“Gut health” seems to be a social media buzzword these days, with TikTok and Instagram influencers pushing products, juices, and bizarre diets to “heal” the gut, i.e., reduce bloating, improve digestion, and act as a sort of “cure all” for many common gastrointestinal symptoms and conditions, such as IBS and IBD. Aloe vera juice, bone broth, apple cider vinegar, probiotic-enriched muffin mixes–With so many emerging and unverified natural and unnatural remedies floating around the internet, it can be overwhelming to discern fact from fiction.
At the same time, there’s so much new and exciting research around the role of the gut microbiome in overall physical and mental health. Research has found that boosting the diversity of gut microbiota (the vast array of “good” bacteria in your digestive system) can have positive effects on the immune system, improve mental health conditions like depression, improve sleep and heart health, and even reduce the rate of certain types of cancer.
That being said, these recent, ungrounded social media trends are nothing but dangerous.
In a recent New York Times article, University of London senior lecturer Stephanie Alice Baker defined these fads as the latest manifestation of the idea of “self-optimization,” an insidious mechanism to promote diet culture and “ideal” body types through unlikely sources. By labeling weight loss as “gut healing,” influencers are able to promote extreme, unhealthy diets. What’s more, these influencers often have no medical authority and may only be promoting a product because they’re being paid to do so.
The truth of the matter is: there’s no quick fix, even if it seems to work for someone on #guttok. Many people suffer from gastrointestinal conditions that are best treated by consulting a medical professional. However, there are some research-driven dietary changes you can make to heal your gut over time. Let’s take a look at 6 gastroenterologist-backed methods for diversifying and improving the gut microbiome.
6 Things You Can Do For Your Gut Health
Eat fermented foods.
A clinical trial conducted by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine found that a diet high in fermented foods, such as kimchi, kefir, and cottage cheese, continually increased microbiota diversity and decreased inflammatory markers over a period of 17 weeks. Fermented foods are rich in good bacteria; read our blog about other types of fermented food and fermentation here.
Eat more fiber.
The same Stanford trial also examined the role of fiber in diet and found that it increased microbiome function, especially coupled with the consumption of fermented foods. Consuming soluble and insoluble fiber also promotes regularity and digestive function. Learn more about high-fiber foods and the role of fiber on our blog here.
Reduce consumption of processed foods.
Research has found that regular consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods (like sugary soda, chips, artificial cheese, fried chicken, fast food) reduces gut diversity while increasing symptoms of gut disorders like IBS, the risk of depression, inflammation, and mortality. Unfortunately, many readily-accessible foods with a long-shelf life are highly-processed, even ones that appear “healthy,” so taking time to research nutritional information is key.
Reduce consumption of spicy foods.
Spicy food isn’t “dangerous,” but consuming it often can irritate the stomach and increase symptoms of certain gut disorders, like IBS, IBD, and acid reflux.
Smoking and the toxic chemicals in cigarette smokes harms every part of the digestive system; from increasing the risk of heartburn and peptic ulcers to harming intestinal microflora, increasing inflammation, and increasing oxidative stress.
Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods contain life bacteria that contribute to improving gut microbiome diversity. Taking probiotics may be beneficial to your health, but it’s recommended that you consult a doctor first.
The experienced team at Gastroenterology Health Partners is here for you if you are concerned about your gut health or have other gastroenterological issues. For more information or to schedule an appointment at one of our Kentucky or Southern Indiana offices, contact one of our practice locations near you.