Interested in using supplements to support your gut health? Let’s first understand exactly what gut health is and why it matters, so you know why supporting your gut is an amazing boost to your body.
Gut health actually refers to the health of your entire digestive tract– mouth, stomach, intestines, and rectum. The digestive system’s job is to break down food with enzymes, bile, and other digestive fluids into microscopic nutrients to be absorbed into your body for use.
A large part of gut health is the gut microbiome, which consists of the trillions of microorganisms in your gut living along the gut lining in a delicate ecosystem. A balanced gut microbiome works synergistically with your body to support good health.
The impact of your gut microbiome goes beyond mere gut health. The microbiome also supports immune function, cardiovascular health, skin health, hormone health, and even weight management. The gut microbiome has bidirectional relationships with your brain, skin, heart, and more. These relationships are called axes, such as the gut-brain axis, which can modulate the activities of the nervous system, hormone regulation, and immune function. This means that the health of a certain system, or lack thereof, may be thanks to occurrences in the gut.
On the other hand, various factors beyond the gut can alter or affect the balance of the gut microbiome. These include stress, sleep, certain foods you eat, and medications (like antibiotics). These variables can directly impact the microbiome– through immune signaling, for instance, they can impact the microbiome indirectly, through disrupting the production of digestive fluids like enzymes and stomach acid. When the gut microbiome is thrown off balance, this can impact how food is digested and absorbed as well as immune function. This is when digestive symptoms can develop.
Luckily, there are ways to both retain and restore a healthy balance in the gut.
There are different categories of gut health supplements, depending on which mechanisms in the gut they address.
Probiotics and prebiotics can directly change the levels of bacteria in the gut. Vitamins and minerals can replete your digestive system with the nutrients it needs to effectively produce digestive enzymes.
Some supplements can also help heal the gut lining, the long layer of cells along the digestive tract that can get irritated and damaged over time by imbalances in the gut microbiome. This can potentially lead to intestinal permeability, often called “leaky gut”, in which the cells along the gut lining allow gut toxins and other substances into the bloodstream, burdening the immune system.
Probiotics are living, beneficial bacteria and yeasts that you can consume from eating fermented foods or supplements. Getting some extra bacteria through supplementation can help boost the levels of the bacteria already in residence in the gut.
Certain strains or species of probiotics can inhibit the growth of pathogenic microorganisms through competitive exclusion, or edging them out. This creates a more favorable environment in which good bacteria already present can thrive abundantly.
Probiotics can also enhance immune activity. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, two of the most abundant species of bacteria in the gut, can reduce leaky gut by protecting the strength of the gut lining bad bacteria causes damage to.
Care/of Probiotic Blend offers an easy way to get proven strains of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus daily to support your gut.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers and components of foods that can feed good gut bacteria. During the process of fermentation, gut bacteria metabolize prebiotic fibers and produce metabolites that benefit your gut, such as short-chain fatty acids. Your gut lining then uses these compounds to thrive and maintain strength. These compounds can also get sent out into the rest of your body and support your cardiovascular system and cholesterol regulation, among others.
Care/of’s Prebiotic Plus supplement is made with a clinically studied prebiotic and polyphenols that work together to encourage the growth of healthy microorganisms that help with occasional bloating and discomfort.
The satisfying crunch of a carrot or a juicy apple is thanks to fiber, which gives the structure to plants. Because fiber resists breaking down under the digestive enzymes, it’s able to make its way through to the gut, where it aids and eases regular, comfortable bowel movements. Along the way, fiber can help feed gut bacteria, pick up compounds for excretion in the stool, and maintain enough water to make the stool more comfortable to pass.
Soluble fiber can support metabolic health by slowing down the rate of nutrients going into the bloodstream to promote fullness, blood sugar balance, and even weight management. Fiber can even help promote the healthy elimination of hormone metabolites, such as estrogen metabolites, to help maintain hormone balance in the body.
Most Americans are not getting enough fiber, with only 5% meeting the recommended levels. The recommended intake for adults is on average 28-36 grams of fiber.
You can increase your fiber intake by eating more plant foods, which are naturally rich in fiber in their minimally processed form. Fiber supplements are also a simple and easy way to boost your fiber intake.
Care/of’s Chia-Flax powder contains 4 grams of fiber per scoop from real foods including chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pea fiber. This powder can be easily added to smoothies, oatmeal, or sprinkled on yogurt.
More than just a supplement for hair, skin and nails, collagen can also support gut health.
Collagen may help strengthen the gut lining. This protein is one of the main components of connective tissues, including bones, skin, tendons, blood vessels, and the lining of the digestive tract. Collagen is unique for being rich in glycine, which is an amino acid essential for rebuilding tissue lining the digestive tract. Glycine can even act as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, providing antioxidant and immune enhancing effects which may indirectly support the gut via the gut-brain axis.
Collagen can also act similarly to prebiotic fibers by boosting levels of bacteria that increase short chain fatty acid production, compounds that promote the health of cells in the gut.
A study of healthy women found that most of the women who took collagen in 10g doses twice daily for 8 weeks experienced reduced digestive symptoms including bloating.
Preliminary research suggests that zinc’s benefits are related to its role in supporting immune function as well as maintaining a strong lining of the digestive tract. This mineral can improve the immune system’s response to pathogenic gut bacteria and even support cell recycling, a process called apoptosis.
Digestive enzyme production also requires adequate zinc levels. Animal studies have reported that inadequate zinc consumption from foods can lead to impair pancreatic enzyme output.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 8-11mg for most adults.
Care/of’s Zinc supplement contains 15mg of zinc in an easy to absorb form as zinc bisglycinate. It also contains copper, an essential mineral that competes with zinc for absorption, so it’s great to take the two together.
It may be best to take it in the form of DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) because licorice root on its own has properties that can raise blood pressure.
Most of the supplements described above are best when taken consistently, in order to see compounding benefits.
Licorice root can be used on an as-needed basis, if indigestion occurs.
Zinc can be taken with food, since it sometimes causes stomach upset when taken on an empty stomach. Take zinc separate from any calcium or iron supplements, though, as these can compete with zinc absorption.
The gut health supplements described above come with minimal risks. Licorice root, however, may raise blood pressure, but this effect is minimized in its deglycyrrhizinated form as DGL.
Probiotics and prebiotics may cause bloating and changes in stool consistency in some people. You can try changing up the probiotic strains or reducing the dose. Choosing a different type of prebiotic may help, since different prebiotics feed different bacteria in the gut. Reducing the dose and then gradually increasing over several weeks may be better to give your gut microbiome a chance to balance.
Probiotics, prebiotics, fiber, and collagen are generally safe for most people. Zinc is best for those who may not get enough through their diet, have a confirmed deficiency, or who have gastrointestinal disorders that impair absorption.
Licorice is not safe for the pregnant or lactating, since there is not enough research to support their safe, effective use.
Some supplements may provide quick relief. Other supplements may take a bit more time before you begin to see a change.
Probiotics and prebiotics in particular are best when taken consistently and possibly for at least several weeks in order to gradually promote balance in the gut microbiome. Monitor your response to these supplements and observe any changes in your digestion and bowel movements.
When following a well-tailored plan, the general timeline to restore gut health can be about 3 months. Working with a health professional who specializes in gut health may be best if you have had persistent gut symptoms that have been difficult to manage.
In addition to supplements, you can incorporate other ways to improve your gut health, including:
Supporting your gut is a worthy cause, since gut health impacts so many other areas of your health, including the immune function, nervous system activity, and the cardiovascular system. Gut health supplements can work in a variety of ways to restore gut balance, whether it be supporting the balance of the gut microbiome, strengthening the lining of the gut, or supporting proper digestion.