Gut health is trendy. Seemingly endless books, websites, diets and supplements promise to “fix your gut.” But what’s the truth about maintaining a healthy digestive tract? A good, old-fashioned healthy lifestyle, says one local expert.
Despite what you may read or hear, your gut is probably not the cause of all your aches and pains, and unless you have “red-flag” symptoms or have specific risk factors, your gut is probably not leaking bits of undigested food into the rest of your body, says Dr. Muddasani Reddy, a gastroenterologist with Mercy St. Louis.
“A lot of patients do ask about ‘leaky gut,’ but there’s no real proof that this is a condition that affects people unless they’re immunocompromised or have other health problems that cause them to lose their normal gut protections,” she says.
However, Reddy encourages people to see a doctor if they notice sudden and ongoing changes in bowel habits, bloody or black stool, unintentional weight loss, bloating or abdominal pain that keeps them awake at night. Causes can range from an imbalance in the gut’s microbiome (the community of microorganisms inhabiting it) to structural abnormalities in the colon or small intestine. “It doesn’t hurt to have an evaluation if symptoms become worse or don’t improve,” she says.
Keeping your gut healthy boils down to basic tenets of overall good health, Reddy notes. Like her colleagues who specialize in heart and brain health, Reddy recommends following a Mediterranean diet and limiting sugar, artificial sweeteners and alcohol. “Probiotic and prebiotic supplements may help for short courses when we are working to address an imbalance, but they are not proven to be particularly helpful over the long term,” she explains.
Reddy also notes that gut health depends on more than just what goes into your digestive tract. Exercise helps with motility and may have a positive influence on maintaining a healthy microbiome. Reddy advises some form of cardiovascular exercise for at least 30 minutes daily four days a week.
Stress management is also an important component of gut health. “We know that when we become stressed or anxious, that can affect our digestion, and then those digestive discomforts can lead to more anxiety, so it becomes a vicious cycle,” Reddy says. “There’s no magic bullet. I advocate for paying attention to your health from a body, mind and spirit perspective.”
Mercy Clinic Gastroenterology, 621 S. New Ballas Road, Tower A, Suite 437A, Creve Coeur, 314-251-3880, mercy.net/practice/st-louis/mercy-clinic-gastroenterology-medical-tower-a