How to Evaluate Digestive Health Claims Using Evidence Based Studies

There are so many conflicting claims about digestive and natural health remedies on the Internet. I show you how I examine one of those claims using studies and clinical data to help you sort the good information from the less helpful advice.

How to Evaluate Digestive Health Claims Using Evidence Based Studies

The current abundance of gut health information online can help educate and empower people to improve their health and symptoms.

However, it’s important to know how to sift through the good information versus the dogmatic opinion and health marketing hype.

The information I share with my audience is based on current studies and scientific evidence. I dig deeper when I come across promising health claims to see if there’s compelling data to back it up.

I’ll give you an example of how I evaluate health claims by reading and analyzing studies and relevant research.

Let’s examine the follow claim: prebiotics can help with weight loss.

Let’s first define the term prebiotics. You’ve likely heard of probiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible plant fibers that, when consumed, become food for probiotics.

Prebiotics are sometimes added to probiotic supplements by the manufacturer. If you find FOS, inulin, acacia gum/gum arabic, or chicory on your probiotic ingredients label, you’re consuming prebiotics. Food sources of prebiotics include raw onions, dandelion greens, jicama, Jerusalem artichoke, and garlic.

The benefit of feeding prebiotics to the bacteria in our gut is that it boosts beneficial populations, which boosts the production of short chain fatty acids.

Short chain fatty acids are desirable for gut health because they’re anti-inflammatory and help protect the gut and repair gut lining.

These beneficial effects have great appeal among those struggling with gut inflammation, leaky gut, or gut-related weight loss resistance. In these cases, there’s a temptation to boost short chain fatty acid production as much as possible.

The line of thought for boosting prebiotic supplementation is as follows.

If prebiotics can boost short chain fatty acids, this can help repair the gut lining. And if you believe leaky gut leads to weight gain, then reversing the problem can release and normalize body weight.

While this logic may be appealing, there are a few good reasons why intervening to raise short chain fatty acids to highest levels is not advisable.

First of all, more is not always better.

In some cases prebiotics may actually be harmful.

People who suffer with issues of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, can feel worse when prebiotic food or supplements are introduced.

And even those who do not suffer with this problem should also err on the side of caution.

To evaluate the weight loss power of prebiotics, I researched current studies on the topic.

What I discovered is that obese individuals tend to have higher levels of short chain fatty acids even before prebiotic intervention.

This brings the claim that short chain fatty acids can help with weight loss into question. It also illustrates that more short chain fatty acids are not necessarily better.

But let’s zoom out to a bigger picture.

According to this recent study, when obese subjects were given prebiotics, their short chain fatty acids decreased.

Again, this is counterintuitive, so how could this be?

Perhaps when prebiotics feed good bacteria, they multiply and crowd out bad or imbalanced bacteria. When the bacterial colony becomes more balanced, it produces the appropriate amount of short chain fatty acids needed by the body.

So again, more is not better. In this study, we see that short chain fatty acid levels started out high and were likely reduced to appropriate levels based on physiological requirements.

The study also noted that insulin levels improved in the obese subjects and that there were weight loss results.

If you don’t look more closely, it’s tempting to assume from these results that prebiotics are healthy for weight loss.

However, we see in another study that the average weight loss was unimpressive at only 2.3 pounds. Considering the participants were obese, this weight loss is not impactful or significant.

According to the best clinical trial on the topic to date, prebiotics, despite their likely impact on short chain fatty acids, do not produce major weight loss results.

You may have heard of higher estimates of weight loss from prebiotic studies. But again, if you look closely at the details, you’ll notice that a 10-pound loss could be attributed to various factors, such as the addition of a diet and exercise routine. In this case, it’s hard to say what contributed most to weight loss.

The takeaway from these studies is that while prebiotics may be helpful to the gut, more is not better, and significant weight loss may not be a likely result.

Next time you read a claim about the latest leaky gut cure or weight loss miracle, dig deeper to find research to support it, or work with an evidence-based healthcare practitioner to help you sort it out.

What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.

Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.

Discussion

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