4 ways to support or improve your gut health
You might be surprised to learn that gut health is the latest buzzy topic on TikTok.
Under hashtags like #guttok, #guthealth and #guthealing, influencers and every day users alike are posting thousands of videos, sharing stories about their gut health struggles and remedies.
And they’ve raked in a little over a billion views.
Like with anything that skyrockets on TikTok, gut health’s popularity on the app can be attributed in part to the ease with which content creators can churn out quick and relatable videos about topics like how to reduce bloating or prevent symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Another factor is that as users are looking to become more informed about their health on the app, they’re also looking for solutions—and the gut health community is offering them up.
For example, this year, a cleaner and easier way to get gut health information was launched by Thorne, a science-driven wellness company that supports healthy aging, and went viral.
Testing your gut health typically requires pooping in a bucket or on a piece of paper, then scooping a sample of your own stool into a container to ship it to a lab. “You get a lot of information from doing these gut health tests, but one issue is that the collection process just isn’t the greatest experience,” says Nathan Price, chief scientific officer at Thorne.
Thorne’s TikTok-famous test offers an alternative—a microbiome wipe, which is used just like toilet paper after going to the bathroom. You place the wipe in a container, send it off and you’re done.
“It’s just like what you do every single day,” Price says. “We just thought that is the simplest way we can possibly think of that you can collect a microbiome sample.”
The simplicity of the test, plus the actionable steps provided with the results, really resonates with creators and followers on TikTok.
But the sheer amount of information, advice and remedies on social media can be a lot to wade through. There is so much coming your way that you may not be able to distinguish the myths from the facts, or even understand why gut health is so important in the first place.
Thankfully, we spoke to a gastroenterologist about what exactly gut health is, how it affects other parts of your body and how you can improve it. Here’s what he had to say:
What is gut health and why is it important?
Gut health is a term used to describe how the gut interacts with the rest of the body and overall health, including how you digest and absorb substances, according to a 2011 study in BMC Medicine.
The key to all things gut health is the microbiome, according to Christopher Damman, a gastroenterologist at the Digestive Health Center at the University of Washington Medical Center, and chief medical and science Officer at Supergut. You could think about the microbiome as the ‘tamagotchi of our gut,’ Damman says.
“You have to keep the tamagotchi happy to keep your whole body happy,” Damman says.
The microbiome is filled with microbes, and there’s a very important reason why they live in your gut, Damman says. He encourages you to think about microbes as a nutrient factory that makes the things your body needs, using the food we eat. Many of those nutrients aren’t present in the food itself.
“They’re not just there as innocent bystanders, but they’re actually conspiring towards our health and we’re conspiring towards their health. We have a mutual relationship with them,” he says.
Here are some things that your microbes do for your body, according to Damman:
- Produce nutrients
- Regulate your immune system
- Protect you from pathogens
When your gut health is imbalanced, it can affect the rest of your body as well, he says. And it’s not always the usual suspects like diarrhea, constipation or abdominal discomfort.
“Skin can be tied back to gut health. Your mental health, and neuroinflammation is the cause of that, can be tied back to gut health. The list goes on and on,” Damman says, “Sleep even, and mood.”
Research shows that there are also health benefits of having a diverse microbiome, which can be affected by your diet, he says. Unique microbiomes were associated with healthy aging and increased survival rates, according to a 2021 study published in Nature Metabolism.
4 ways to support or improve your gut health
Some experts would argue that tests like Thorne’s, while effective, are unnecessary. Your body will likely tell you when your gut health is imbalanced by way of a number of symptoms including digestive problems, acne, brain fog and lower moods.
Fortunately there are easy, natural things you can do to support or improve the balance of your gut. Most important is improving your diet, and for this, Damman encourages you to consider these four:
- Think about this quote: “Eat food. Mostly plant. Not too much,” from Michael Pollan’s book, ‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto’
- Try a Mediterranean diet
- Eat whole foods and use supplements for the nutrients you may be lacking
- Remember the ‘four phonetic F’s’: fiber, phenols, ferments and good fats
Fiber is what he recommends above all else because it is the preferred food source of microbes of the gut.
And of the TikTok crazes, kombucha, yogurt and apple cider vinegar are the only ones slightly backed by evidence because they’re fermented foods, he adds.
Having a diet rich in fermented foods correlated with a more diverse microbiome and a decrease of inflammation, according to a small 2021 study done by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine.
But it’s important to be mindful about choosing fermented foods with low sugar. “For kombucha specifically, there’s a lot of sugar in it. Sugar is probably one of the things that’s contributing to poor gut health,” Damman says.
Damman also warns you to be careful of Keto diets because while they may help you lose weight, they typically don’t include enough fiber and can put stress on your liver and kidneys.
“Shift back to a truly healthy diet which has more balance to it,” Damman says. “The balance that we’ve been missing is whole foods and fiber, and I think that’s where supplements can really fill a nice niche on the backend.”
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