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7 Best Supplements for Gut Health, According to Doctors

There are so many benefits to having a balanced gut.

When it comes to taking care of your body, one of the most important things you can do is follow a healthy diet. That's partly because your gut health—or having a healthy gut microbiome—has far-reaching implications for your overall health. Though scientists first discovered the microbiome long ago in the 1840s, recent leaps in research have begun to lay bare the many ways that gut bacteria affect your organs and help to stave off illness. In addition to following a nutritious diet, supplements that promote good gut health can help you reap these benefits, experts say.

Of course, the supplement market is flooded with cure-all claims that don't always hold up under scrutiny. In other words, not all products touted for their gut-boosting benefits are worth the investment. Wondering which ones doctors actually recommend? These are the seven best gut health supplements.

RELATED: 9 Supplements That Can Damage Your Stomach, Doctors Say.

How Gut Health Affects Your Broader Health

Male gastroenterologist examining young female patient with stomach pain
New Africa / Shutterstock

Tending to your gut health won't just reduce your risk of gastrointestinal problems—it can also have a profound impact on your broader health. In fact, research is increasingly demonstrating that gut health can impact every organ in the human body.

"Hippocrates said look to the gut, for it is the cause of all disease. Like a tree, the gut is the root system of the body, and if the root system is loaded with toxins, inflammation, and stealth pathogens, you cannot be healthy," says Daryl Gioffre, DC, CN, a chiropractor, certified nutritionist and gut health expert at Alkamind.

"In your gut, you have [up to] five pounds of bacteria, yeasts, and other organisms that make up the microbiome," adds Katherine Maslen, ND, a naturopathic doctor, nutritionist, gut health expert, and host of The Shift podcast. "What we know from research is that gut health, and in particular the health of the microbiome, is one of the most important factors in disease prevention—in fact, poor microbial diversity is associated with just about every chronic disease."

Having poor gut health or an imbalanced gut microbiome (dysbiosis) has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, type 2 diabetes, and more.

Maslen notes that one reason for this is that when the gut is damaged or dysfunctional, it impairs your ability to digest and absorb nutrients.

"Since nutrition is vital for every process in the body, this leads to imbalance and can leave you more susceptible to disease," she explains. "For example, if stomach acid is low—which can happen due to stress—then your ability to digest and absorb minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium is impaired. You need both zinc and iron for immune function, so this can then lead to a weakened immune response."

RELATED: 5 Fiber Deficiency Symptoms, Doctors Say.

How Your Diet Can Help

Woman with basket full of fresh vegetables in kitchen

Before you consider supplementation, it's important to work on laying a healthy foundation through your food habits first. "You can't supplement your way out of a bad diet," points out Gioffre.

Your biggest priority should be to increase your fiber intake, which tends to be lacking in the average American diet, Maslen says.

"Think of it as [if] you're eating for two: You need the nutrients for yourself and the fiber to feed your microbes," she explains. "Processed foods contain little to no fiber, and most Americans aren't eating enough plant products. Aiming for a diet that is at least 50 percent plants—fruit, vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, and quinoa are strong choices), nuts, seeds, and legumes will ensure you're getting what your gut needs," she says.

Another important dietary addition is probiotic foods like yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha, all of which Maslen says will support healthy gut flora. "Including apple cider vinegar in some water can also help to promote stomach acid and enzyme production," she adds.

RELATED: 8 Best Foods to Eat If You Have IBS, According to Doctors.

7 Best Supplements for Gut Health

Once your diet is sound, you can ask your doctor if supplementation might offer additional benefits.

"There are so many supplements for gut health, so it's best to see a qualified physician that works with gut health, especially if you have major issues going on," says Maslen.

Though different people may have different needs, these are some of the safest and most well-researched options.

1. Probiotics

probiotic capsules on wooden spoon over yogurt bowl

Gioffre says that probiotics are the "number one" supplement to take if you're hoping to improve your gut health. He commonly recommends spore-based probiotics, which have a "protective shell" and are designed to withstand your stomach's highly acidic environment. "The digestive system is a harsh terrain," he says.

Maslen agrees that probiotics are essential to gut health and says she recommends Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG).

"While there are hundreds of probiotics out there, LGG is one of the most widely available and best researched when it comes to gut health. It can help to restore a damaged microbiome and can also support gut immunity," she tells Best Life. "It is important to note that each probiotic strain has different health effects."

She also recommends Saccharomyces Boulardii (SB), a type of yeast-derived probiotic: "It is extensively researched and has been found to help with diarrhea, IBS, and gut immunity. If you have food intolerances, are prone to gastro and other bugs, or your bowel movements are irregular, then SB may be beneficial."

2. Prebiotics

woman in a yellow sweater taking medicine or vitamin with water in her kitchen

Prebiotics are another supplement that can benefit your gut health by providing a source of food for your gut's good bacteria.

In particular, Maslen recommends taking partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG). "This prebiotic fiber helps to increase bifidobacteria species in the large intestine and has been found to help all types of IBS, constipation, and general gut health," she says.

3. Licorice root

Powder and licorice root on the table

Licorice root is known to promote a healthy gut microbiome and increase mucus production to protect the stomach lining.

"Licorice can reduce gastrointestinal inflammation, help to heal gut membranes, and there's evidence that it can heal gastric ulcers," says Maslen, adding that it can be taken as a tea, in capsule form, or as a chewable gummy.

4. Slippery elm

Female nutritionist advising patient on vitamin intake during consultation

Next, Maslen recommends slippery elm, a powder made from the bark of a tree that's long been used as a traditional remedy for gut issues. "It helps to soothe irritated digestive membranes and also works as a prebiotic, supporting healthy gut flora," she says.

The Mount Sinai Health Library adds that slippery elm contains antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation, as well as mucilage, "a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water." As it coats the digestive tract, this helps to relieve irritation of the mucus membranes and increases mucus secretion. "The increased mucus production may protect the gastrointestinal tract against ulcers and excess acidity," their experts write.

RELATED: 7 Low Magnesium Symptoms to Watch Out For, According to Doctors.

5. Magnesium

magnesium supplements in wooden spoon
Sergey Neanderthalec / Shutterstock

Gioffre next recommends taking magnesium, which he says can have far-reaching effects on the body beyond the gut.

"Magnesium is perhaps the most important mineral and nutrient in your body. It is crucial for healthy energy levels, to keep us calm and relaxed, for a healthy heart [and] cardiovascular system, and most importantly, serving as a powerful neutralizer of acid," he says.

One way that magnesium can aid in digestion and gut health is by activating and regulating the digestive enzymes responsible for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. Furthermore, it helps to remove your gut's "bad" bacteria, which can help stabilize the microbiome.

6. Omega-3 fatty acids

Fish oil capsules with omega 3 and vitamin D in a glass bottle on wooden texture

According to Gioffre, one of the most important factors influencing your gut health is your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio. By consuming more Omega 3 fatty acids, either through your diet or supplementation, you can enhance the diversity of good bacteria in the gut. However, the benefits don't stop there.

"A diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids can benefit heart health and reduced risk of heart disease, mental health, and brain function (especially as we age), aid in prevention of autoimmune diseases, lower risk of breast and colorectal cancers, support bone and joint health, decreased risk of arthritis, and more," Gioffre says.

However, experts from Harvard Health Publishing say that Omega 6's are not the enemy. One meta-analysis of six randomized trials found that when used as a replacement for saturated fats, they reduced the risk of heart attacks and other coronary events by 24 percent.

Instead, strive to prioritize healthy Omega 3s and treat Omega 6s as a replacement for less healthy alternatives.

7. Glutamine

Glutamine supplement for fitness and gut health

Finally, Maslen recommends taking glutamine, a nonessential amino acid that's both found in food and produced by the body.

"Among the various tissues using glutamine at high rates, the intestine utilizes about 30 percent of total glutamine, indicating that it is a key nutrient for the intestine," explains a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. "Its functions include maintaining nucleotide metabolism and intestinal barrier function, modulation of inflammation, and regulating stress responses and apoptosis," the study states, using the scientific term for cell death.

"At high doses, it has been shown to help support mucosal health and reduce intestinal permeability (leaky gut)," adds Maslen. "It also has positive impacts on the gut microbiome."

Speak with your doctor before beginning any new supplement regimen.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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