4 ways to support or improve your gut health

You might be surprised to know that gut health is the latest trending topic on TikTok.

Under hashtags like #guttok, #guthealth and #guthealing, influencers and daily users post thousands of videos and share stories about their gut health struggles and remedies.

And they’ve had just over a billion views.

Like all things that have skyrocketed on TikTok, gut health’s popularity on the app may be due in part to the ability of content creators to produce quick and informative videos about topics like reducing bloating or preventing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

Another factor is that as users seek more information about their health in an app, they are looking for solutions, and the gastrointestinal health community is offering them.

For example, Thorne, a science-based wellness company that supports healthy aging, went viral this year with a clean and easy way to get information about your gut health.

To test your bowel health, you usually need to poop in a bucket or paper, and then collect a sample of your stool to send to the lab. “You get a lot of information from a gut health test, but one problem is that the collection process isn’t the best experience,” said Nathan Price, Thorne’s chief scientific officer.

Thorne’s TikTok-famous test offers an alternative—a microbiome wipe that can be used like toilet paper after going to the bathroom. You just put the wipe in the container, ship it, and you’re done.

“It’s like something you do every day,” Price says. “We thought this was the simplest way you could collect a microbiome sample.”

The simplicity of the contest, as well as the actionable steps provided with the results, really resonated with TikTok creators and followers.

But the abundance of information, advice, and resources on social media can be overwhelming. You have so much going on that you can’t tell the myths from the facts, or even why gut health is so important in the first place.

Luckily, we talked to a gastroenterologist about what 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 BMC Medicine study.

The key to gut health is the microbiome, according to Christopher Damman, MD, a gastroenterologist at the University of Washington Medical Center’s Digestive Center and Supergut’s chief medical and scientific officer. You can think of the microbiome as the “foodie of our gut,” says Damman.

“You have to keep the Tamagot happy to make your entire body happy,” says Damman.

The microbiome is full of microbes, and they have a very important reason for living in your gut, Damman says. It encourages you to think about the microbes that use the food we eat to make things your body needs. Most of these nutrients are not present in the food itself.

To keep your entire body happy, you need to keep your tamagot happy.

Christopher Damman

Gastroenterologist, Digestive Health Center, University of Washington Medical Center

“They’re not just there as innocent bystanders, they’re actually conspiring against our health, and we’re conspiring against their health. We have a mutual relationship with them,” he says.

According to Damman, some of the things your microbes do for your body are:

  • production of nutrients
  • Regulate your immune system
  • Protect you from pathogens

When your gut health is out of balance, it can also affect the rest of the body, he says. It is not always the usual suspects, such as diarrhea, constipation or abdominal discomfort.

“Skin can be tied back to gut health. Your mental health, and neuroinflammation is the cause of it, can be tied back to gut health. The list goes on,” says Damman: “Sleep, and mood.”

Research shows that different microbiomes also have health benefits that can be influenced by diet, he says. According to a 2021 study published in the journal Nature Metabolism, unique microbiomes are associated with healthy aging and increased life expectancy.

4 ways to support or improve your gut health

Some experts argue that tests like Thorne’s, while effective, are unnecessary. Your body tells you that your gut health is out of balance through a range of symptoms, including digestive problems, acne, brain fog and low mood.

Fortunately, there are easy, natural things you can do to support or improve your gut balance. The most important thing is to improve your diet, and to do that, Damman encourages you to consider these four:

  • Consider this quote: “Eat food. Mostly plant. Not too much,” from Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
  • Try the Mediterranean diet
  • Eat whole foods and use supplements for nutrients that may be lacking
  • Remember the “Four Phonetic Fs”: fiber, phenolics, enzymes and good fats

It is the preferred food source for gut microbes because it offers this above all else.

Of the TikTok craze, only kombucha, yogurt, and apple cider vinegar are supported by evidence because they’re fermented foods, he adds.

According to a small 2021 study by Stanford School of Medicine researchers, having a diet rich in fermented foods is associated with a more diverse microbiome and reduced inflammation.

However, you should consider choosing fermented foods that are low in sugar. “Kumyz is special because it has a lot of sugar. Sugar is probably one of the things that contributes to poor gut health,” says Damman.

Damman also cautions against Keto diets, as they may help you lose weight, but they typically lack fiber and can stress your liver and kidneys.

“Then go back to a really healthy diet that’s balanced,” Damman says. “The balance that we’re missing is whole foods and fiber, and I think that’s where supplements can really fill that gap.”

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