Photo:Moyo Studio/Getty Images
Talking about gut health, IBS, and our GI tract seems to be pretty normalized in the wellness world these days. At this point, we’ve all heard the importance of gut health, especially with the boom in supplements like probiotics and prebiotics in the wellness market. Over the years, I’ve constantly struggled with my digestive health—and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve gone from severe abdominal pain to constant stomach aches after running to downright not being able to digest certain foods.
Being the hypochondriac that I am, I would likely go down a rabbit hole on Google and self-diagnose myself with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which many runners experience. These days, all you need to do is take one scroll on TikTok and you’ll find thousands of people openly self-diagnosing themselves with diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), however, according to Peyton Berookim, MD, a digestive specialist, IBS may not be your issue.
After countless efforts of changing my diet religiously, opting for countless cleanses and still having no luck, I was able to chat with Berookim to get to the root of my digestive issues and a few solutions. Berookim revealed to me the biggest enemies of the gut, natural ways to keep it healthy, and some tips on how to ease digestive pain naturally. Keep reading to see how you may or may not be the culprit of your tummy issues. (Disclaimer: Turns out I was the problem this whole time).
Photo:Katrin Sauerwein Eyeem/Stocksy
Bad Diet = Unhealthy Gut
Diet is a common denominator in almost all things regarding our health, but for gut health, it’s crucial. In fact, Berookim says this is the biggest enemy of our gut: “Sugar [and] artificial sweeteners because our body is not designed to process these types of things. One hundred years ago, people used to hunt and gather food, and now, things are more refined whether it's refined grains or carbs. Everything is refined and our gut isn’t used to handling this,” he says.
As someone who rewards themselves with a sweet treat for basically anything, I was bummed to hear about this one. Berookim also reveals that alcohol and processed foods are not your gut’s best friends either. “Alcohol is another trigger. We joke around and say ‘The gut is the other brain’ and ‘You are what you eat.’ Our gut health is a large indicator of overall health. One tip that I give my patients is I tell them ‘If you go to the supermarket, shop around the edges, which would be the vegetables, fruits, and your meats. Anything that doesn't have an expiration is something you should avoid. It’s full of preservatives.’ Anything in a box or can is probably best to avoid,” he says.
The Difference Between Prebiotics/Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics seem like buzzwords these days, but some people don’t fully understand exactly what they do and if they actually need them. Berookim explained the difference by saying that “Basically, probiotic foods and supplements add soldiers to your army. Prebiotics give the soldiers support and feed probiotics; they can improve gut wall health. Studies have shown them to regulate blood sugar, promote regular bowel functions and the big difference is that we have a lot of bacteria in our gut and probiotics are adding more military to what we have and the prebiotics allow them to do what they need to do,” he says.
You May Not Be Taking the Right Supplements
Finding supplements that counteract my problematic stomach has truly been a case of trial and error. Typically, I rarely saw a difference after the supplements that I took. According to Berookim, it’s probably because I wasn’t taking one with a high number. “I don’t always recommend probiotics regularly. I tell patients, ‘If it helps you, then continue with it.’ If you’re going to take probiotics, take them with a large number. VSL 3 has 112 billion. Take some that have 50–100 Billion. We have to figure out what’s the underlying problem. Is it the food you're eating?” he says.
How to Avoid Stomach Issues Through Your Diet
Processed foods seem to be almost everywhere, and even though Los Angeles is basically the mecca for health and wellness, sometimes, these foods are more accessible in other communities. Berookim believes that we must avoid processed foods for the most part in order to maintain a healthy gut. “Cut [down on] the sugar. Sugar will cause an inflammatory cascade. It’ll cause weight gain that can turn into other health issues. Eat healthily. Moderation is the key to everything. Have some sweets, but don’t overdo it,” he says.
Try not to misdiagnose yourself
When we think about gut health, one of the most common diseases that come to mind is IBS, but Berookim stresses the importance of not misdiagnosing yourself and going to see a GI specialist. “A large number of my patients come with a presumed IBS diagnosis when it’s really small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. We all have bacteria in our gut, but we’re not supposed to have them in our small intestines. With SIBO, it’s not bad bacteria, it’s bacteria in the wrong place. When patients eat, they’re not properly digesting the food.” He says.
SIBO is typically diagnosed by a doctor and not a Google search. “The way we diagnose that is a breath test. It takes a few hours to do. We measure to see if the gut is producing methane. SIBO can recur, but sometimes, patients do great for a year, but it’s something I see often. Everyone is labeled with IBS, but I think it’s overdiagnosed,” Berookim says.
A Few Things That Have Helped My Stomach Issues
When I see a label that says gluten-free, it’s almost always a dealbreaker for me because that usually means pretty bland when it comes to taste. These bars are the complete opposite and they’re like the holy grail when it comes to a treat that tastes good without leaving you bloated. I eat at least four a week and it always satisfies my cookie craving and makes me less hungry throughout the day. The best part? It’s packed with probiotics. A win-win if you ask me.
I’ve been taking this supplement for about a month now and let’s just say my stomach has never been more quiet. I’ve been having issues with my GI typically after every run in the morning but I swapped my daily kombucha and mushroom powder for this supplement, and my pain is gone. After the first week of taking them, I didn’t really see much of a difference until about three weeks, and from there, I was pleasantly surprised by the change.