From toilet habits & diet choices to bloating & hormones, we’re separating fact from fiction

This article is sponsored by Bioglan, Bio-Kult, Vitabiotics, Rennie & Nexium

Our gut is as individual as we are, but for many people, talking about gut health is a little taboo. While we can understand that discussing the ins and outs of our gut health may feel a little embarrassing, it’s far from it.

In fact, it’s this taboo – in addition to a lack of understanding around gut health and an inability to break bad gut habits — that means 57% of people don't take their gut health as seriously as they should. But we’re here to change this, so without further ado, let’s get into it.

Gut health 101

Simply put, gut health refers to the overall health of the digestive system. This includes the stomach, small intestine, large intestine and all the parts of our body responsible for breaking down food into nutrients.

Sometimes, things like constipation, diarrhoea can be signs of an unhealthy gut. But there’s no sure way to tell if you have a healthy gut.

Why is gut health important?

Believe it or not, the gut is home to trillions of live bacteria and other microorganisms (mainly found in the large intestine and collectively known as the gut microbiome). Made up of both good and bad bacteria, the microbiome works to help keep us healthy. The balance and diversity of different gut bacteria is unique to each individual and linked to a range of essential bodily functions.

Here’s just a handful of roles that gut bacteria plays:

• They support immune health by helping to train the immune system (70% of immune cells are found in the gut!)

• They help our bodies digest food, such as fibre, and absorb nutrients to support the body’s daily functions

• They help protect us from harmful bacteria

• They combine essential vitamins including K and B12

Have more questions? Take a look at our most searched questions on gut health and find out more about the important role it plays.

8 common gut health myths, busted

When it comes to our gut health, there is no magic potion or quick fix. Gut bacteria are as unique as we are, so what may work for one person might not work for another. The general rule of thumb is to stick to a well-balanced diet, an active lifestyle, get plenty of sleep and keep hydrated. All of these can help contribute to your overall wellbeing.

What we do know is that there’s a lot of myths and theories out there on gut health – think old wives tales. This, along with one-size-fits-all answers means it can be hard to digest (pardon the pun) what’s true and what’s false. So, with this in mind, let’s get into busting the most common myths…

1. Serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is only produced in the brain

Serotonin is a chemical found naturally in the body that functions as a neurotransmitter (neurotransmitters are the body's chemical messengers). And while serotonin is often referred to as ‘the feel-good hormone’ as it helps regulate moods, what many people don’t know is that 95% of serotonin is actually produced in the gut.

And it makes a lot of sense. Think back to a time where you’ve experienced a butterfly feeling in your stomach, or when you’ve based an important decision on a gut instinct, or perhaps you’ve suffered from an upset stomach during a stressful time.

This all comes down to the bi-directional communication between the gut and brain, known as the gut-brain axis. In simple terms, they’re connected both physically through the vagus nerve (one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain), as well as chemically through neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. 

This means that the gut plays a crucial role in supporting your moods. Want to know more? Find out more about the connection between the gut microbiome and your health.

2. You should have a bowel movement every day

Despite this being part of a daily routine for many, talking about toilet habits can often feel a little taboo – but it needn’t be. We’re here to lift the lid on bowel movements so you can get a better understanding of your digestive health.

When it comes to frequency, factors such as diet, age, activity levels and eating habits can all impact bowel movement. What’s considered normal for one person, may not be normal for another – some people pass one stool every day, while others may go every other day. Typically speaking, the average range of stools tends to be no more than three stools per day and no less than three stools per week. The key is to figure out what’s normal for you, so that you can identify when this changes.

It's a good idea to take note of any changes in your bowel habits, colour and texture. If you’re concerned about any of the above, don’t hesitate to speak to your GP.

Have more questions? Here’s what your stools can tell you about your health.

3. Exercise has no impact on gut health

It’s no secret that exercise is beneficial for our mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, studies have shown that people who are more physically active tend to have healthier guts, which helps support good immune health and digestion.

Physical activity increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, which massages our food along the digestive tract. It’s also thought that in some cases, exercise can help to increase ‘good’ bacteria in the gut.

When it comes to exercising, we understand that everyone is different. While some people prefer to do more cardiovascular-based activities such as swimming and cycling, others may feel more comfortable doing gentle exercises such as walking, yoga and Pilates – it’s whatever works for you.

Take a look at our guide to the best home workouts for inspiration. Make sure you speak to your GP before starting a new exercise regime if you have a medical condition or you haven’t exercised for some time.

4. Bloating is all down to diet

If you feel like your stomach grows twice in size after eating a big meal or certain foods, then you’re certainly not alone. Many people suffer with bloating from time to time and a big misconception is that it’s all down to the foods we eat. But there are actually many other contributing factors that can trigger bloating, including:

• Swallowing too much air when you eat

• Some foods and drinks such as certain vegetables and fizzy drinks

• Food intolerances such as lactose intolerance

Problems with your digestion can also play a big role in bloating, including things like constipation, IBS as well as conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and coeliac disease. Some people notice bloating more around their period, too.

If you frequently experience bloating or are experiencing bloating for the first time, speak to your GP.

Find out more about bloating and how to help relieve symptoms.

5. Gluten is harmful to the gut

Similarly to bloating, there’s an old wives tale that gluten is harmful to the gut. But let’s break it down.

Gluten is a dietary protein found in wheat, barley and rye which is present in foods such as pasta, pizza bases, bread, cakes and some breakfast cereals. For some people, eating these foods can cause an adverse reaction or digestive difficulties shortly after eating them such as stomach pain, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation. These can be linked to conditions like coeliac disease (an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks your digestive tract), a wheat food allergy and a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

It’s because of this that many believe gluten is harmful to the gut. However, many people without digestive disorders related to gluten can eat gluten day-in-day-out without experiencing any ill effects, meaning there’s no reason to restrict this from your diet without good reason.

With that being said, if you do think you may have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, speak to your GP.

6. Diarrhoea is only caused by infection

If you experience a bout of diarrhoea, most people put this down to bacterial and viral infections, food poisoning or medicinal side effects. When the reality is that it can be caused by a whole host of other things such as a stressful evening, feelings of anxiety to a bacterial or viral infection – all of which are linked to the gut. It can also happen more frequently during menstruation.

When diarrhoea strikes, it can increase your risk of dehydration which can leave you feeling tired and dizzy. Treating diarrhoea will help replenish the loss of essential water and nutrients, regulating and restoring your digestive balance back to normal.

7. The more fibre, the better

Dietary fibre is good for your digestive health as it helps you to absorb nutrients, support good bacteria, aid digestion, help prevent constipation and create a feeling of fullness, too.

Eating plenty of fibre is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. But did you know that 90 percent of adults in the UK population don’t get enough fibre? It’s recommended that adults consume 30g of fibre a day as part of a healthy, balanced diet through the likes of wholemeal breads, wholegrain cereals, potatoes with the skin on, beans, pulses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

However, there can be too much of a good thing, especially if you increase your intake too quickly. Consuming too much soluble fibre can lead to loose stools, bloating and gas, which makes it particularly troubling for those with conditions such as IBS. If you’re trying to increase your intake, try doing this gradually to avoid these symptoms and allow your gut to adjust to the higher intake. Make sure you’re also drinking plenty of water as this helps waste pass through your digestive system.

8. Cutting out or eliminating foods is good for your gut

One of the biggest myths about the gut is that you need to restrict your diet in order to keep it healthy. Some people are led to believe that cutting out or eliminating certain foods is the answer, particularly if they feel it’s causing their gut woes.

However, unnecessarily cutting out whole food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as impacting your gut microbes. The microbiome thrives on a diverse diet of plant-based foods (experts recommend 30 or more a week), which refers to fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, spices, spices and wholegrains. However, restricting your diet can actually decrease the gut microbe diversity.

A diet free from the likes of gluten and dairy is unlikely to be desirable for most people, unless you have an allergy, medical condition or intolerance to it, like coeliac disease or lactose intolerance. 

The bottom line? It’s more about the benefits of what you include as opposed to what you exclude.

Our picks for gut health support

Want to look after your gut? Focus on eating a healthy plant-based diet with a wide range of fibre-rich foods to support a diverse gut microbiota. Not forgetting the importance of your lifestyle, such as exercise, drinking plenty of water, sleep and managing everyday stress, as these can all impact our gut health.

There are also a handful of products that may help support your gut health in addition to the above advice.

Food supplements are intended to supplement the diet and should not be regarded as a substitute for a varied diet or healthy lifestyle.

Consider: Boots Good Gut Live Friendly Bacteria 30 Capsules

• Size: 30 capsules

• Suitable for vegan diets*

• Gluten and dairy free

• Free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives

Containing 25 billion biotic cultures that are proven to reach the gut alive, our expert blend of digestive enzymes (protein molecules that help speed up chemical reactions in the body) combines with calcium to support normal digestion for good gut health.

Calcium contributes to the normal function of digestive enzymes.

Consider: Bioglan Biotic Balance Ultimate Flora

• Size: 30 capsules

• One-a-day

• Suitable for vegetarians

Each capsule of Bioglan Biotic Balance Ultimate Flora contains 20 billion live bacteria across six scientifically studied strains. Plus, the fridge-free technology means these capsules are travel-friendly and perfect for keeping in your cupboard.

Consider: Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation

• Size: 30 capsules

• Can be added to food or cold drinks

• Gluten-free

• Free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives

Packed with 14 strains of live bacteria proven to survive the high acidity of stomach acid, these everyday capsules from Bio-Kult help target whole body health. They work by complementing the existing gut flora naturally present in a healthy person's digestive system.

Consider: Vitabiotics Probiotis Live Cultures Extra Strength 25 Billion

• Size: 30 capsules

• Vegan formula*

• Not tested on animals

• Gluten and dairy free

• Free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives

Featuring Lab4®**, the group of gut bacteria with the most comprehensive research in the UK, these Probiotis capsules, from the UK's No.1 vitamin company^ contain 25 billion live cultures from seven broad spectrum high-quality strains. These help complement the bacteria naturally found in the digestive system, while calcium contributes to the normal function of digestive enzymes.

Other digestive support

While the majority of the above myths are surrounding gut health, it’s also important to acknowledge other digestive issues, too. Many people may experience indigestion (pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen), heartburn (a painful, burning feeling in the chest) or acid reflux (when stomach acid travels up from the food pipe to the throat) from time to time. These can each be triggered or made worse by a number of things such as certain food and drink, smoking, being overweight, stress and anxiety. So when these digestive issues do strike, it’s best to be prepared. With this in mind, here are our top picks for heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux relief.

If you frequently experience heartburn, indigestion or acid reflux, speak to your GP for advice.

You can find out more information on our Heartburn and Indigestion Health Hub.

Consider: Rennie Peppermint 72 Chewable Tablets

• Size: 72 tablets

• Peppermint flavour

• Suitable for vegans* and vegetarians

• Suitable during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Ever get that burning feeling in your chest? Don’t let heartburn and indigestion cause discomfort – get fast and effective relief with Rennie. Containing two antacids to neutralise excess stomach acid, Rennie tablets get to work in 60 seconds to relieve the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion when you need it most.

Contains calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. Always read the label.

Medicines can affect the unborn baby. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine in pregnancy.

Consider: Nexium Control Gastro-Resistant hard Capsules

• Size: 20mg 

If you suspect you have heartburn or acid reflux, these daily capsules may be able to help. This short-term treatment contains esomeprazole and helps reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach to ease discomfort.

If symptoms persist for more than 14 days, consult a GP. 

Always read the label.

Looking for more information on digestive and gut health? Take a look at our hub for more information. And remember, if you do notice anything unusual, it’s best to trust your gut and get checked by your GP.

*Contains no animal-derived ingredients or by-products.

**Includes Lab4® the UK’s most researched bioculture group – Lactobacillus acidophilus (2 selected strains), Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis & Bifidobacterium bifidum, For further information contact

^Nielsen GB ScanTrak Total Coverage Value and Unit Sales 52 w.e 15 July 2023. To verify, please contact