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Your Complete Guide to Gut Health:What You Need to Know & the Best Digestive Health Supplements


When nearly 70 percent of your immune system lies in your gut, safeguarding your gut health is a must.

Gut health plays a crucial role in all areas that essentially make up who you are—your physical, mental, and emotional health. Simply put, nurturing your digestive health can help you take ownership of your health and, ultimately, live the life you envisioned for yourself.

Now, there’s a lot of gut health information out there, so in this guide, we’ll keep it simple with research, relevant facts, and helpful tips intended to empower you to create a healthier gut and you.

Let’s start by giving you the lowdown on how your gut works. Then, we’ll move on to diet and lifestyle tips and the best digestive health supplements to consider.


The Science of Your Gut

Your gut is home to a community of microorganisms called the gut microbiome (other names include gut flora and gut microbiota). The gut microbiome carries a complex ecosystem of both good and bad bacteria, fungi, viruses, and more; we’re talking 300 to 500 bacterial species.

The bad bacteria isn’t necessarily bad per se—your gut needs a good balance of both bad and good bacteria, and studies demonstrate the link between the diverse community of microorganisms in your gut microbiome and overall health and wellbeing.

Where Is the Gut?

A lot of people tend to think the gut microbiome lies in the stomach when in fact, most of it lies in your large intestine—the last part of your digestive tract. Specifically, the microbes live in the cecum, which you can think of as a pocket in the large intestine.

What Are the Main Functionalities of Your Gut?

Let’s dive into some of the specifics of your gut. In other words, how exactly do all the bacteria achieve homeostasis in your body?

Your gut microbiome carries out important functions like:

  • Synthesizing vitamins:The gut microbiome helps break down vitamins, particularly vitamin K and B group vitamins. These vitamins play a vital role in achieving bacterial diversity in the gut. 
  • Turning fibers into short-chain fats:The good bacteria in your gut produce short-chain fats like butyrate, propionate, and acetate. The fats feed the cells in your colon, regulate a healthy pH in the gut, and control appetite.
  • Regulates immune system:The gut microbiome’s diverse array of bacteria, fungi, and viruses supports your immune system. They help combat the bad viruses and bacteria that you might pick up from the outside world. Moreover, short-chain fats also combat inflammation, which helps regulate the immune system.
  • Fueling mood-affecting chemicals:Studies show the gut impacts mood and behavior. For example, the gut is the source for neural chemicals like serotonin. Scientists have also found an enteric nervous system (ENS)—layers of nerve cells lining your GI tract. Often called the “second brain” in the body, the ENS serves as a link between your gut and brain, triggering mood changes when you experience constipation, bloating, and/or GI diseases and vice versa.

Why Is Mental Health Important?

An imbalance of good and bad bacteria causes an unhealthy gut. Specifically, if the bad bacteria outcompete the good bacteria, it can trigger a variety of health issues.

So what exactly compels bad bacteria to take over? Here are a few examples of lifestyle and diet habits that are predominantly responsible:

  • Unhealthy diet: A diet that consists of processed foods and added sugars feeds the bad bacteria, which can cause them to multiply. Also, a diet with a lack of prebiotics can contribute to more bad bacteria (we’ll dive more into prebiotics in a bit).
  • Excessive alcohol intake:Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can decrease the diversity in your gut bacteria. A study comparing alcoholics to non-alcoholics found that dysbiosis was present in 27 percent of the former group but not in any of those in the latter group.
  • Regular smoking:Cigarette smoking can cause changes in the gut microbiome. Research studies have seen the effects of smoking lead to a decrease in natural killer cells, which indicates a decline in the immune system.
  • Lack of physical activity:A sedentary lifestyle is one of the main factors that can cause constipation and other gut issues. Being active can help fuel natural movement in your intestines and normalize digestive function.
  • Stress:Thanks to the ENS we mentioned earlier, stress can trigger GI issues and vice versa. Research shows that stressful life events can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and peptic ulcer disease.

The 6 Main Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

You might be wondering whether or not you have an unhealthy gut. Here are the common signs of one:

  1. Upset stomach: Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn can be signs of an unhealthy gut. These conditions can indicate that your GI tract isn’t processing and eliminating food normally.
  2. Food intolerances:Having a hard time digesting foods (that aren’t due to food allergies) might signal a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome.
  3. Weight fluctuations:Gaining or losing weight without any changes in your diet or workout routines can indicate an unhealthy gut.
  4. Sleep disturbances:Since the gut produces much of the body’s neural chemicals, an unhealthy gut can cause insomnia or poor sleep.
  5. Frequent fatigue:Studies found that nearly half of those who suffer chronic fatigue also have IBS.
  6. Skin irritation:Research links skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, and acne to gut issues related to inflammation.

Diseases Linked to an Unhealthy Gut

If you don’t take proactive steps to take care of your unhealthy gut, it may lead to diseases such as:

  • Crohn’s disease:Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease where your gastrointestinal tract (GI) areas are inflamed.
  • Ulcerative colitis: Typically affecting the inner lining of your large intestine and rectum, ulcerative colitis is a bowel disease that may cause inflammation and ulcers in the colon.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS is a GI disorder where your intestinal, bowel, and motility aren’t functioning normally. It’s often called the brain-gut disorder, because gut activities affect the brain. Specifically, the ENS we discussed earlier contributes to people’s psychological and motor shifts with IBS.  
  • Autoimmune diseases:Research links an unhealthy gut to autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. When the gut microbiome wall is weak, some bacteria can go into the bloodstream, which can cause diseases to form.

What to Do about an Unhealthy Gut

Because of hormonal fluctuations, it’s common to experience more frequent inflammation, fluctuating moods, lack of sleep, and constipation in your 40s, 50, and 60s. Therefore, looking after your gut health is especially critical during these years.

It can be hard to self-diagnose an unhealthy gut, so we encourage you to speak to your physician if you’ve noticed anything out of the ordinary. You should also take proactive steps to enhance your lifestyle and diet.

Here are some ideas.

Lifestyle

Exercise doesn’t simply bolster your heart health. Research suggests exercise can enrich the microbial diversity in the gut.

Thankfully, any type of aerobic exercise can encourage natural movement of the intestines and digestive health—even fun activities like pickleball.

Aerobic exercise includes:

  • Walking
  • Jogging/running
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Cycling
  • Elliptical training

Diet

Keep in mind that your diet will either fuel health or fuel disease. Your gut is very sensitive to what you eat and drink, so the time to start a healthy diet starts today.

Probiotics & Prebiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics have become buzzwords when it comes to digestive health. Not to mention, people tend to use them interchangeably when in reality, they have completely different roles.

While probiotics add good bacteria to your gut, prebiotics help create an ecosystem that allows the probiotics/good bacteria to survive.

Here’s a quick breakdown of these two that explains this more:

The Best 10 Supplements for Your Digestive Health

Yep, 10 supplements. Gut health is that important.

Incorporating natural digestive supplements into your daily routine can help get your microbiomes where they need to be. So without further ado, here are the top 10 supplements that can give you the digestive support you need:

1. Psyllium Husk

Psyllium husk is a type of fiber that comes from the husks of the Plantago ovata seeds. It’s also a prebiotic, which can encourage the growth of good bacteria. In addition, Psyllium husk supplements can serve as a natural laxative, soaking up water in your gut and promoting better digestive health.

2. Artichoke Leaf

Not only are artichoke leaves delicious, but they contain high-fiber content. As a result, taking artichoke leaf supplements can promote a healthier digestive system by supporting regular bile flow (key in helping with fat digestion and metabolism).

3. Boswellia Extract

Boswellia extract is an herb pulled from the Boswellia serrata tree. Boswellia extract supplements can help support a healthy inflammatory response. Additionally, research shows the extract may normalize intestinal function and reduce diarrhea in those with IBS.

4. B Vitamin Complex

We mentioned earlier that the gut microbiome breaks down vitamins, most notably B vitamins, which helps diversity in the gut. Incorporating B vitamin complex supplements into your diet can encourage normal digestive function and a healthy immune response.

5. Bromelain

Bromelain is a set of enzymes found in pineapple stems. Though researchers have yet to explore this area further, bromelain has shown promise in helping with digestive issues.

6. Graviola

Graviola is an evergreen tree native to Central America and the Caribbean. It’s known to have anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, and antiviral properties that can help maintain healthy immune levels and digestive functions.

7. Hawthorn

A shrub that’s part of the rose family, hawthorn berries have been historically used for digestive issues. Hawthorn berries and extract carry fiber, which has proven to act as a helpful prebiotic.

8. Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium Citrate is a mineral that helps increase water in the intestine. Classified under saline laxatives, taking magnesium citrate supplements can be useful for occasional constipation.

9. Milk Thistle

Milk thistle supplements have silymarin, a free-radical fighter that promotes digestive health. It’s derived from a flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family. Milk thistle is known to boost immunity and draw out toxins from the body.

10. Turmeric Gold

Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin. Curcumin is known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can promote healthy digestion. It can relax your intestines and help restore microbial balance in the gut.

Trust Your Gut with Superior Labs

Explore Superior Lab’s expert resources to stay attuned with your health. Whatever digestive health supplements you decide to pursue, we encourage you to speak with your doctor before taking any. As every person’s gut is different, it’s essential to find a health plan customized to what yourbody needs.

Dr. Nichole Nishek, ND, reviewed this article. Read more about her in her bio.