By Sarah Ryan
It has been over a decade since I was at University, and listening to my Advanced Nutrition lecturer talk about the huge importance of the gut and its connection to multiple issues in the body. “You just wait.” she said. “Doctors will brush it off now, but in 10 years it will be everywhere”. Well, Louise, you were totally right about that. With gut health-related hashtags at over 2.2 billion views on TikTok, I’d say its popularity exceeded even her expectations.
While I absolutely believe health should be widely discussed, and people should empower themselves by becoming their own health advocates, how do you sift through millions of suggestions to try the ones that might just work?
Surely not ALL of them are right, right??
Slow Down A Second, What Do You Mean By Gut Health?
Most of us have been told that eating yoghurt is excellent for your health. We have probably all heard the word ‘probiotic’ thrown around, and there is a reason why every cafe seems to have kombucha on its drinks menu these days. All these things contain tiny bits of bacteria that end up in your guts, make little colonies there, and help you keep everything working as it should. We refer to this as the gut microbiome, and just like any living thing, it needs certain conditions to function correctly.
Imagine your intestines as like a house. If it isn’t well built or maintained, the inhabitants won’t thrive. If you don’t feed the bacteria the right things, they’ll not reproduce properly. If you flood the house with things like alcohol, they’ll die, and you probably have to repopulate them. They are sensitive little things and tend to be quite particular, making it essential to give them what they need.
In turn, they will help you to build a robust immune system, make happy chemicals like serotonin, keep your bowels regular, reduce bloating, improve sleep and give your skin a glow-up. Gotta love these guys!
How Do I Know If My Guts Need Help?
Increasingly, health issues are being linked back to the gut. Studies have even made connections between a healthy gut microbiome and mental illness, referring to the gut as ‘the second brain‘.
However, one concern with this latest TikTok trend is having people mistake regular bodily functions for issues with their gut. Everyone burps, and everyone farts. Bloating, especially for women during their menstrual cycle, is also very normal and does not necessarily mean a problem needs to be addressed.
Had a bad day, and you’re feeling low? A little stressed and can’t sleep? No, that does not mean you need to cut out broccoli forever and drink aloe vera juice for the rest of your life.
But, let’s say you eat some broccoli and end up with excessive gas and bloating, then sure, maybe your gut needs some extra help, perhaps going easy for a while with irritants while doing things that might soothe it.
This brings me to the next crucial point. ALL GUTS ARE DIFFERENT.
Just because a content creator has 5 million video views swearing the remedy to eliminate bloating forever is a shot of ginger juice before meals doesn’t mean it will work for you. In fact, if you are like me, ginger will give you awful heartburn and have you up all night!
How Do I Know Which Influencer Will Give Me The Right Advice?
The short answer is you won’t. There are too many different causes of gut issues. Unless yours is exactly the same as the influencers, and your body works similarly, then there’s a good chance that what works for them won’t work for you. Plus, when you do change things up, your digestive system will go through a period of adjustment, and things might even feel worse before they feel better.
The best thing you can do when becoming an advocate for your own health is to learn as much as possible about gut health as a whole from REPUTABLE sources. Ensure that the influencer you are following has some background in dietetics, nutrition, health or medicine. Or better yet, see a professional and get a tailor-made program to increase the health of your gut and reduce any associated symptoms.
Things have changed so much in 10 years, and with the absolute bombardment of information being thrown at us, we need to sift through the crap to find information that is going to be helpful rather than harmful.
In the meantime, look after your gut by doing what you probably know you should be doing. Eat plants, eat good quality fibre, drink plenty of water and herbal tea, enjoy that natural yoghurt, and go outside for a walk. A healthy gut thrives on a diverse, minimally processed diet and exercise. In reality, you don’t need TikTok to know how good that is for you.