Go with your gut: Why viral TikTok 'cures' won't fix your stomach issues – Stuff

Alongside the exponential growth of TikTok has come the exponential growth of viral videos, amassing millions of views – often without fact-checking.
One of the trending topics is gut health, with billions of content creators on the social media platform sharing information about treatments and lifestyle changes that will “fix your gut”.
But fixing your gut is complicated – and experts have debunked many of the recurring claims.
Here are some of the most common claims made by content creators and what nutritionists say.
* Rebalancing your gut bacteria with probiotics and prebiotics to improve digestion
* Dr Libby: Should you be taking a probiotic?
* Dr Libby: Prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics – what’s the difference?

The ‘symptoms’ of bad gut health commonly listed in TikTok videos include bloating, tiredness, bad skin, low moods and rashes. Some people claim if you have just one of these symptoms, you could have bad gut health.
Auckland nutritionist Sylvia North said there was “truth” to this claim, but “low mood and tiredness could be attributed to many other things”.
“Gut inflammation, intestinal hyperpermeability (excessive leakage) and microbial imbalances can be linked to a wide range of symptoms experienced outside the gut,” North said.
“What I would be hesitant is around the product that is then being pitched. Gut health is complex and there are few products with very good evidence that will fix the complex underlying issue.”
North said it was “good” that people were being encouraged to analyse their symptoms and health off the back of these videos.
“However, it can swing the other way and people become overly obsessed,” she said.
“We have to be careful about this.”
A lot of the bacteria that lives in the gut “provide essential services for us”, said paediatric gastroenterologist Andrew Day, of Otago University and Christchurch Hospital.
“They break down foods we can’t digest, and produce compounds that we need,” he said.
Day said some bacteria could be “unfriendly” and people could ingest a pathogen – an organism that causes disease – that is able to “storm the castle walls” and cause infection.
“These pathogens need to get through our defences and bypass the competition of the resident organisms, but can then prompt disease, like diarrhoea,” he said.
Vitamins that are commonly recommended in TikTok videos include L-glutamine, magnesium, zinc, probiotics, digestive enzymes and ginger juice.
“These supplements can support better digestion and gut lining health, but they are not going to be a quick fix,” North said.
She said a person needed to address their “underlying issues” such as food intolerances, coeliac disease, bacterial overgrowth, stress and nutrient deficiencies, rather than relying on one vitamin to fix all of their problems.
Drinking apple cider vinegar before a meal was also a common theme in these videos – something North did not encourage.
“Most people don’t take enough to have the desired effect, and when you do, it’s actually quite gross and not all that good for your teeth,” she said.
“The apple cider vinegar gummies are totally pointless.”
Instead of taking vitamins, Day said it was a “much better rationale” to avoid “high-fat, high-sugar and highly processed foods”.
North said some forms of fasting “can help to reduce bacterial load when there is an overgrowth”, which is when food passes the system more slowly, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.
“It won’t fix the issue if one goes back to the same diet and lifestyle,” North said.
“Breaks between meals can support regularity and more efficient digestion. However, going too long without eating raises a hormone glucagon and street hormones which lead to inefficient digestion.”
North said in general, “nutritional-related information” on TikTok was harmful.
“Save yourself a lot of misery by seeing a health professional who can take in the whole picture,” she said.
A spokesperson from Netsafe said it was “a good idea to think critically” about information seen online.
“On social media anyone can create, publish and share information, without that information needing to be fact checked for accuracy before publication,” the spokesperson said.
“Social media content that becomes particularly popular can happen for many reasons unrelated to the credibility or truthfulness of the message.”
Netsafe said it was important to understand whether the person who made the TikTok may be financially benefitting from the gut health tips and tricks they share online.
“We recommend people always do their own research on websites they trust to find out whether a product can fulfil the claims stated in the content they have seen.”
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