas. Bitters also release digestive juices and help in the mixing of the food in the stomach contents and it creates a sense of fullness. When the bitters hit certain receptors it stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas and therefore may play a direct role in managing blood sugar dysfunctions including diabetes.

It is known that some people cannot detect the bitterness in the herbs while others have increased sensitivity to them. Research shows a pattern in those people who are less sensitive to bitters have greater tendency toward alcohol dependency, holding on to fat in their tissues, and eating behaviors leading to increasing body mass index (BMI). By combining bitter herbs together you can stimulate these same receptors which would make it very beneficial in these individuals.

One of the products that we carry that has several bitters herbs including gentian, wormwood and feverfew is called Digest Forte. Together these herbs will stimulate almost half of the bitter receptors along the GI tract. Be sure to contact the clinic at 707-455-8655 or email us at or stop by the clinic at 805 N. Lincoln St. Suite E, Dixon CA 95620