What Vitamins Help With Digestion?

Digestion may seem simple, but it’s actually a complex process that involves a large number of organs and other body parts. From the moment food enters your mouth, it goes on a journey through the body — nutrients are removed and broken down, water and enzymes are added, and ultimately what’s left over is expelled at the end of the process. 

If you’re having trouble with your digestion, this can impact on your quality of life. Learning more about the process, how it works and what vitamins you can take to help with digestion can help you find ways to gain control and reclaim your comfort and confidence.

Digestive System Basics

When discussing digestion, many people first think about the stomach. But the digestive system is far more diverse and complicated than just the stomach — it takes a whole series of moving parts to turn the food we eat into usable nutrients. 

The digestive system starts with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract — the long, twisting tube that stretches from your mouth (where food enters) and your anus (where the remaining, non-nutritive waste products are expelled). 

From the mouth moving down, the GI tract consists of the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, and finally, the rectum and anus. In addition, the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. 

The gut microbiome also plays a crucial role in the digestive system. The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms — bacteria, fungi, viruses and yeast — that work together to help digestion. Most of them are located in the colon. 

When there is an imbalance, like when the “bad” microorganisms outnumber the “good” ones, digestive issues can surface or worsen. 

Why Is Digestion So Important?

Food is delicious; and the JSHealth philosophy celebrates balance and enjoying the foods we love, in moderation! Eating food isn’t just about pleasure and experience (although that should absolutely be part of eating); it’s a necessary part of getting our body the nutrients it needs to thrive. 

Without digestion, we wouldn’t be able to break down the carbohydrates, fats, minerals, proteins and vitamins that we ingest into their more usable parts.

  • Carbohydrates break down into simple sugars
  • Fats turn into fatty acids and glycerol
  • Proteins break down into amino acids

Each nutrient the body gains from the digestive process is vital in its own way — for cell growth, energy, healing, growth, etc. Paying attention to what you eat and how your body digests it can keep you feeling your best and also keep tabs on how you respond to certain foods. This can be a game changer for people with food sensitivities or allergies. 

How Digestion Works

Let’s follow the journey of a piece of food through the digestive tract. 

Start by taking a bite. As food enters your mouth, the first step in digestion is chewing. 

While the rest of the digestive process involves breaking down food into its building blocks, the mouth starts by physically breaking it up into smaller pieces. Once your food is small enough to progress into the esophagus, peristalsis starts — a series of digestive muscle contractions that move it through the digestive system. 

From there, the chewed-up food — known as a bolus — (mixed with saliva from the salivary glands) makes its way into the stomach, where it is combined with digestive juice and moved into the small intestine by peristalsis. 

Each part of the small intestine plays a separate but equally important role. It starts with the duodenum, which connects with the pancreas to add digestive enzymes that help break down large molecules (like protein and starches). 

The duodenum also neutralizes leftover stomach acid, adds bile (via the common bile duct), and absorbs specific vitamins like folate and iron before moving the bolus into the jejunum. 

The vast majority of the nutrients are absorbed in the jejunum — carbs, fats, minerals, proteins and vitamins — moving the rest along into the ileum. Digestive absorption finishes in the ileum, where bile acids, fluids and vitamin B-12 are absorbed by the villi (finger-shaped structures that line the inside of the small intestine).

After your lunch has made its way through all three parts of the small intestine, it then enters into the large intestine. At this point, there is a combination of electrolytes, waste products (like indigestible fiber) and water left. Like the small intestine, the large intestine is made up of multiple sections. It starts with the cecum, a wide pouch that fills up before emptying into the colon. 

The colon is up to seven feet long and winding, so digested products spend the most time here — sometimes up to 24 hours. As peristalsis continues to push it along, water and electrolytes are removed and mucus is added to help everything move smoothly. Any remaining vitamins (like vitamins B and K) are also absorbed by our gut microbiome.

And finally, anything that’s not usable by the body is passed into the rectum before being expelled from the body through the anus. 

What Vitamins Help With Digestion?

Part of the digestive process involves breaking down and absorbing vitamins, but specific vitamins can also help the process work more smoothly and efficiently. 

  • Vitamin A - Vitamin A itself isn’t necessary for digestion, but people with chronic digestive issues (like Crohn’s disease) are more at risk for developing a deficiency of this nutrient. Supplementing with vitamin A can help reduce that risk and may also help support mucus production, which is crucial for helping the large intestine do its job efficiently. 
  • B-complex Vitamins - There are eight separate vitamins in the B-complex category, each with its own responsibilities in the body. Because B vitamins are water-soluble, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough of them. Vegetarians (and especially vegans) are also at a higher risk of developing a B-12 deficiency, as this vitamin can only be naturally obtained through animal products.
  • Vitamin C - Vitamin C doesn’t just boost the immune system, although that is one of its crucial functions. The vitamin is also essential for helping to keep your teeth and gums strong and healthy so that you can start the digestive process on a much more effective note.
  • Vitamin D - Vitamin D and calcium go hand in hand, helping each other be more effectively absorbed. Most people are at least slightly deficient in vitamin D, especially in the winter months when our access to the sun is limited. Adequate levels of Vitamin D have been linked to improved mental health — it’s a win-win.

Honorable mention when it comes to supplements that can help with the digestive process goes to probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that you can take to help boost your body’s natural gut microbiome, giving you more ability to fight off infection, digest nutrients effectively and keep everything running smoothly. 

Other Ways To Improve Your Digestive Process

In addition to learning what vitamins help with digestion, there are other ways to make the process work more efficiently. Improving or supporting your gut health requires a well-rounded approach, so incorporating more than one tactic is crucial.

  • Eat gut-healthy foods - What you eat impacts more than just the digestive process; we are what we eat, after all. Focusing on eating foods that are easier to digest with fewer side effects can significantly help minimize many stomach issues. Pay attention to your gluten intake, as well. Although true Celiac disease is rare, many people have trouble easily processing foods with a lot of gluten — cutting out at least some may help.
  • Exercise more regularly - Exercise is an essential part of life, not just for looking good but also for feeling good. When you add more exercise into your routine, you increase the circulation to your digestive system, which can help your body go through the digestive process more efficiently. 
  • Drink more water - Water is our lifeblood; we can go far longer without food than water. Proper hydration is vital for the body — preventing dehydration and constipation, helping food pass through the digestive tract and protecting you from overheating. 
  • Manage your stress level - Stress and the gut are intrinsically linked; that’s why people frequently mention diarrhea and other stomach problems as a side effect of their anxiety issues. Finding ways to reduce your stress level, especially if you deal with chronic stress or mental health issues, can also help improve your gut health. 
  • Stop smoking - We all know smoking is bad for us, but it can be a hard habit to break. However, if you are dealing with frequent GI issues, this is your sign to stop smoking. Nicotine can significantly slow down peristalsis, making it much harder for your body to digest food and absorb nutrients. 

In Conclusion

When your digestive process is going smoothly, you probably don’t pay any attention to it. However, when you’re having issues with any portion of it, your digestive system can significantly impact your overall health and enjoyment of life. 

Finding ways to keep your digestive health working smoothly, like learning which vitamins help with digestion, can improve your life and give you peace of mind. We’re here for you every step of the way!


Your Digestive System & How it Works | NIDDK

Peristalsis | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Probiotics: What You Need To Know | NCCIH

Water and Healthier Drinks | Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity | CDC