As cliché as the trope “Listen to your gut” may be, there’s a reason why the gut is known as the second brain and gives us signs when something is or isn’t right. Whether you call it a gut feeling or instinct, the gut refers to your gastrointestinal (GI) system, the health of which is generally determined by the levels and types of bacteria in your digestive tract, AKA your gut microbiome.
“Other than digesting and absorbing nutrients from the food and drinks we consume, our digestive system protects us from harmful invaders with the small and large intestine housing nearly 80% of our immune system,” explained Paulina Lee, MSHS, RD, LD, a gut health functional dietitian and Founder of Savvy Stummy, LLC. “The gut and gut microbiome is deeply connected to the brain and mood health through the gut-brain axis, a bi-directional superhighway of communication between our brain and gut.” What’s more, Lee noted that the gut microbiome creates 95% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates anxiety and is essential for relaxation, sleep, and concentration. Bottom line: When your gut health is poor (read: your gut microbiome is imbalanced), your mood, immune health, and sleep quality, just to name a few, pay the price.
5 Gut Health Supplements
As far as tips for good gut health (more on that to come) go, you can expect the usual suspects for overall health: a balanced and diverse diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods, staying hydrated, stress management, reducing inflammation by removing food sensitivities and toxins from your diet and lifestyle, getting in daily movement, and prioritizing restful sleep. To round out a holistic approach to improving your gut health? Supplements, of course. Ahead, a round-up of five gut health supplements that can aid in keeping a balanced gut microbiome, straight from experts.
There are countless supplements for gut health at our fingertips and knowing which ones are legit and worth trying can be overwhelming, so before we dive into the expert-approved recommendations, let’s first understand what gut health really is and how to improve gut health.
What Is Gut Health?
Before we dive into the supplements, let’s define what gut health actually is so you know what you’re working toward. If there ever was a wellness buzzword that has earned its stay, it’s gut health. But what is it exactly? “Gut health refers to the balance and optimal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract, specifically the microbiome, which consists of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses,” conveyed Dr. James Walker, a clinical doctor at Welzo. “A healthy gut microbiome is diverse, with a balanced composition of beneficial bacteria that support digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and even mental health.” Dr. Walker cited various factors that can play a significant role in your gut health, including diet, lifestyle, stress levels, lack of sleep, medications, and environmental factors (think: pollution and toxins).
While it seems like a given to keep our digestive system in check by being mindful of the influences mentioned above, with today’s go-go-go culture, keeping a healthy digestive tract is easier said than done. Enter: superfoods to give your gut a healthy boost. Below, experts let us in on the gut health supplements that get their stamp of approval. FYI, before taking any supplement, Dr. Walker stressed the importance of consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian who can assess your specific needs, potential interactions with medications, and any underlying health conditions. They can provide personalized recommendations and guidance to ensure safe and effective use of supplements.
Best Supplements for Gut Health
Probiotics are living, good bacteria that promote gut health—whether in supplement form or from food sources—and can help maintain digestive health and a healthy balance in your body. When bad bacteria in the gut increase in number, probiotics can step in to fight off the bad bacteria and restore your body to a neutral state. The best part? Taking a probiotic supplement can tip the balance in favor of fewer gaseous bacterial strains, resulting in less gas and bloating.
“[Probiotics] contain a combination of beneficial bacteria strains, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus,” described Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD, a nutritionist and ACE-certified trainer. “Probiotics can help restore the balance of gut bacteria, support digestion, boost immune function, and improve bowel regularity.” Opt for a high-quality probiotic supplement with a variety of probiotic strains, follow the dosing recommendations on the product label, and store them according to what the label states (i.e. refrigeration, room temperature, etc.). If you have a compromised immune system or underlying health conditions or are taking immunosuppressant medications, it’s especially vital to speak with your doctor before adding probiotics to your routine.
“Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for beneficial bacteria in the gut,” Sabat said. Once they bypass digestion and make it to your colon, the gut bacteria metabolize and ferment the prebiotics to survive, producing short-chain fatty acids that provide energy to your colon cells, help with mucus production, and assist in inflammation and immunity. Prebiotics boast many health benefits, including helping regulate bowel movements, enhancing your body’s anti-inflammatory response, decreasing bad bacteria that cause disease while increasing the production of good bacteria, and improving immune function.
Sabat suggested looking for supplements containing prebiotic fibers like inulin, chicory root, or fructooligosaccharides (FOS) to promote the growth and activity of healthy gut bacteria. That said, prebiotics are not one-size-fits-all, and they may worsen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome since rapid fermentation can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation in patients who are sensitive.
Like breathing, we don’t think twice about digestion—it happens automatically. Well, without digestive enzymes, the food we nosh on cannot be broken down properly and the body can become deficient in nutrients it needs to function (hello, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain). In some cases, the body doesn’t make enough digestive enzymes, resulting in a deficiency. Cue digestive enzyme supplements.
“Digestive enzyme supplements contain enzymes like amylase, protease, and lipase that aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively, for better absorption,” Sabat clarified. “These supplements can support digestion, especially for individuals with enzyme deficiencies or digestive disorders.” Take the supplement with meals according to the recommended dosage on the product label. If you have a known enzyme deficiency or gastrointestinal disorder, be sure to check in with your healthcare professional prior to consuming a digestive enzyme supplement.
You probably associate the carbohydrate with helping move things along, and rightfully so. The crunch factor you get from biting into a carrot or apple? That’s good ol’ fiber working its magic. Since the body can’t digest fiber, it passes through the body undigested and makes its way to the gut, promoting regularity and relieving GI issues. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s The Nutrition Source, fiber lowers the risk of developing various conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation, thanks to its beneficial role in the gut microbiome that may produce anti-inflammatory effects that alleviate chronic inflammation. Adding a variety of fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, leafy greens, and apples can help you meet your daily fiber needs, but fiber supplements can also step in to fill in nutritional gaps.
“Fiber supplements, such as psyllium husk or glucomannan, can help promote regular bowel movements and support overall gut health,” Dr. Walker affirmed. “It’s important to drink plenty of water when taking fiber supplements to avoid constipation.” Reach for fiber supplements that contain a mixture of both types of fiber—insoluble and soluble—to optimize digestion.
If you’ve found yourself on #GutTok, chances are you’ve heard about L-glutamine, a supplement TikTokers tout for its gut health perks. Is it worth the hype? The short answer is yes. Recent research has shown that the amino acid glutamine can positively affect gut health by supporting the gut microbiome, gut mucosal wall integrity (a crucial line of defense that can help protect against digestive concerns and conditions), and the regulation of inflammatory responses. Glutamine is naturally produced in the body, however, during intense periods of stress (think: infections, surgery, and trauma), the body may not be able to keep up with the higher demand, in which case glutamine supplementation can provide a leg up.
“Glutamine is an amino acid that plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining,” Sabat echoed. “It can help support gut healing, reduce intestinal permeability, and improve immune function.” Whether you take a glutamine supplement in powder or capsule form, follow the recommended dosage instructions provided by the manufacturer. Pro tip: While taking a glutamine supplement can enhance gut health, if you have gastrointestinal issues, getting to the root cause should be your first step.
Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.