4 Supplements You Shouldn’t Take for Gut Health, According to Dietitians

Gut health isn’t just about good digestion. A healthy gut microbiome, the colony of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the gut, is also important for immune health, heart health, brain health, and more. The foods you eat can significantly affect the composition of your gut microbiota, for better or worse. But what role do supplements play in gut health?

Many supplements promise to heal your gut, but research doesn’t support many of these claims. We talked to nutrition experts to find out what you should and shouldn’t do for gut health. Registered dietitians encourage an approach that prioritizes food rather than relying on expensive, unregulated supplements. Read on to see which ones they say should be skipped.

4 Supplements You Shouldn’t Take for Gut Health

1. Probiotic supplements

Probiotic supplements often claim to improve health by restoring healthy gut bacteria. Although some research suggests that probiotics can help reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), for probiotics to be effective, you need to take the right strain at the right dose for your condition. Probiotics can worsen symptoms in many people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), says Kerry Conlon, MS, RD Eating Well

According to Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, most people can cultivate a healthy gut microbiome by exercising regularly and eating a diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods. Because they are supplements, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate probiotics. Over-the-counter (OTC) probiotics available in pharmacies and stores may not be of high quality, and some products may not even contain the probiotic bacteria listed on the label.

2. Powdered greens

Many vegetable powders claim to improve gut and general health; however, there is not much research to support these claims. One thing most vegetable powders don’t provide is dietary fiber. Conlon says: Relying on powders for nutrients instead of whole fruits and vegetables deprives the body of fiber, an essential nutrient for gut health. Fiber serves as food for beneficial gut bacteria and supports healthy digestion and nutrient absorption.

3. Digestive enzyme supplements

Over-the-counter digestive enzymes are often thought to relieve acid reflux, gas, and bloating. The market for these products is growing rapidly, and it is unknown whether they are safe or effective, as they are not regulated by the FDA and limited research is available.

The body naturally produces digestive enzymes to help break down food. Most people don’t need to supplement with digestive enzymes unless they have certain medical conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or liver problems, says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD. Eat well.

According to Costa, the precise ingredients, dosage and potency of digestive enzyme products could vary significantly with no guaranteed results or firm understanding of possible side effects. Costa recommends talking to your doctor before taking OTC digestive enzymes. However, take only the specific enzyme supplements directed by your healthcare provider and watch for possible side effects.

4. Over-the-counter antacids

OTC antacid remedy to treat heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion by neutralizing stomach acid, providing fast relief from discomfort. Although antacids are technically drugs and not supplements, they are widely available OTC and overused by many, Costa says. Eat well.

Research suggests that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), a commonly used type of antacid, can significantly change the composition of the gut microbiome. This can lead to overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria, changes in nutrient absorption, and inappropriate immune responses.

PPIs should only be used as needed, as directed by a healthcare provider.

Tips for eating for gut health

According to a recent review of Intestinal microbespolyphenols and probiotics found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds support gut health and the growth of good gut bacteria.

For a healthy gut, focus on eating a variety of plant-based foods while limiting foods high in added sugar and saturated fat. On your next shopping trip, Sauceda suggests picking up a fruit, vegetable or grain you haven’t eaten in a while.

Try to get at least 25 grams of fiber a day and eat plenty of fermented foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Fermented foods naturally contain probiotics that support gut health, while fiber feeds good gut bacteria. Add a fruit, vegetable or whole grain to every meal and snack to help you reach your fiber goal. Or try one of our favorite Vegetable Frittata recipes in the kitchen that use frozen vegetables for something that’s nutritious and convenient. We also love this cherry and spinach anti-inflammatory smoothie for a high-fiber breakfast.

The bottom line

The best gut health is achieved through a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced and varied diet, regular exercise, enough quality sleep and managing stress in a healthy way. Instead of spending money on expensive supplements that may not be effective, eat a balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in added sugars and saturated fat. Focus on including a variety of plant-based and fermented foods.

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