Last updated February 13, 2019 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Katie Stone, ND.

Swedish Bitters: A Natural Way to Improve Your Digestion

Swedish Bitters promote good digestion, better immunity, and can help to fight a Candida overgrowth too.

Swedish bitters are a wonderful digestive remedy that has been used in medicine for hundreds of years. In fact, bitter foods and drinks were a major part of our ancestors’ diets, and are still often used in Chinese traditional medicine and Ayurveda.

With today’s modern diet largely favoring sweet things, bitters have almost disappeared from our daily lives.

Using bitter tonics is still enormously beneficial to your body due to the impact they have on digestion. Weak digestion is a common symptom of Candida overgrowth, and Swedish Bitters could form a useful part of your Candida cleanse.

Most Swedish bitters recipes available today are formulated in a similar way to those created by traditional medicinal practitioners many centuries ago. The basic recipe was rediscovered by two 18th century Swedish doctors, and there are now many different varieties of bitter tonics available in the natural medicine market.

What Makes A Swedish Bitter?

Bitters are made from herbs and whole plant extracts. They’re taken orally like a tonic, and designed to stimulate the release of digestive enzymes from your mouth and throughout your entire digestive tract. At the same time, Swedish Bitters promote the secretion of other integral digestive substances such as hydrochloric acid (HCl) and bile.

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The standard formula of a Swedish Bitter tonic includes a base of alcohol, with herbs such as aloe vera, angelica root, carline thistle root, camphor, manna, myrrh, rhubarb root, saffron, senna, and ginger. Of course, there are many variations on the recipe and also non-alcoholic versions.

The Health Benefits of Swedish Bitters

The benefits of Swedish Bitters include:

  • Improve digestion of protein
  • Aid in mineral absorption
  • Improve breakdown of fats and also fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K
  • Help to reduce symptoms like gas, pain and bloating
  • Relieve occasional heartburn
  • Aid regular bowel movements
  • Reduce food intolerances and sensitivities
  • Help in the breakdown of microbes
  • Prevent SIBO and Candida yeast overgrowth
  • Reduce sweet cravings and regulate blood sugar
  • Promote cooling and remove “heat” from the body (aka inflammation)
  • May help improve detoxification, healthy skin, joint pain and mood

How Do Swedish Bitters Help With Candida?

Digestion is a complex process with many different reactions involved – from the first mouthful you take right through to elimination. However, every step can be helped with digestive bitters.

Swedish Bitters are especially useful for your Candida treatment because they can help to increase the natural production of stomach acid. When your body produces more hydrochloric acid, your digestion becomes more efficient. It also helps to raise the acidity of your intestines.

The Candida yeast grows best in an alkaline environment, as this is where it can switch to its fungal form and spread throughout the body. By increasing the acidity of your gastrointestinal environment, the yeast isn’t able to develop properly, which inhibits its ability to spread. This can help to keep Candida at bay and begin to rebalance your gut flora.

Although most of the evidence is anecdotal, there are a variety of other benefits associated with taking Swedish Bitters. Many people report positive effects on their liver health and immune system, as well as improved digestion.

You can take Swedish Bitters before, during and after your Candida diet to help maintain a healthy digestive system.

Here are some of the ways Swedish Bitters can help during your Candida diet…

1. Bitters Improve Physical Digestive Function

One of the main activities of Swedish bitters is to support the mechanisms of your upper digestive function.

Although there’s no exact consensus on how your taste receptors are able to enhance digestion, research suggests that one particular mechanism is involved. It appears that some bitter tastes trigger a brain response, which in turn increases peripheral vascular resistance. This is the resistance of your arteries to blood flow. As your arteries constrict, resistance increases. As they dilate, resistance decreases.

This vascular resistance is very important for healthy digestion. When your body is breaking down food, blood flow to your stomach increases.

In short, bitter tonics boost circulation to the gastrointestinal system, helping your body to break down food more efficiently. (1)

Another way in which Swedish Bitters improve digestion is by stimulating both your oropharyngeal and gastrointestinal bitter receptors. These are the parts of your body responsible for increasing digestive secretions.

Bitters help to sharpen the appetite by stimulating the taste receptors. The response is a dilation of your gastric vessels and a boost in the gastric and salivary secretions. (2)

2. Bitters Increase Digestive Juices

Eating bitter-tasting substances also triggers your body’s release of a hormone called gastrin, which promotes the secretion of other important digestive juices, including:

  • Saliva, to kick-start digestion
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Pepsin, the enzyme that breaks down protein molecules
  • Intrinsic factor, required for absorption of vitamin B12
  • The flow of bile, which helps in digesting dietary fats and in preventing waste accumulating in your liver.

Research has shown that this mainly happens in the mouth. This is where bitter and sour tastes actually increase saliva production, which is the first step in breaking down food.

It’s also been found that further down in your gastrointestinal tract are even more “bitter receptors” residing in your tissues. These are also stimulated by bitters, triggering chemosensory responses that influence the entire digestive system.

A more recent interpretation of this theory is now supported by the German E Commission. This is that “bitter stimuli pass primarily by way of the glossopharyngeal nerve to a special group of cells in the cerebral cortex. The taste is interpreted there as bitter, and causes stimuli to be forwarded through the vagus nerve to both the salivary gland and the stomach.  This stimulation of the digestive processes enhances the appetite.” (3)

What this simply means is that bitter herbs make you feel hungry by getting your digestive ‘juices’ going!

3. Bitters Boost Hydrochloric Acid Production

You need an adequate amount of hydrochloric acid in order to properly absorb certain minerals and vitamins. Some vitamins and minerals require an acidic environment for optimal absorption, such as folic acid, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, non-heme iron, as well as some types of calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

When HCL is present in the small intestine, peristalsis is stimulated. Peristalsis is the wave-like muscle contractions that help to move food through your intestines. This helps with digestion and also bowel motility.

The other function of gastric acid is in killing parasites, bacteria, and fungi that may be present in food you eat. If your HCI is low, your immune system suffers. Pathogens and yeasts such as Candida may be able to invade your gastrointestinal tract and cause harmful infections. (4)

By stimulating the production of digestive enzymes such as hydrochloric acid, Swedish Bitters help to maintain a healthy, acidic environment in your gastrointestinal tract. Candida thrives in an alkaline environment, which is why restoring your stomach acid is one of the easiest ways to slow Candida growth and re-balance your gut flora.

Taking bitters over a long period of time on a regular basis can help to strengthen your digestive function, particularly your stomach, gallbladder, liver and pancreas.

4. Bitters Contain Herbs To Fight Fungal Overgrowth

Bitters that contain Goldenseal, Barberry or Oregon grape will also contain berberine. Berberine is a potent plant alkaloid with broad antibacterial and antifungal activity, and has been shown to fight Candida yeast.

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Studies have shown that berberine can help to prevent yeasts from producing the enzyme lipase, which is what allows them to colonize the gut. It’s also been found that Berberine has an excellent antifungal effect against fluconazole-resistant Candida, as well as against the biofilm form of Candida.

Berberine appears to destroy the cell viability and plasma membrane of Candida yeast, preventing it from developing further. (5)

In addition, berberine is helpful for cleansing the liver and supporting gallbladder function. This makes it a useful ally during an anti-Candida program.

5. Bitters Can Manage Blood Sugar Levels

Another beneficial effect of Swedish Bitters on your digestive system is in helping to regulate the production of insulin in your pancreas.

When the pancreas is producing adequate insulin, you’re less likely to suffer from sudden spikes and drops in blood sugar. Sugar spikes are what Candida yeast thrives on, so better blood sugar management can help to slow down your Candida overgrowth.

This can also reduce your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can also lead to cravings for sweet treats and carbohydrates, which can severely hamper your diet efforts!

6. Bitters Support Liver Function

The liver is one of the main organs involved in a Candida cleanse, as it’s responsible for clearing out the toxins being released by the yeast. Many of the herbs in Swedish Bitters are also have liver-supporting properties, thanks to their ability to stimulate normal bile production.

This allows for efficient functioning and cleansing action of the liver and proper detoxification. It also improves the breakdown of fats and allows for smooth elimination of waste.

In addition, bile helps to prepare the liver to process nutrients efficiently. This can be particularly useful during Candida die-off when large amounts of toxins are being released into the bloodstream and the liver has a larger ‘workload’ than usual. This is when a supplement like Liver Support can also be very useful.

7. Bitters Boost The Immune System

Although the recipe for bitters may vary, many contain several herbs that are also very beneficial to the immune system.

Some original forms of Swedish bitter tonics include astragalus root, ginger and angelica root— all of which are provide substantial support to your immune system function.

Astragalus harbors both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and has been shown to boost resistance to infection and regulate your immune response. Similarly, angelica root has been found to support immune cells and speed recovery from respiratory infections.

How Do You Take Swedish Bitters?

The important thing to know about Swedish bitters is that they are exactly that: bitter! They’re designed to stimulate the bitter receptors on your tongue, as this is what triggers the production of digestive enzymes in your mouth and gut.

Because these bitter receptors are located towards the back of your tongue, this is where you should aim for the bitters to reach.

Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions that come with your Swedish Bitters product.

In most cases, the Bitters will usually come with a dropper. Use the dropper to place a few drops on the back of your tongue. You should only need between half a dropper to a full dropper.

It’s best to take the bitters immediately before a meal in order to get those digestive juices flowing. Alternatively, you can put the drops in water and drink them.

Swedish Bitters do contain a small amount of alcohol, which is usually minimized on the Candida diet. However, the amount contained in a dose of Swedish Bitters is so small that it shouldn’t be a concern.

You can take Swedish Bitters before, during and after your Candida diet.

How Swedish Bitters Help You Fight Candida

If you’re going through a Candida cleanse, you need all the extra help you can get. The Candida yeast tends to disrupt or weaken your normal digestive function, so it’s important to give that part of your body some extra support!

Swedish bitters are a natural and effective means of promoting healthy digestion, right from the moment you begin a meal through to its breakdown in your gut.

Along the way, the powerful herbs in Swedish bitters will be assisting in your liver function and helping to keep your blood sugar in balance. This is hugely important throughout the Candida recovery process. For for information, don’t forget to check out our Ultimate Candida Diet program!

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