Use caution when something says it's good for 'gut health'

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Adam’s Journal

I’ve heard products advertising their benefits for “gut health.” What exactly is that, and how would I even know if my gut is healthy — or not?

Dr. McEver Prescribes

Your gut is the digestive system or gastrointestinal tract. When you eat, your GI tract breaks food down, and valuable nutrients are absorbed through your intestinal wall to be transported through the bloodstream. Your body expels the rest as waste.

A simple measure of gut health is straightforward: Meals shouldn’t typically cause gas or discomfort. And you should have regular, solid bowel movements every day or two that pass without straining.

Symptoms like acid reflux, constipation, bloating or diarrhea could signal that your gut isn’t well. If that’s the case, visit your primary care provider or a gastroenterologist; go sooner rather than later if symptoms are severe, meaning nausea, vomiting, pain or blood in your stool.

Increasingly, research has shown that your gut microbiome — the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in your GI tract — affects not only your digestive processes but also many other aspects of your health. For example, studies have linked the microbiome to the function of the immune system, inflammation and even the brain.

At the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, in pre-clinical models, Dr. Matlock Jeffries has found evidence the microbiome may play a role in osteoarthritis, which affects tens of millions of Americans. He’s now examining whether changes in the microbiome can improve cartilage healing, a line of research that could eventually guide us to new arthritis therapies.

When you hear claims that a product promotes gut health, proceed with caution. In general, the best recipe for a healthy gut is to eat lots of plant-based foods. Vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils provide plenty of fiber for gut microbes to eat. Fermented foods also appear to be helpful.

Conversely, try to minimize highly processed foods, as they can degrade the gut lining. Likewise, antibiotics can kill the good microbes in your gut. Even though your gut should eventually recover from these medications, you’re best limiting their use to when they’re absolutely necessary.

McEver, a physician-scientist, is vice president of research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Cohen is a marathoner and OMRF’s senior vice president and general counsel. Submit your health questions for them to

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Use caution when something says it’s good for ‘gut health’

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