Ask Keri: Which supplements are best for gut health, if any?
Keri Says: There are a few supplements for gut health that are worth taking—like probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids—especially if you’re already dealing with health issues related to your GI system.
However, if you know me at all, you know I’m going to start with a caveat: Supplements are what I like to call “insurance for the body.” They can’t replace a healthy diet, and our bodies are designed to best absorb nutrients from healthy, whole foods. But since very few of us (if any!) manage to eat perfect combinations of fresh, seasonal, nutrient-dense foods daily in this crazy modern world, so supplements can provide back-up.
That overall thinking on supplements applies to improving gut health, too. If you’re working towards a healthy gut, start by eliminating highly processed foods from your diet and filling your plate with fibrous veggies, protein, and healthy fat. And don’t forget to add fermented foods and beverages into the mix.
Then, if you want to sign up for a little insurance, consider these supplements.
The Best Supplements for Gut Health
Hands down, my number one recommendation is to take a daily probiotic. The body of research on how probiotics might help with GI issues and affect mood and mental health is growing (hello, gut-brain connection), and it’s already strong enough that I say it’s worth popping one of these in the morning. Get my advice on how to choose one, here. The probiotic that’s right for one person may not be right for another. Different strains in supplements have different benefits, so work with your healthcare professional to determine the best option for you.
You might also hear people tell you to take prebiotics, which are essentially food for the probiotics. (Your microbes get hungry, too!) But “prebiotics” is really just a fancy word for a type of fiber. If you’re eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you’re almost definitely getting enough. Some foods that are particularly high in prebiotics include garlic, onions, asparagus, apples, bananas, and oats.
You hear omegas and you think heart health, right? But they’re super important for your gut, too. That’s because omega-3s play an anti-inflammatory role in the body and can help shore up your gut lining, which can in turn help your immune system. Taking omega-3s is also associated with mental health benefits, in part due to, again, the gut-brain connection. While more research is needed, a recent review of some of the studies so far concluded that omega-3s “exert significant effects on the intestinal environment; on mood and cognitive functioning, such as anxiety and depression; and modulating the gut microbiota composition.”
Get them in your diet from olive oil, salmon, and avocados, but if you suspect you’re not getting enough, pop a fish oil pill.
These are gaining traction, but there’s little evidence that they do anything unless you have a health condition that means your body isn’t making enough of certain enzymes. If you’ve got a serious digestive issue and nothing else is working, it can’t hurt to try them. You can also talk to your doctor or a nutritionist if you think you might have an enzyme deficiency.
Collagen is even trendier as a gut (and skin) health supplement, and there’s no harm in taking it consistently if you’re seeing results. There isn’t much evidence so far that says it’ll definitely work, and many experts point to the fact that while collagen plays a super important role in the body, taking the supplement doesn’t necessarily lead to more collagen in the body. You can also make sure you’re taking in nutrients that help your body make collagen on its own. Eating these foods can help with that, and taking a multi could also fill in the gaps. Again, if you feel like it is doing wonders for your gut, it won’t hurt.