September 14, 2020
Are all of these things influenced by how well we take care of our gut? I keep hearing more and more about gut health, and how it plays a role in all of these things, and MORE (even mental health and immune health).
It seems like scientists are still doing research to understand all of this better, but I’m thinking it could be a really important piece to the puzzle of nutrition and staying healthy.
I have been loooving gastroenterologist Dr. Austin Chiang’s TikTok posts and I’ve learned so much just from watching them. So I decided to reach out and see if he could help me understand a little more about gut health! After speaking with him and doing a little research on my own…I am FASCINATED. There is soo much more to our gut than just digesting what we eat!
Here’s what I learned.
The gut = our “second brain?”
I’ve heard a lot about how our gut acts like our “second brain,” and it can actually affect our immune system, mood and metabolism. Sounds crazy! So I did a little research.
First of all, “gut health” mostly refers to our gut microbiota, which is just the presence and balance of healthy bacteria in our digestive system. Like I said before, the science on all of this is still pretty new, but still really cool.
The “good” bacteria in the gut protects the lining of our intestines and protect against harmful viruses and bacteria. Overall, keeping the balance of bacteria healthy can influence our overall health and help prevent disease. A lot of the research is looking at how good gut health can help prevent obesity, cancer, GI conditions (irritable bowel disease, etc.) and neurological conditions like autism and Alzheimer’s.
As far as mood and metabolism goes…kinda the same thing. Some studies have made connections between gut health and depression, and some suggest that poor gut health could be a factor in inflammation, fat storage and obesity. Fun to read about, but the science isn’t totally solid yet.
When I asked Dr. Chiang about this, he agreed that there needs to be more research. He was actually part of a human trial that “looked at weight loss with fecal transplant from a lean donor, but there was no definitive benefit.”
Of course I asked about bloating!
Even after alllll of my research about bloating, I was still wondering if it’s always a normal thing, or if we need to be concerned about bloating at some point. How much of it can we really control?
According to Dr. Chiang, bloating isn’t usually something to be concerned about, even though it’s SO uncomfortable. However, he did note that “rare instances of something more serious could include intermittent small bowel obstruction or colonic obstruction that warrant further evaluation.” So basically if bloating seems like it’s more than just bloating, probably a good idea to see your doctor.
To control bloating, Dr. Chiang pointed out that “there is a large variation in what kinds of foods may cause bloating.” He mentioned FODMAPs and high-fiber foods here, but also pointed out that just because a food fits these categories, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to make you bloat. He recommends that people with specific conditions like IBS follow a “low FODMAP diet with guided reintroduction. That way, we can better identify what the cause is.”
Basically, he’s saying that everyone is different, and it might take some experimentation to figure out what foods cause bloating for you.
Dr. Chiang also advises that “drinking plenty of water and staying active to promote gut motility is helpful to promote passage of gas.”
He has a couple of fun TikToks on bloating too. Check this one out 🙂
Have you ever wondered WHY constipation happens? Do things just get stuck? Ew, but really!
Dr. Chiang had a really good explanation for what’s going on in there when things just aren’t moving well, describing it as “a harder consistency of stool, but it can also refer to problems some people may have with the muscle movement or the gut, or even muscles near the exit.”
To take care of the issue, he said sometimes it’s as easy as things we commonly know about like dietary adjustments, fiber supplements and medications. But he also said that some people actually need pelvic floor physical therapy, or even some kind of procedure to fix the problem!
… and I had to ask about his opinion on “skinny teas”
I think we’ve pretty much established that these teas are bogus, give you diarrhea, and can be dangerous. But I always like to ask the pros what they think.
“Just don’t drink these teas. Laxatives are not a safe or effective way of losing weight and sometimes the laxatives themselves or excessive diarrhea can lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances.”
So once again… STAY AWAY.
Are probiotics worth the $$$?
So you’ve seen probiotics and prebiotics, and you’ve probably heard about how amazing they are for gut health right? First, let’s talk about the difference:
Probiotics are actual live bacteria that help balance healthy gut bacteria. You can usually find probiotics in foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi. You can also buy capsules of probiotics.
Prebiotics feed probiotics, helping them flourish in the gut. They’re found mostly in fruits, veggies, grains and beans.
So is it better to take a probiotic supplement every day for gut health, or should we just make sure we’re eating probiotic foods? I couldn’t really find a clear recommendation for the best probiotic to take as a daily supplement, so I’m still not sure! This TikTok by Dr. Chiang suggests that (as usual), focusing on food is probably the better option for most people.
As always, it’s all about nutrition!
As always, good nutrition is just going to make you feel better and help your body work better overall.
Dr. Chiang agrees, saying “eating food that promotes better overall health may be linked to overall improved mood. Maintaining a generally healthy diet and weight will also optimize your energy level.”
So even if we don’t know all of the details about how gut health is connected to things like disease, inflammation, obesity, mood and metabolism just yet, we DO know that eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies helps with all of these things!