Gut health is all the rage. 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, according to a local expert.
Despite what you may read or hear, your gut instinct is probably not the cause of all your aches and pains, and unless you have “red flag” symptoms or 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.
“Many patients ask about ‘leaky gut’, but there is no real evidence that this is a condition that affects people unless they are immunocompromised or have ‘other health issues that cause them to lose their normal intestinal protections,’ she says.
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However, Reddy encourages people to see a doctor if they notice sudden and ongoing changes in their bowel habits, bloody or black stools, unintentional weight loss, bloating, or abdominal pain that keeps them awake at night. Causes can range from an imbalance in the gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms that inhabit it) to structural abnormalities in the colon or small intestine. “It doesn’t hurt to have an evaluation if symptoms get worse or don’t improve,” she says.
Keeping your gut healthy comes down to the basics 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 can be useful for short courses when we’re working to correct an imbalance, but they haven’t been shown to be particularly helpful in the long term,” she explains.
Reddy also notes that gut health depends on more than what’s going on in your digestive tract. Exercise helps with motility and can have a positive influence on maintaining a healthy microbiome. Reddy advises some form of cardiovascular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day four days a week.
Stress management is also an important part of gut health. “We know that when we become stressed or anxious it can affect our digestion, and then those digestive discomforts can lead to more anxiety, so it becomes a vicious cycle,” Reddy says. “There is no magic formula. I advocate paying attention to your health from a body, mind, and spirit perspective.
Mercy Clinic Gastroenterology621 S. New Ballas Road, Tower A, Office 437ACrève Coeur, 314-251-3880, Mercy.net/practice/st-louis/mercy-clinic-gastroenterology-medical-tower-a