Do Supplements for Gut Health Really Work? We Asked.
"All disease begins in the gut." - Hippocrates
Gut health is crucial to your mental, physical, and emotional health and balance.
A healthy gut supports your digestive health, a strong immune system, boosts energy levels, and promotes overall wellness.
The Healthy Gut Industry
A massive industry has exploded around gut health supplements, commonly called probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics alone are a $50 billion+ industry, but given that this industry is only about 20 years old, it's natural to wonder, "do gut health supplements actually work?".
We did our research and gathered expert opinions on whether supplements for gut health are beneficial or not.
What Research Says About Gut Supplements
The gut microbiome has not been studied well enough for researchers to map the complex interrelationships of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in the gut.
Even worse, their relationship with general body health is mostly circumstantial.
However, what scientists do know reveals several important facts about bacteria in the gut and the effectiveness of probiotics.
The table below sums up what most people know about gut health supplements.
There’s so much more to gut health than this, though, as some of the foremost voices in nutrition reveal in the following section.
|PROBLEM||EXPLANATION||WHAT IT MEANS FOR US|
|Numbers Matter||The gut has trillions of microorganisms, while the average probiotic only has a few hundred million to a few billion bacteria.||Taking probiotics doesn’t necessarily improve the number of “good” bacteria unless there is a scarcity of that particular strain.|
|Variety is Key||The gut has 300–500 strains of bacteria, in addition to viruses and fungi. The typical probiotic only provides one or several of these strains.||Taking a probiotic doesn’t necessarily restore balance in bacteria population and variety.|
|Manufacturing and Storage||Probiotics are live bacteria. If they don’t survive manufacturing, shipping, storage, and the acidic conditions in the stomach, they are useless.||Buy probiotics from reputable manufacturers. Check for expiration dates and store them in a cool, dark place. Many supplements with live bacteria are encapsulated for better survivability. You should take them on an empty stomach for best results.|
|Safety of Probiotics||Gut health supplements are generally classified as food supplements.||Probiotics are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Both children and adults can take them under the advice of a medical professional.|
|Best Source of Probiotics||Probiotic rich foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt are natural sources of bacteria. Other fiber rich foods such as fruits and vegetables provide food for gut bacteria.||If you eat a healthy diet rich in fermented foods, a probiotic supplement can give you double coverage to boost gut health functions.|
Dr. Erika Ebbel, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Ixcela
Dr. Erika Ebbel is a pioneer in researching the gut microbiome and how it affects the rest of our physical and mental condition.
Her company, Ixcela, has been conducting research on gut health and how it affects performance in athletes. Y
Dr. Erika gave an insightful TEDx Talk about her work, in which she sums up her findings in the following points:
- Gut health is important for metabolism. An imbalanced gut combined with high sugar intake can lead to conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
- The gut can also have long-term mental issues such as anxiety, depression, and Alzheimers.
- Eating poorly can damage and change the composition of gut flora. This makes it harder to digest food and take in the nutrients you need.
- Dr. Erika talks about direct links between gut health and hormones that affect sleep (melatonin) and general happiness (dopamine).
- The biggest function of gut bacteria is to help the body break down and absorb some foods that it can’t do naturally. Without healthy microorganisms in the gut, this process is affected.
The body works hard to maintain a diverse family of bacteria in the gut.
Eating a diverse range of healthy foods such as whole grains, raw foods such as edamame, and fermented foods such as kimchi helps the body to replenish these microorganisms.
Sometimes the population of gut microorganisms can be damaged and impossible to recover.
These instances are often linked to a poor diet, increased levels of stress, and the excessive use of bacteria-killing antibiotics.
This is why replenishing microorganisms in the gut with the right supplements is necessary to improve gut health.
Dr. Joseph Murray, Gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic
Dr. Joseph Murray is a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic. He also weighed in on the issue of gut supplements in a radio interview.
- Probiotics are not actually new. Our grandparents and ancestors ate things like yogurt and sauerkraut, which maintains good gut health and helps to boost immunity.
- We know that these bacteria are essential for digestion, absorption of nutrients, and maintaining the immune system.
- Prebiotics—foods that bacteria in the gut eat, such as fiber—are necessary for the microorganisms to survive.
- Our diet and lifestyle has been damaging our gut flora for ages. Antibiotics, for example, are like nukes for bacteria.
- Our diets are high in processed foods and sugars which is very bad for the gut. Probiotic supplements are important to help restore balance.
- Whole food nutrition with lots of fruits and vegetables is the best way to maintain your gut bacteria in good health.
Doctor Murray says he prescribes gut health supplements for patients with specific gut problems such as inflammation, leaky gut, and IRS.
Imbalance in the gut can cause an excess of digestive enzymes, which start to attack the gut lining.
With the right probiotic supplement to restore the gut microbiome, many of these conditions can be treated easily. This way, you can also support healthy digestion and maintain general health.
Supplements are a modern solution to a modern problem. That’s why at ATH Sport, we strive to have the healthiest supplements for general health and great performance.
Our BCAA blend contains the amino acid L-glutamine, which is known to help repair the intestinal lining.
It’s all natural products and easy on the stomach. It’s hard to find products for people with sensitive stomach but this product is perfect.- Gabriel Duran, Ph, AZ
Should You Take Supplements for Gut Health?
Taking gut supplements such as probiotics and prebiotics strengthens gut health which in turn strengthens your immune system.
In addition to fixing some digestive tract problems such as a leaky gut and indigestion, our current lifestyle requires almost everyone to take supplements for gut health.
Today's modern diet of highly processed foods, increased levels of medication, high-stress lifestyles, and other risk factors have ensured that microorganisms in the gut are severely affected.
While more research is needed anecdotal evidence is plentiful about the benefits of probiotics for general health, focus, and performance.
If you’re eating all the nutrients your body needs but they don’t get absorbed into the blood, there is zero gain.
More importantly, a troubled gut is known to affect brain function.
The best athletes know enough not to mess around with that, given the connection between the gut and brain.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are Probiotics?
A probiotic supplement contains live bacteria in the form of food, gummies, or capsules, among others.
The bacteria are meant to replenish the population of “good” bacteria in the intestinal lining and other areas in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), thus restoring natural balance for a healthy gut.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotic fiber is food for gut microorganisms.
Prebiotics are usually in the form of plant-based fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and some cereals. The bacteria break these down in the gut, releasing some nutrients in the process for our use as well as theirs.
Are Probiotic Supplements Worth It?
As a case in point, some people experience problems such as diarrhea and eczema after taking a round of antibiotics.
Probiotics improve these symptoms significantly, showing just how important it is to maintain balance in the digestive system.
What Are the Signs That You Need Probiotics?When the population and variety of gut bacteria are severely affected, there are some signs that you should incorporate a probiotic into your diet.
- Poor Metabolism
- Sugar Cravings
- Skin Problems (such as Eczema)
- Leaky Gut
- Digestive Issues