Health and fitness

No Guts, No Glory

It’s all over social and wellness media. But what exactly is gut health, and can it really help you look better at the beach and boost your mood? Let’s find out.

FWD Life Philippines

You may not know exactly what “gut health” is, but you’ll definitely hear about it on social media. Video apps are filled with glowing testimonials from (equally glowing) influencers, about how XYZ gut health supplement stopped their bloating and changed their lives.

From something no one talked about in company, it’s now everywhere. Let’s find out more.

First things first – what does gut health mean?


“Gut” refers to our gastro-intestinal tract. This runs from the mouth, through the esophagus and small and large intestines until the bowels. Inside our gut lives an entirely individual ecosystem of tiny, naturally occurring microorganisms, known collectively as our “gut microbiome.” The microbiome runs the digestive acids that break down our food and ensure nutrients and vitamins are absorbed. It also produces enzymes that manage these processes – as well as our emotions and brain (more on that later)

Many Filipinos actually do know a bit about gut health through the popular drink Yakult. The famous “lactobacilli shirota strain” is a form of lactic acid bacteria, an important probiotic. So those Yakult + soju K-cocktails do have something good about them!

When it’s healthy, our gut keeps our body running. When it's not, you get an upset stomach, gas or bloating, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Given the link to metabolism, researchers are also studying the role of gut health in inflammatory diseases, diabetes, fatty liver, obesity, and even nerve disorders like Parkinson’s.

Block the bloat

Usually, an uncomfortably bloated feeling is temporary, due to a monthly period or eating too much or too fast. Sometimes though, it’s caused by too much intestinal gas (“kabag”) or acid (“sikmura”). If you suffer either of these frequently, you may have a food intolerance, meaning that your body does not digest some foods properly, such as dairy or gluten. Changing your diet can help, but you should also consult a medical professional.

Our intestines are lined with a “gut wall” that keeps digestive acids inside where they belong. When that wall is punctured, the acids and bacteria can leak out, causing pain and discomfort. It’s the same principle as a stomach ulcer (deep searching will call up lots of articles about “leaky gut”, but for now that’s a question for your doctor, not the internet.)

Foods for gut health


Boring as it sounds, a common-sense lifestyle of diet, exercise and sleep is the best way to gut health. But some food does add a boost. Here they are:

  1. Fiber

Fiber “sweeps” your gut clean of toxins and feeds the probiotics to keep them working. It also keeps your bathroom time regular. So how to get it? Fiber supplements and grains like chia, flax and hemp are widely available, but everyday food can be a simple, affordable source too. Legumes (beans and monggo) and cabbage, spinach and other green leafy veg are fiber-packed, as are the skins of apples, cucumbers, and potatoes. Overnight oats (quick-cooking, not instant), brown rice and whole-grain breads or pasta are other easy ways to add fiber.

  1. Fermented foods

Fermentation literally happens because of probiotic enzymes, the same ones inside us. Yakult, yogurt, atchara and other pickles, sourdough, miso and kombucha are fermented. So are “stinky” relishes like kimchi, bagoong, and buro. Look for these freshly made in local markets, because the preservatives that extend shelf life kill probiotics. If you’re the crafty type, learn to make them yourself. (Before you ask: alcoholic beverages are fermented, but the alcohol and sugar cancel out the gut benefits. Sorry.

  1. Fast and instant food – not.

These are fun, but not for every day. Plan, shop and prep your meals ahead, a few days at a time. You’ll save money, the earth and delivery fees. If work keeps you on the road, look for home-cooked Pinoy dishes easily found in neighborhood restaurants and canteens. Nilaga, tinola, fish soups, fresh lumpia and vegetable side dishes are your friends.

Speaking of savings. it’s not bougie or wannabe to live healthy. We all have a budget, but if something is making you sick it’s worth spending to fix it.

Gut-brain axis: Anxiety isn’t all in your head


Brain?  Yes. It’s no coincidence that “gut” has come to refer as coming from our core, or deep inside. “Trust your gut.” “I feel it in my gut.” When we’re scared, our “stomachs churn.” or we feel it “in the pit of [my] stomach.” When we know something but can’t rationally explain why, it’s called “gut instinct” or “gut reaction.

Our gut actually has its own “brain”, a nervous system that’s different from but symbiotic with the one in our heads. The two constantly ‘talk” via neurotransmitters, chemical “signals” that run our body’s involuntary processes like digestion, sleep, breathing and mood. Some neurotransmitters not only work in the gut but are produced there. The best-known is serotonin, which regulates mood – and 90% of which is produced in the gut. Gut microbes also communicate with our endocrine system (hormones) and our immune system.

So, when there’s a bio-chemical glitch anywhere, genuine mental health issues can result. Gut issues can disrupt neurotransmitter production, literally keeping you up at night. When an illness (digestive or otherwise) is undiagnosed, you’re anxious and feel gaslit by your own body. More study is needed, but some research suggests that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach pain can be the body’s response to chronic, severe anxiety that our brain is not ready to process.

More typically, our bodies can’t always distinguish between kinds of stress. To the body, running from an attacker or a rushing for a deadline are both stress – and digestion is affected as a result

What to do, then? We can’t avoid stress, but we can manage it through exercise, breathing and awareness of our emotional triggers. As you see a medical professional for your gut, consider a mental health professional for your brain.

Slow and steady change

This all looks pretty straightforward. So, what’s all the gut health hype? The issue flourishes online for a few reasons:

One, it’s familiar. We’ve all had stomach issues; we all wish our tummies were smaller. Hello, the beach body we all want to have!

Two, each gut microbiome is unique, and much of the research is new and thus wide open to interpretation.

Finally, who doesn’t want a quick fix -- a pretty box or bottle that you can order, swallow the contents and instantly look and feel better?

But as with most health matters, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Fasts and cleanses can jumpstart, but lifestyle change endures when it’s gradual, consistent and lasting. Try small changes for the better. As your gut health improves, you’ll feel better and healthier every day. Which is really what it’s all about.

Be ready for the unexpected

As we know, even healthy habits, unexpected medical issues can arise. That's where health insurance comes in. Just like you take care of your gut, having health insurance can help you take care of your overall health. It provides you with the financial protection and peace of mind you need in case of unexpected health issues or emergencies. FWD Set for Health can protect you and your family from future financial expenses if you get diagnosed with any of the covered 42 major and 9 minor critical illnesses or if the unexpected happens. Plus, you get your money back if you stay healthy until age 75. That’s why we call it zero-waste health coverage.

With the right insurance coverage, you can have access to quality healthcare services, diagnostic tests, and specialist consultations that can support your health journey. Remember, we're here to make insurance feel less overwhelming and more like a supportive ally on your path to well-being. We've got your back!

Find out if Set for Health is the right coverage for you.