You might be surprised to learn 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, sharing stories about their gut health issues and remedies.
And they’ve garnered just over a billion views.
As with anything skyrocketing on TikTok, the popularity of gut health on the app can be attributed in part to the ease with which content creators can produce quick, relevant videos on topics such as how to reduce bloating or prevent symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Another factor is that while users are looking to be better informed about their health on the app, they are also looking for solutions, and the gut health community provides them.
For example, this year, a cleaner, easier way to get gut health information was launched by Thorne, a science-driven wellness company that supports healthy aging, and went viral. .
Testing your gut health usually involves pooping in a bucket or on a piece of paper, then collecting a sample of your own stool in a container to ship to a lab. “You get a lot of information doing these gut health tests, but one problem is that the collection process just isn’t the best experience,” says Nathan Price, chief science officer at Thorne.
Thorne’s famous TikTok test offers an alternative: a microbiome wipe, which is used like toilet paper after going to the bathroom. You place the wipe in a container, you send it and voila.
“It’s like what you do every day,” Price says. “We just thought that was the easiest way to think you can collect a microbiome sample.”
The simplicity of the test, along with the actionable steps provided with the results, really resonates with creators and followers on TikTok.
But the amount of information, advice and remedies on social media can be overwhelming. There’s so much waiting for you that you might not be able to separate the myths from the facts, or even understand why gut health is so important in the first place.
Luckily, we spoke to a gastroenterologist about what exactly gut health is, how it affects other parts of your body, and how you can improve it. Here is what he had to say:
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 study in BMC Medicine.
The key to all things gut health is the microbiome, according to Christopher Damman, gastroenterologist at the Digestive Health Center at the University of Washington Medical Center and medical and scientific director of Supergut. You could think of the microbiome as the “tamagotchi of our gut,” says Damman.
“You have to keep the tamagotchi happy to keep your whole body happy,” Damman says.
The microbiome is full of microbes, and there’s a very important reason they live in your gut, Damman says. He encourages you to think of microbes as a nutrient factory that makes the things your body needs, using the food we eat. Many of these nutrients are not present in the foods themselves.
“They’re not just there as innocent bystanders, but they’re actually conspiring for our health and we’re conspiring for their health. We have a mutual relationship with them,” he says.
Here are some things your microbes do for your body, according to Damman:
- produce nutrients
- Regulate your immune system
- Protect yourself from pathogens
When your gut health is out of balance, it can also affect the rest of your body, he says. And it’s not always the usual suspects like diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal discomfort.
“Skin may be linked to gut health. Your mental health, and neuroinflammation is the cause, may be linked to gut health. The list goes on and on,” Damman says, “Equal sleep and mood. “
Research shows there are also health benefits to having a diverse microbiome, which can be affected by your diet, he says. Unique microbiomes were associated with healthy aging and increased survival rates, 2021 study finds study published in Nature Metabolism.
Some experts would say that tests like Thorne’s, while effective, are unnecessary. Your body will likely tell you when your gut health is out of balance through a number of symptoms, including digestive issues, acne, brain fog, and low mood.
Fortunately, there are simple, natural things you can do to support or improve your gut balance. The most important thing is to improve your diet, and for that, Damman encourages you to consider these four elements:
- Consider this quote: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much,” from Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”
- Try a Mediterranean Diet
- Eat whole foods and use supplements for nutrients you may be lacking
- Remember the “four F phonetics”: fibres, phenols, ferments and good fats
Fiber is what he recommends above all because it is the favorite food source for gut microbes.
And of the TikTok splurges, kombucha, yogurt, and apple cider vinegar are the only ones that are lightly backed by evidence because they’re fermented foods, he adds.
Eating a diet high in fermented foods correlated with a more diverse microbiome and lower inflammation, a small 2021 study finds study made by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine.
But it is important to be careful about choosing low-sugar fermented foods. “For kombucha in particular, it’s high in sugar. Sugar is probably one of the things that contributes to poor gut health,” Damman says.
Damman also warns you to be careful with Keto diets because while they can help you lose weight, they usually don’t contain enough fiber and can put a strain on your liver and kidneys.
“Get back to really healthy, more balanced eating,” says Damman. “The balance we’ve been missing is whole foods and fiber, and I think that’s where supplements can really fill a nice niche in the background.”