By Andrea Michelson
With all the factors that may impact gut health, it can be hard to know what’s causing stomach troubles and potentially affecting long-term wellness.
In a recent TikTok video via Houston Methodist hospital system, gastroenterologist Dr. Neeharika Kalakota shared a few simple rules of thumb she follows to maintain a healthy gut.
As an expert on digestive health, Kalakota said she recommends that her patients stay up-to-date on colon cancer screenings and avoid colonic “cleanses,” which can wreak havoc on the bowel and rectum.
She also said she stays away from NSAIDs, a class of over-the-counter painkillers that includes ibuprofen. According to drug warnings, NSAIDs may cause ulcers, bleeding, or holes in the stomach or intestine, especially if taken for a long time or in combination with three or more alcoholic drinks a day.
Gastroenterologists also specialize in liver function and disease, so Kalakota’s advice covers how to maintain a healthy liver as well as overall gut health.
Limit alcohol intake to 4 to 5 drinks a week
She warned that women shouldn’t have more than four alcoholic drinks per week, as excessive drinking can cause scarring in the liver over time. Men should cap their drinking at five alcoholic beverages per week, she said.
The link between alcohol consumption and liver disease has been well-documented, but Kalakota’s recommended maximum of four to five drinks a week is conservative compared to national guidelines on alcohol use.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as consuming more than seven drinks per week for women, or more than 14 drinks per week for men.
Almost all heavy drinkers develop excess fat in the liver, which is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease, according to Mayo Clinic. Heavy drinking over many years can lead to additional damage and scar tissue buildup in the liver, also known as cirrhosis. This irreversible damage can lead to liver cancer or fatal liver failure.
About 10%–20% of heavy drinkers go on to develop cirrhosis, according to Mayo Clinic. A recent review found that even one alcoholic drink a day is enough to increase the risk of cirrhosis in women.
Eat a fiber-rich diet
Kalakota also said she would never go on the keto diet or a carnivore diet, saying both diets lack the fiber content needed to maintain proper gut health.
“You need a high fiber diet to help prevent things like colon cancer and heart disease,” she said in the video.
The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, has been voted the worst diet according to nutritionists several years in a row, in part because the eating plan restricts essential nutrients in favor of various fats. People following the diet cut carbs almost entirely, which also causes them to eliminate key sources of fiber such as fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
Similarly, the carnivore diet has gained popularity in low-carb circles this year, but nutritionists have warned that the diet deprives people of plant-derived nutrients, such as fiber and polyphenols.
Some carnivore dieters eat meat as well as other animal products like dairy and eggs, while others stick to meat, salt, and water. Either way, cutting out plants is almost certainly bad news for gut health, as eating a varied diet is essential to preserving a healthy microbiome.