Gut health, also known as the gut microbiome, refers to the balance and interaction of bacteria living within your gastrointestinal tract.
There are on average 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in a person’s digestive tract, many of which are beneficial and necessary to a healthy body.
Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is crucial for an effective digestive system. Symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, gas and nausea can indicate an imbalance in gut bacteria. In more severe cases, conditions like Crohn’s disease and IBS can arise from an unhealthy gut.
The complexity of gut health is well researched and various studies have demonstrated links between the gut microbiome and wider health of the rest of the body. Having the right balance of bacteria in the gut is linked to numerous health benefits including weight loss, healthier skin, a stronger immune system and better cognitive function.
What affects gut health?
Everyone’s gut microbiome is different. While this is often predetermined by our genetics, diet and medications along with lifestyle and environmental factors negatively impact our guts. Good ways to improve gut health naturally include:
- Exercising regularly.
- Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Cutting back on caffeine consumption.
- Eating more plant-based foods.
- Lower your sugar intake.
If you’re worried about how healthy your gut is, there are a few ways to find out how your gut is doing, like home testing kits which involve sending stool samples for analysis. Alternatively, visit your doctor, especially if you’re reacting to a particular food, as you may have a particular issue such as dairy intolerance. You can also have the microbiome of your gut mapped out by a private gut clinic, where they’ll do a GI-map stool test or a Small Intestinal Bacterial overgrowth test (SIBO).
What are gut health supplements?
Along with keeping active and eating a balanced diet, there are other ways to encourage gut health. Gut health supplements containing probiotics and prebiotics can support your gut’s microbiome by encouraging the development of good bacteria. Probiotics and prebiotics supplements are available in various forms including liquids, powders and tablets.
Supplements are beneficial to some individuals who may have strict dietary and allergy requirements where they’re limited in what they can eat. There are many different varieties to suit individual needs, such as vegan capsules and fruit-flavoured drinks.
Types of gut health supplements
The majority of gut health supplements fall into two camps: prebiotics and probiotics.
Probiotics are the ‘good’ live bacteria that live naturally in the gut. They help support bodily health by balancing the gut microbiome. Probiotic foods naturally contain live cultures of yeast or bacteria and include:
- Tempeh (soy).
- Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage).
- Kefir (fermented milk drink).
Probiotic-supplements are a way to to keep your gut feeling health and happy. Probiotics supplements and can help a variety of conditions including IBS, diarrhoea and have been linked to helping eczema and urinary/vaginal health.
Many probiotic supplements cater for specific needs, so you can find ones that suit you best. Sport essential probiotics, for example, are made with omega 3 and multivitamins to give athletes the best supplements needed for their performance.
Pros of probiotics supplements
- Convenient way to increase good bacteria in your gut.
- Provides wide range of helpful microorganisms.
Cons of probiotics supplements
- Can trigger allergic reactions.
- Can take a while to work.
- Can have a short shelf live and specific storage needs.
The food you eat plays a key role in maintaining a balanced gut microbiome. Prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of probiotics – beneficial gut bacteria. They are typically high-fibre foods that can’t be digested by the body, so the existing good bacteria in the gut feeds off it and thrives. Prebiotics are found in a variety of foods, including:
Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet should keep your gut health on track, made easier by eating a sufficient amount of prebiotic foods. If you are unable to eat a fibre-rich diet, consider taking a prebiotic supplement instead.
However, if you experience symptoms of IBS, taking prebiotic supplements can help ease discomfort, combined with a healthy diet. Chewy pastilles for sensitive stomachs are a great way to help encourage a healthier microbiome.
Pros of prebiotic supplements
- Provides food for gut bacteria
- Helps the body absorb calcium
- Different types to tackle specific symptoms
Cons of prebiotic supplements
- Too much can lead to bloating and gas
- Not beneficial for people with small intestinal bacterial growth (SIBO) or FODMAPs intolerance
- Can cause constipation
Type 2 diabetes
Research has shown that gut health supplements, especially probiotics, have a positive impact on type-2 diabetes. These studies have indicated that there are links between probiotics lowering insulin and glucose levels in those with diabetes. While diabetes can be maintained with a healthy diet and by incorporating natural probiotic foods into your lifestyle, gut supplements are a great way to promote metabolic control. There are probiotic capsules specified for diabetics which include the mineral chromium to help maintain normal blood glucose levels.
A healthy gut is key to the functioning of your body. Several studies have indicated that metabolism is linked to the performance of bacteria in your gut. While external factors contribute to weight gain and loss, metabolism is a key factor for weight management.
Probiotics support the function of the gut, which leads to the stabilising of your metabolism. Incorporating a powder supplement is an easy way to ensure that your body is getting as much good bacteria as possible. Powder supplements can be stirred into tea or coffee, making them suitable to integrate into your daily lifestyle. Equally, balancing your diet with probiotic-rich foods will encourage natural gut health. Yoghurt, as a lean protein, is a healthy addition to a weight-loss diet, as well as sauerkraut which is low in calories and full of fibre.