Gut Check on Gut Health
By: Amelia Noel, RDN, LDN
What is "Gut Health?"
"Gut health" is a now-popular term that refers to the overall state or condition of the gut microbiome in our digestive tract. According to the CDC, the microbiome is the community of germs that lives in and on our bodies. Having good gut health means ensuring that your gut and gut microbiome are healthy and have the correct balance of "good" bacteria that the body needs to function.
Gut health matters more than you might think; the digestive tract plays a role in the well-being of the entire body, including immune health, emotional well-being, skin health and so much more. So how can you best support gut health?
Many products advertise to be "gut friendly" or boast that they boost gut health, but what exactly is it about different foods or products that provide those benefits?
A healthy diet should contain some key nutrients to fuel good gut health: probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are foods’ live and active cultures or the healthy bacteria that are found in certain food products. Prebiotics are the food to support/feed the healthy gut bacteria. Ideally, we would get our prebiotics and probiotics from their most bioavailable source: food. Prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods such as oatmeal, beans, bananas, while probiotics are found naturally in foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented food products.
Probiotics can also be taken in a supplement form, but it’s important to note that not all species or strains provide the same benefits. Research on the benefits of probiotics is typically conducted using a specific type of microbe (strain), and results can be only associated with that specific microbe. In addition, research is performed using a certain dose, which is based on colony-forming units (CFUs). When choosing probiotic products for a specific purpose, it's important to look for the exact microbe(s) in adequate amounts, as reflected in the research specific to that health benefit. To ensure effectiveness, probiotic supplements should be taken consistently and in the proper quantities.
Probiotics vs. Antibiotics
Probiotics play an important role regarding the administration of antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that fight bacterial infections, either by killing the bacteria or making the environment unfavorable for bacterial growth. Antibiotics are not targeted to which type of bacteria – good or bad – that they affect; they affect all the bacteria in our systems. This leads to many people wiping out their entire gut microbiome. Consuming probiotic-rich foods on a regular basis or taking a probiotic supplement can help replenish the body with healthy bacteria after taking antibiotics.
Aside from food and supplements, there are other ways to support gut health. Reducing or managing stress levels, getting adequate sleep, staying active and avoiding tobacco can all aid in a healthier gut. Remember that the function of the gut goes beyond just digesting food; a healthy gut means a healthy YOU.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not intended to provide specific healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.