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For the majority of my life, my gut health has never crossed my mind. I’ve (luckily) never had any major digestive issues or problems with my gut, so I never had reason to give it much thought. Then, earlier this year, I started seeing a proliferation of social media posts about gut health hacks. Apparently, I needed to focus on healing my gut. Um, what?
Gut health issues are a real problem for many people. However, many of the current social media posts about gut health fail to discuss the medical nuances of it. Enter: Jenna Werner, a registered dietitian. On a recent scroll through my TikTok, I came across a stitch video from Werner. In it, she discusses how the supposed symptoms of a “gut health issue” don’t necessarily have to do with your digestive system. Rather, these symptoms could be caused by a wide range of issues—from not drinking enough water to disordered eating.
After watching Werner’s video, I wanted to hear more from her perspective. As a registered dietitian with a social media presence, she’s encountered (and debunked) multiple TikTok trends. And while gut health is one aspect of nutritional content on these platforms, it’s far from the only concept being dangerously amplified.
I’ve seen videos about healing my gut. Is that something I should be worried about?
The short of it—no.
Let’s back up. The information shared on social media platforms is unregulated. Anyone, regardless of whether they have an educational background in nutrition or not, can share information related to nutrition. Because of the viral nature of TikTok, certain videos can be amplified to a larger audience fairly quickly, even if they contain inaccurate or potentially dangerous health information, Werner says. And remember: These videos aren’t tailored to your individual health needs. So while you might see multiple posts about gut health, whether that’s something you should be concerned about is between you and your health care providers.
“For example, that gut health video, why it’s so problematic, is somebody’s sitting there watching that video saying, ‘I have all of these symptoms, oh my God, my gut is leaking, I’m dying,’ when the reality is that those symptoms are so common,” Werner says. Anything from having a newborn baby to not eating enough could cause these symptoms, she says.
On TikTok, many of the videos that go viral tend to be fear-mongering, Werner continues. When consuming social media content, especially related to nutritional advice, remember that the video you’re watching may not be accurate or relevant to your body’s needs—regardless of how many views and likes it has.
OK, but what actually is gut health?
The gastrointestinal (GI) system in your body, commonly called your gut, is responsible for your digestion. “It’s literally your body’s ability to take in food, digest it, and get rid of what’s not needed,” Werner says.
How do I tell if my gut is healthy or not?
For all aspects of your health—from your gut to your head, Werner recommends examining your daily habits. If you’re feeling a little off, you may want to ask yourself these questions to see if there’s a habit you need to change.
- Are you getting enough good sleep?
- Are you managing your stress?
- Do you drink enough water throughout the day?
- Do you move your body in a way that feels good to you?
- Are you eating consistently? Are you eating enough sources of protein and carbohydrates?
Werner says answering these questions may give you a good understanding of where your health is at. If you can’t pinpoint a particular area of attention—or are still confused about your health after answering these questions, that’s a sign to reach out to your medical provider.
How can I keep my gut healthy without dangerous gut health hacks?
While you don’t want to follow the so-called gut health hacks that you’ve seen on TikTok and Instagram, there are ways to protect your gut—and ensure it’s able to do its job. Here are some of Werner’s top tips for keeping your gut healthy.
- Eat a variety of foods. While you may think of bacteria as inherently bad, your gut contains both good and bad bacteria, Werner says. By eating a variety of foods, you’re feeding your microbiome (the bacteria, genes, and viruses inside your body) and allowing multiple strains of bacteria to exist. (And yes, that’s a good thing.) When you cut down on the variety of foods you’re eating, one strain of bacteria may have the ability to take over—with negative consequences for your gut health.
- Stay hydrated. Water is a critical part of your digestive system, Werner says. It helps move things through your digestive tract—from your mouth down to your colon. She says fiber plays a similar role in your gut, helping everything move through your body.
- Focus on prebiotics and probiotics. You may only be familiar with probiotics when it comes to your gut, but prebiotics are also key, Werner says. “It’s like a Pac-Man,” she says. “Probiotics are Mr. or Mrs. Pac-Man, and the prebiotics are the food. They eat them, and then they activate, and they can grow the healthy bacteria in your gut a little bit stronger.”
- Keep track of the disruptors. Alcohol, a lack of sleep, stress, and limited movement can all disrupt your digestive system, Werner says. Try to keep each of these aspects in check when it comes to your gut health—and your overall health.