From gut health friendly foods to the links between the gut, brain and skin, we did the research so that you don’t have to

If you’re fascinated by all things gut health, you’re not alone. Interest around the subject and its potentially far-reaching effects on body and mind has piqued the curiosity of many in recent times. 

It’s easy to see why. Called the ‘second brain’ by some due to its association with overall health, it’s no longer seen as a niche subject with more of us turning to the internet for information on how to make improvements in both the short and long-term. 

What has everyone been typing into their search bars? We’ve done the research for your most sought-after questions for you to provide all of your answers in one place. 

What is gut health?

In a nutshell, it’s the term used to describe the function and overall health of the gastrointestinal tract and the complex balance and interplay of the thriving community of microorganisms that it contains. 

Why is gut health important?

Our gut houses trillions of live microbes such as bacteria known as the ‘gut microbiota’. It’s unique to each individual and is linked to a range of essential bodily functions. “Scientists are increasingly discovering the complexities of the gut microbiota and its role in maintaining long-term health,” explains registered dietitian and Boots nutritionist, Vicky Pennington. 

How exactly does our gut bacteria affect our health? Vicky breaks down its range of essential roles for us: 

• “Gut bacteria help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients - they’re good at breaking down certain types of fibre to salvage beneficial nutrients.” 

• “They support immune health by helping to train the immune system - did you know that 70% of immune cells are found in the gut?”
• “They help protect us from harmful bacteria that can otherwise overgrow in the gut.”

• “They synthesise essential vitamins including K and B12.”

• “When breaking down fibre, they make beneficial by-products called short chain fatty acids (e.g. butyrate, acetate and propionate). These have further roles such as providing fuel, releasing gut hormones, supporting blood sugar balance and helping to reduce inflammation.”

How can I improve my gut health?

Diet is key for maintaining and supporting gut health. “What we eat and drink can impact the diversity of bacteria in the gut and this in turn may impact on health and wellbeing,” explains Vicky.

“But, there’s no such thing as the ideal gut microbiota or indeed the ideal diet. What’s important is eating a healthy plant-based diet with a wide range of fibre-rich foods to support a diverse gut microbiota.” 

Fibre can be found in plant-based foods such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans and pulses), nuts and seeds. 

It’s not just what we eat though. “Other elements of our lifestyle such as exercise, sleep and stress also impact our gut health,” says Vicky.

Is banana good for gut health?

Yes, bananas are a good source of fibre and resistant starch. 

Is lemon good for gut health?

The evidence for this is lacking and likewise for water with lemon in it. “Lemons do contain fibre but only if you consume the whole fruit and not just the juice!” says Vicky.

Does gut health affect skin?

As explained by Vicky earlier, looking after your gut is important to support a number of essential bodily functions, including the absorption of nutrients. The benefits of this can be felt all over the body, including the skin.

What are the worst foods for gut health?

For a healthy gut, it can be helpful not to overindulge on greasy, fried foods as they’re harder for your stomach to process. Similarly, fatty foods such as chips and burgers can be harder to digest. 

It’s important to look at your diet as a whole though. “An unhealthy diet that’s high in fat, salt and sugars and low in fibre or with a very limited range of foods is less able to support gut health,” explains Vicky.

What are gut health-friendly drinks?

Drinking plenty of fluids is great for your digestion as it helps waste to pass through your digestive system and also helps fibre to do its job and soften your stools. Fibre acts like a sponge and absorbs water. Without it, it can increase the likelihood of constipation. 

Fizzy drinks can lead to bloating while drinks with caffeine in them can increase acid levels in the stomach, which may lead to heartburn for some people. That being said, one or two cups of coffee or tea may be fine. Water is best, while herbal teas and milk (provided that you aren’t lactose-intolerant, of course) are less likely to cause digestive problems too. 

What are the best supplements for gut health?

When it comes to improving your gut health, a food and lifestyle-first approach is always best. 

What about supplements? Calcium may help. “It supports normal digestion for good gut health and is a key ingredient in Boots’ digestive health supplements,” says Vicky.

There are also supplements that contain cultures of friendly bacteria. “These deliver carefully selected blends of bacteria types to the gut,” explains Vicky.

Although perhaps the most well-known, there isn’t considered to be enough evidence yet to support their health claims. 

If you’re considering trying them and provided that you have a healthy immune system, they’re usually suitable for most people to take.

Is there a link between gut health & mental health?

Potentially. The communication that exists between the gut and the brain is known as the ‘gut-brain axis’ and research around the topic is growing. 

“The science of how the gut microbiota links to mood and mental health is only just emerging,” explains Vicky. “Most of the research so far has been carried out on animals, but a few recent studies suggest an association with mental health in humans. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether changes observed in the diversity of the gut microbiota are a cause or effect of disease, so more research is needed.”

It’s a fascinating area and it’ll be interesting to see what findings future studies produce.

What happens to your gut health after antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat and prevent some types of bacterial infection. As with any medicine, they can cause side-effects such as bloating, indigestion and diarrhoea. These are usually mild though and should pass after your course is completed. If you get any additional or prolonged side-effects, contact your GP or the doctor in charge of your care for advice.

Supplements for gut health to consider

Here are two options from the Boots Good Gut range to act as a useful starting point. You can also explore more gut health supplements here and for advice about supplements that contain cultures of friendly bacteria, come in-store for a chat with your Boots Pharmacy Team.

Boots Good Gut Live Friendly Bacteria 

• Size: 30 capsules

•  VeganGluten-free

•  Dairy-free

•  Free from artificial colours, flavours or preservatives

•  Suitable for adults and children over the age of 12 

This high strength supplement contains 25 billion biotic cultures (remember they’re friendly bacteria that can influence the balance in your gut) which are proven to reach the gut alive. It also contains calcium which contributes to the normal function of digestive enzymes.

Boots Good Gut Live Friendly Bacteria + Mental Focus Support

• Size: 30 capsules

• Vegan

• Dairy-free

• No artificial colours, flavours or preservatives 

• Suitable for adults and children aged 12 years and over

As well as 12.5 billion biotic cultures and calcium to aid digestion, this supplement also contains a blend of pantothenic acid, zinc and vitamin B6 to support mental performance and brain function. 

Shop more great supplements for digestive health here

Note: Food Supplements are intended to supplement the diet and shouldn’t be a substitute for a varied diet or healthy lifestyle.