Supplements as Gastrointestinal Protectants

September 15, 2022

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By Dr. Elizabeth DeLomba, DVM MBA

GI upset is one of the most common issues presented in veterinary medicine. Any number of things can disrupt the normal biome and defenses present in the gut. There are a number of ways to deal with the consequences of an upset gastrointestinal tract, including the use of GI supplements to try to minimize the irritation.

One of my go-to strategies is to select a product or ingredient that contains a protectant. What I look for are ingredients that help reinforce the natural mucin barrier that is present along the gut.  These agents may be referred to as demulcents. The function of mucus in the intestine is to lubricate the lining of the GI tract and protect it from mechanical damage. The mucus reduces the ability of pathogens to attach to the intestine.

There are two primary ingredients that I use to accomplish this. The first is slippery elm bark, which upon ingestion, transforms into a mucilage that coats and soothes the mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines. This mucilage is composed of a polysaccharide, which creates a gel when mixed with water and it helps to increase natural mucus production and protect the gut from excess acidity. In addition to supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria, it may also facilitate normalizing bowel transit times as well as containing antioxidants that help reduce irritation. Fortifying the mucin barrier may help to decrease the exposure of toxins, allergens, and other irritants to the gut.

Slippery elm in combination with psyllium fiber has also shown that it may help with hairballs in cats. In a two-week study of cats that were given a chew containing psyllium fiber and slippery elm, there was a 29% decrease in the clinical signs of coughing and retching.[1]

A second ingredient for gastric protectant is marshmallow. No, I am not referring to the sugar/gelatin combination that is best consumed after application of campfire. Marshmallow plant, Althea officinalis, is an herb known for its ability to soothe the gastrointestinal tract. Like slippery elm, ingestion of this bio adhesive also causes the creation of mucilage. Purified mucilage of marshmallow is composed of L-rhamnose, D-galactose, galacturonic acid, and D-glucuronic acid.[2] There are also flavonoids present in marshmallow that contribute to its gastro-protective effect.

For example, in a study in rats, marshmallow was shown to support the integrity of the gastric mucosa. This was attributed to marshmallow’s effect to decrease histamine and a reduction in oxidative stress.[3] Marshmallow may also have antimicrobial effects and contribute to tissue healing.[4]

[1] Dann JR, Adler MA, Duffy KL and Giffard CJ. A potential nutritional … for the reduction of feline hairball symptoms. J Nutr 2004; 134: 2124S–2125S

[2] Tomoda, M., Shimizu, N., Oshima, Y., Takahashi, M., Murakami, M., and Hikino, H. … activity of twenty plant mucilages and three modified products. Planta Med 1987;53(1):8-12.

[3] Zaghlool SS, Shehata BA, Abo-Seif AA, El-Latif HAA (2015) Comparison between the Protective Effects of Famotidine, Ginger and Marshmallow on Pyloric Ligation-Induced Peptic … in Rats. J Bioequiv Availab 7: 170-178. doi:10.4172/ jbb.1000234It.

[4] Rezaei M, Dadgar Z, Noori-Zadeh A, Mesbah-Namin SA, Pakzad I, Davodian E. Evaluation of the antibacterial activity of the Althaea officinalis L. leaf extract and its wound healing potency in the rat model of excision wound creation. Avicenna J Phytomed 2015;5(2):105-12. 

One downside to using mucilage producing compounds is that it may decrease absorption of oral medications. For this reason, you may want separate dosing from other substances. It is recommended that any medication be administered 30-60 minutes prior to dosing either the slippery elm or the Marshmallow.

These ingredients can be found in VetriScience’s Entero Health Pro and GI Balance Pro. Both of these are labeled for use in either dogs or cats.

There is evidence to reinforce the use of supplements to safely and easily protect the gut and support the gastrointestinal environment.

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