YouDocs: Go with your gut

Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz

 Admit it. You have a complicated relationship with your gastrointestinal system. It's often stinky, sometimes loud. It can be rudely stubborn or unreliably loose-goosey. But in many ways it is the center of your being, where all kinds of remarkably beneficial processes go on. Your gut influences your brain health, immune function, sleep quality, sexual life, skin, blood glucose levels and emotional stability. And it's mostly because of the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that spend their lives toiling for you. 

Day and night, they are at work, metabolizing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food, delivering lifesaving medicines to your body tissue, protecting your organ systems from toxins and infectious agents in your gut, and they even make hormones/neurotransmitters that influence emotion and produce vitamin K2 — needed for everything from blood-clotting to building healthy bones — as well as biotin, vitamin B12, folic acid and thiamine. And these microbes are just getting started.

One study showed that some gut bacteria can reduce the severity of symptoms for rheumatoid arthritis, while other strains of bacteria are disproportionately elevated at the onset of the disease. Another study in Genome Medicine explains how certain gut bacteria can contribute to metabolic syndrome and obesity, while others may help combat those conditions.

There is even a study out of the University of Chicago that found if you gave mice with melanoma a certain strain of gut bacteria, their body's immune system would launch an attack against the cancer cells. And how about this one? A study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that if you transfer gut bacteria from a clinically depressed person into a rat, the rat becomes depressed! 

Further research reveals that the brain-gut connection is because of the gut's production of the mood-altering hormones/neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin and the bacteria's interaction with the body's endocannabinoid system (that's a pleasure and pain system that affects sleep, memory, reproduction and mood).

And what do we do to these amazingly beneficial bacteria? We kill off the good bacteria, nurture the ones that cause us health problems, and then to correct whatever ails us take medications, such as proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux, metformin, SSRI antidepressants, antibiotics and laxatives, that only compound the assault on our gut biome. Fortunately, new discoveries offer some easy ways for you to treat your gut with the gentle kindness it deserves.

— An avocado a day increases beneficial bacteria, reduces levels of bile acids and helps you excrete more fat, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition that took urine and fecal samples from participants for three months. 

— Prebiotics feed the probiotic bacteria. So enjoy asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, onions and whole grains.

— Take probiotics and eat probiotic foods, such as kefir, nondairy yogurt, and fermented foods, such as kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso and fermented veggies. Fermented foods provide both pre- and probiotics. If you want to take a probiotic supplement, ask your gastroenterologist first. You may need to make your gut healthier with dietary and medication changes before it is smart or useful to take a probiotic. Then look for one that survives stomach acid such as Digestive Advantage or Culturelle. You should see improvements in your gut health in about four weeks. If you are lactose intolerant or vegan read labels carefully. There are vegan probiotics, but most are not. Follow storage instructions on the label to preserve the probiotic's active function.

— Ditch added sugars and artificial sweeteners. They disrupt your biome, altering your metabolism and contributing to bodywide inflammation. Weight gain, cognition problems and metabolic diseases like diabetes can result. 

— Try taking 200-300 milligrams a day of bovine colostrum in tablet form. It can decrease bloating and leaky gut caused by taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. 

— Practice stress reduction techniques such as meditation. Stress -- even short-lived -- has been shown to disrupt your biome. 

—  Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit

Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen