Gut health is wealth, on all fronts. Maintaining proper gut function has an effect on our immune response, sleep, skin, mood, and overall function, and maintaining it is a peak necessity. But with all the “biohacks” on the internet today, how do we know what really works, what is just hype, and what could actually make things worse depending on existing conditions?
We went straight to the queen of such questions, registered dietitian, founder of Diet Doctors, and Nutrition Director of LifeSpan Medicine, Rachel Swanson. She broke down the pros and cons of classic go-to supplements and foods we reach for when we’re feeling not so good, to bust whether or not they have substantiated benefits.
Pro: “Many clients tell me they love their morning ritual with celery juice because it helps keep them regular. If you enjoy it and it works well for you, then by all means—continue.”
Con: “For those with pre-existing conditions like IBS or SIBO, celery juice can exacerbate symptoms like bloating due to the large bolus of the polyol called mannitol (a fermentable carbohydrate).” The process of fermentation creates gas. Imagine that happening inside us… pretty literal.
Pro: “There is definitely some merit when it comes to ACV being used as a digestive aid and/or for acid reflux. The risk is relatively low for those who are curious and want to give it a try—I recommend diluting with some water; otherwise, it can be an esophageal irritant due to the acidity.”
Con: “Despite ACV being around for thousands of years, there is no hard clinical evidence to support the anecdotal benefits related to gastrointestinal health.”
Pro: “A diet rich in both pre- and probiotics is key to supporting overall microbiome health and, in turn, will benefit much more than the gut (e.g. the immune system). Supplemental, strain-specific pre- and probiotics are often used as a more targeted approach for GI concerns, like managing digestive discomfort in cases of IBS or dysbiosis, or to help lower inflammation.”
Con: “If there is any underlying gut issue like SIBO to begin with, increasing consumption of foods rich in pre/probiotics can add fuel to the fire. In this case, you’ll want to speak with a dietitian or functional medicine doctor who can help identify the root of the issue before you start refurbishing your gut.” In other words, SIBO, aka Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, could actually worsen from, well, adding more bacteria. You get the idea.
More to consider in the realm of buzzy probiotics, Swanson points out, is that it’s the Wild West out there, both food-wise and supplement-wise. “While some have proven efficacy, the vast majority of what’s on the market has little or no data supporting its utility, like the ‘healthy’ desserts that contain ‘added probiotics’ … relatively useless.”
Pro: “It’s a fermented beverage that does contain live cultures/microbes. If it’s low in sugar [under 5 grams is what Swanson considers low in her practice], then it can be a superior option compared to flavored, sweetened beverages that would have been chosen otherwise.”
Con: “Kombucha on its own is not recommended clinically as a gut remedy (but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it). Also, kombuchas typically do not meet the required level of evidence to be considered probiotics—technically only characterized strains of microbes with a scientifically demonstrated effect on health should be called probiotics.” So while it does contain live bacteria, we haven’t been able to prove that said bacteria from kombucha specifically helps to repopulate the gut.
Pro: “Some of coconut oil’s derivatives (e.g. MCT oil) and byproducts (e.g. monolaurin) do have clinical application.” Monolaurin is a compound that can be used in a treatment approach for yeast overgrowth, which in the intestines is known as SIFO (Small Intestinal Fungal Overgrowth).
Con: “Research exploring the use of these [compounds] (for GI remedies or otherwise) is much different than using commercially available coconut oil. Any articles claiming otherwise are often citing research that was conducted in piglets, rats, or in-vitro models.”
While coconut oil may have some anti-microbial benefits topically, the active compounds we derive from it are only potent in concentrated amounts. It’s definitely a healthy fat to add to our diets, but in terms of gut health, it’s not a catalyst for any substantial changes to our gut health specifically.
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