There are hashtags and viral videos, plus entire corners of social media and the internet, all dedicated to achieving optimal “gut health.” The phrase #GutTok has nearly a billion views on TikTok, and influencers—on TikTok but also beyond—are slinging supplements and wellness tips with every swipe. Not coincidentally, the market in digestive-health products is projected to more than double in the next ten years.
To figure out which tips and tricks are doctor-recommended and which, well, are not, we ran a few by local gastroenterologists—you can see their take on TikTok trends below. We also asked them what really works.
TikTok Tips: Legit or Quit?
Three area gastroenterologists weigh in on some of the #guthealth tips floating around the internet
Drinking ginger-lemon water
Legit. Hydration is key to gut health, says Ali Kazemi of Gastro Health in Manassas, so if drinking ginger-lemon water means drinking more water, that’s great. In addition to making water more palatable for some, he says the lemon and ginger are sources of nutrients and antioxidants, with anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger is also soothing for the stomach and can help with reflux. “When we first train military pilots, a number of them get nausea or motion sickness,” says Manish Singla of Capital Digestive Care in Chevy Chase. “Ginger is one of the most effective therapies. So I recommend ginger water or ginger tea with lemon, I recommend all the time to people having nausea. Plus, it’s delicious.”
Drinking green tea
Legit. “There are many studies linking green tea or green-tea compounds to health benefits via gut microbiome,” says Monica Passi of Gastro Health in Fairfax. “Some studies suggest green tea may be able to correct microbial dysbiosis, which can be related to certain systemic diseases like obesity and cancer.”
Eating raw carrots
Legit—sort of. When developing the low-FODMAP diet (an elimination diet that consists of easily digestible foods), Singla says, researchers identified a bunch of foods that can cause gas. Unlike some other vegetables, carrots weren’t among them. So if you’re experiencing cramping and gas, could swapping in raw carrots help? “Okay, fair, absolutely,” says Singla. Plus, “carrots are packed with nutrients including beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Also, they’re rich in fiber,” says Kazemi. So “why not?” Note: Eating raw carrots should not come at the exclusion of other vegetables.
Sipping bone broth
Quit—unless you like it. “Bone broth is very nutritious,” says Kazemi, but as for fixing gut health, the doctors we spoke with weren’t convinced. “There is nothing in peer-reviewed literature supporting the use of bone broth to improve gut health,” says Singla.
Quit. Chlorophyll—the green plant pigment in plants, which people drink by mixing drops into water—may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, says Kazemi, but “I don’t see why you’d do that over eating blueberries or kiwi,” which are loaded with the same. Plus, Passi warns, it may cause GI side effects.
Taking probiotic supplements
Quit—unless you actually need them (most people don’t). “A lot of people want to take probiotics for the sake of taking probiotics,” Kazemi says, but there’s a lot of data that shows the general population doesn’t need them. People who can benefit from taking them include those on antibiotics (which can affect the balance of good bacteria in the gut), people with inflammatory-bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, and those with irritable-bowel syndrome. There’s no risk if you want to try them, but Kazemi recommends doing so for only a month or two—and if you don’t feel a difference, he’d rather patients put the money toward good food.
Taking apple-cider-vinegar shots or gummies
Quit—especially if you have acid reflux. “Probably one of my biggest pet peeves is people coming in and saying you can take apple-cider vinegar to fix reflux,” says Kazemi. “Apple-cider vinegar is acidic. You should not take something acidic.” Singla agrees: “It doesn’t make scientific sense.” There’s also no data to support its use as a weight-loss tool, says Kazemi. One thing he can get onboard with using ACV for? Glycemia control. “It has been shown to be effective in people who are diabetic in helping control their sugars. In that case, yes, take it.”
Drinking flavored, carbonated “gut sodas.”
Quit. They’re just another thing you don’t need to take, says Kazemi of the fizzy drinks with probiotics and other gut-focused ingredients. Plus, Singla explains, they’re likely to make problems worse, because the gas that causes bloating and cramping comes from somewhere, and a primary source is carbonation.
Eating fermented foods
Legit. “Fermented foods are a natural source of probiotics and can increase the diversity of bacteria in the gut,” says Passi. She recommends consuming them regularly, including fermented vegetables, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and tempeh.
Adding turmeric to your diet
Legit. “Turmeric is a very strong source of antioxidants, it has anti-inflammatory properties, and it helps neutralize free radicals that can cause issues,” says Kazemi. He strongly encourages people with inflammatory problems such as arthritis or bowel disease to make it part of their daily diet, but really, he says, “it’s something that many of us should consider.” Singla notes that South Asian immigrants in the UK and the United States are among the fastest-growing populations with inflammatory-bowel disease, which may suggest that the turmeric-heavy diet in India protects against inflammatory diseases: “Now, that is hilariously theoretical, but I’m South Asian myself. We have lots of turmeric in our diet. I never recommend against it.” Passi cautions that moderation is key, however, and that too-high doses can lead to GI distress and blood thinning.
How to Improve Your Gut Health According to Doctors
1. Managing stress. “Gut health and mental health are intimately associated,” says Manish Singla of Capital Digestive Care in Chevy Chase and Temple Hills. “The first thing I tell people to do is manage stress and anxiety, and lead a life they are satisfied with. The more you do that, the better your gut will feel.”
2. Getting some rest. Good-quality sleep—at least seven or eight hours a night, says Ali Kazemi of Gastro Health in Manassas—is another key.
3. Cutting out dairy. “Milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and creamer in your coffee,” says Singla. “There are a lot of recommendations about eating yogurt regularly because it has good bacteria . . . [but] I recommend getting rid of all the dairy and see what your symptoms are like then.”
4. Ditching carbonated drinks. Stop drinking soda, seltzer, beer, sparkling wine, even kombucha, says Singla—particularly if you deal with bloating and gas. “Gas has to come from somewhere. The most common place is from swallowing dissolved gas.”
5. Getting enough fiber. But, warns Monica Passi of Gastro Health in Fairfax: “Be careful not to introduce a lot too quickly. Steadily increase fiber-rich foods over a period of weeks.”
6. Hydrating—with actual water. “People tend to not hydrate very well,” says Kazemi. “Often they drink caffeinated drinks that are sugary, and those are not the best hydrating tools.”
Photograph by Jennifer Albarracin Moya.
This article appears in the August 2023 issue of Washingtonian.