Gut health has become a buzzword in the fitness industry over the last few years... but unfortunately most of the supplements & protocols being pushed as essential to "fix your gut health" are unproven and likely ineffective.
Your gut is full of trillions of bacteria microorganisms - the “gut microbiome”.
All these microorganisms make up a whole ecosystem in your belly. This ecosystem can do things like improving digestion, strengthening the immune system, or causing gas or bloating, depending on the balance of different bacteria.
There are tons of products being sold to capitalize on the gut health hype - prebiotics, probiotics, kombucha, and the like. But the reality is, scientists don’t really know what is going on here. Study of the gut & the gut microbiome is a very new field.
So today, I'm joined by Dr. Gabrielle Fundaro to separate the truth from the lies when it comes to gut health. ⠀
[*The content below is primarily my interpretation of Gabby's thoughts from the interview. She deserves full credit for them. I've added a few of my own concepts or expanded on her thoughts when helpful.]
HOW WORRIED DO YOU REALLY NEED TO BE ABOUT GUT HEALTH?
Gabby mentioned that she doesn't like to use the word "worry" in relation to gut health, as that's probably a bit more serious than most people need to be.
"We can certainly care about it, be curious about it, and do evidence-based things that to the best of our knowledge support an adaptive and resilient microbiome".
It's actually very tricky to define what a "healthy" gut is.
This is because there is no reference point for what a healthy gut even looks like.
We could look at the gut/microbiome from people all around the world, and people that are "healthy" would likely have microbiome that looked much different due to their location, food availability, and more.
It's kind of like asking your friend...
"Hey, does your car do... car stuff well?"
"Yep! My Honda is perfectly adequate for all of the car stuff."
"Cool. My Jeep looks much different than your Honda, but it does car stuff just as well."
In this case, both cars seem to get the job done very well. So "ability to do car stuff" is how we're gauging whether a car is "good" or "bad", we can't really say one is better than the other, even though they look much different.
The same is true for the microbiome and gut health. People who are healthy have a very different microbiome, depending on where they're located.
Thus it probably makes more sense to use terms like "resilient" or "adaptive" instead of "healthy".
A lot of people are wondering...
"Is there something I don't know when it comes to gut health? Am I unware of an underlying issue that needs fixed?"
In Gabby's words, they're almost "being sold a problem so that they'll buy the solution".
There's no reason to create problems that don't exist.
If you're already active, eating a diverse array of foods, and don't have symptoms of a less resilient gut (i.e. struggling with diarrhea), there's likely not an issue.
DO GUT HEALTH SUPPLEMENTS WORK?
Probiotic supplementation can be beneficial, but the effects are strain specific.
For example, there are several different strains of e. coli (which makes most of us automatically think: bad, disease, Chipotle) that are actually probiotic strains that prevent typhoid.
So when we're choosing a probiotic, taking a shotgun approach (taking a probiotic without knowing the strain of probiotic you're taking has been shown to improve the symptoms you're trying to improve) is ineffective and likely a waste of money.
You shouldn't take a probiotic like you would a multi-vitamin (which is generally taken as a kind of insurance policy to prevent deficiency in a wide variety of micronutrients) as there isn't strong data that probiotics are actually improving your GI tract as a kind of "one size fits all" pill.
A probiotic could be helpful... but you need to understand what specific strain you're chasing to make the most of it.
An excellent graphic explaining this from Gabby's article on probiotic use with Precision Nutrition:
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE POOR GUT HEALTH
Changes in the microbiome aren't always going to be associated with GI distress. (Meaning that sudden diarrhea doesn't necessarily mean your gut health has deteriorated.)
SOME SIGNS OF GASTROINTESTINAL DISEASE (you really need to go to a doctor):
→ Blood in the stool
→ Uncontrollable bowel movements
→ Extreme pain relieved by a bowel movement
→ Extreme pain after a meal
→ Tarry or oily stool
If you're seeing red flag like this, don't waste time with things like candida cleanses or probiotic supplementation. Go to the doctor.
DOES BLOATING MEAN YOU HAVE POOR GUT HEALTH?
Many of the foods associated with improving body composition and losing body fat (whole, minimally processed foods) are high in fermentable carbohydrates.
Often times, when you switch to eating more foods like this, you'll experience more bloating and a change in your stool.
This does not mean you have "bad gut health".
The microbes in your gut are actually very happy with all of the fermentable carbs you've been eating, and in breaking those down they're producing gas (which is normal), along with other very beneficial things to our health like short-chain fatty acids.
So this often isn't a sign that things are going wrong.
That said, if you have any concerning symptoms, it'd be wise to consult with a gastroenterologist.
If you have a clean bill of health, simply start paying attention to the foods the you seem to be bloated after eating, and adjust portion sizes until the bloating dissipates.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO IMPROVE YOUR GUT HEALTH?
So to wrap this up, a few of Gabby's suggestions for what we all can do to support a resilient, adaptable gut:
1. Eat plants at every meal - This doesn't have to just be vegetables, but can also mean legumes, whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts, etc.
2. Eat plenty of fiber - Typically, ~15g of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed is thought to be a good rule of thumb.
3. Coffee and red wine intake also seem to be beneficial, BUT... - Don't get too excited. With wine, the recommended dose is ~200ml for women / ~400ml for men across the course of a week.
4. Engage in regular physical activity - Most of the research here shows that aerobic activity seems to be most beneficial, but there's also some evidence that training in a more bodybuilding-esque fashion and consuming adequate fiber will yield the same benefits.
Check out Gabrielle's content:
These are the same science-backed strategies we implement with our online clients undergoing the physique transformation process.
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