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Do I Need a “Gut Reset”?

Social media might swear by an array of elixirs, detoxes, and cleanses, but if you’re looking for a quick fix to “reset” your gut after deviating from your normal routine, you don’t need to go to these extremes. Here’s how you can get your digestive health back on track.

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Reader’s Digest is where we answer common questions about digestive health as simply and jargon-free as possible. If you’re seeking snackable info, start with our short answer. Hungry for more? Dig into our longer explanation. Have a question of your own that you’d like us to break down in a future Reader’s Digest? DM us on Instagram.  

Let’s say you’ve spent the weekend forgoing all of your normal routines that support your gut and keep your body feeling healthy and energetic. Will TikTok’s internal shower drink really hit the “reset” button after a weekend full of social plans? What about an at-home colon cleanse? Or one of the many elixirs loaded with ginger, lemon, and other “gut-healing” ingredients social media influencers swear by? 

We’ve all experienced those moments when we deviate from our normal habits, whether they’re during a vacation or a stressful week at work. The aftermath can leave you feeling off (read: bloated, constipated, broken out, and at the whim of volatile blood sugar spikes). You may even be tempted to scroll through social media to find the latest trend to “undo” your actions from the previous days. But are these “gut resets” what you should rely on if you’ve strayed from your usual routine? Here, we’ll explore what happens to your microbiome during these periods of disruption and how you can get your digestive health back on track.

Do I need a “gut reset”? 

The short answer: It’s much better to focus on long-term, sustainable habits than to try out the viral cleanse du jour. If you want additional support for your gut health, try a scientifically validated probiotic

The longer answer: Well, it depends. What do you mean by “gut reset”? If you’re looking for a quick fix or hoping to try the latest viral TikTok trend, you don’t need to go to these extremes. However, if your health is feeling off after traveling or a weekend filled with microbiome perturbations (think: alcohol, sugar, processed foods, and/or disrupted sleep), it’s possible the balance of your gut microbiome has been disrupted. This may manifest as digestive discomforts like bloating, gas, stomach pain, and changes in bowel movements—though it can go beyond the boundaries of your gut and influence skin and even immunity. (The post-vacation bloating, breakout, and tickle in your throat all make sense now.) 

Fortunately, a diverse microbiome is resilient. While temporary shifts in your lifestyle can cause changes in microbial composition, these are not permanent, and your microbiome will bounce back—but there’s no magic cleanse or silver bullet to expedite this (if only). Take diet, for instance. Studies show that a change in diet can cause detectable shifts in your microbiota in as little as 24 hours.1,2 Once you return to your typical diet, however, your gut microbiome will revert to its original structure within roughly 48 hours.2 

So, let’s say you go on a vacation and your diet shifts—maybe you’re enjoying a local cuisine filled with entirely new foods, swapping your morning omelet for a pastry, or skipping the salad bar (you are on vacation, after all). Because different microbes feed on different dietary components, your microbiome may shift in response to the aforementioned changes, which could contribute to common digestive issues experienced when traveling (the vacation constipation struggle is real). Once you return home and reinstate your typical dietary habits, however, your microbiome will shift back to its pre-vacation state (more or less) within about two days. And at this point, any lingering discomforts associated with microbial changes would likely resolve on their own.

Your Gut’s Built-In “Reset”

Even though the microbiome is generally stable once it reaches the “steady state” of adulthood (beginning around age 3), it is not a completely static community.³ The relative amounts of different bacteria can vary day-to-day within a person, depending on variables like dietary choices and environment. Another contributing factor to these short-term microbial fluctuations is “purging”, the process by which the gut microbiome undergoes regular turnover every 24-48 hours.² Purging is an important process to maintain the overall balance of the gut environment and prevent overgrowth of harmful microbes. 

Back to our initial question. Knowing your gut microbiome can naturally return to its baseline, do you need to take any additional action to “reset” your gut? According to Dr. Emeran Mayer, gastroenterologist and member of Seed’s Scientific Board, probably not. “As long as you’re following a healthy lifestyle regimen, your gut is set up for success and should be able to withstand temporary disruptions,” Dr. Mayer said. “This means you don’t need a major ‘reset’ like a juice cleanse or detox diet to get your health back on track.” 

Translation: Focus on the long game and build sustainable habits, since that’s much more important for gut health than a short-term extreme regimen without a clear offramp. 

When it comes to establishing a healthy lifestyle to support your gut, diet is one of the best places to start. The foods you eat each day have a profound impact on your gut health and play a meaningful role in shaping your microbial community. However, we know diet is an incredibly flooded and overcomplicated landscape to navigate, so as a simple rule of thumb, build your daily choices around a high-fiber diet that’s 70% plant-based and includes fermented foods. (Want to know more about eating for your gut? Read our full exploration here.

Dr. Mayer also suggests turning your attention to the brain. “Most people think a reset needs to be done only at the gut level, but equally as important to consider is what your brain is sending down to your gut, and how your gut responds to that,” Dr. Mayer said. “Relaxation, mindfulness, or meditative practices can have a strong influence on your gut and may help support your body during a period when you’re feeling like you need a ‘reset.’” 

All this said, there are some instances when your gut needs a little extra help. “If you have to take an antibiotic or experience some other kind of major disruption to your gut, additional action may be a good idea,” Dr. Mayer said. “In these instances, I suggest taking a scientifically validated probiotic.” 

While this may not be the answer you were hoping to read (we know the promise of a quick fix “gut reset” is enticing), remember that at the end of the day, what really makes an impact is building long-term, sustainable habits. Perhaps the real reset we collectively need is a shift in how we approach the topic of caring for our guts in the first place. 

Citations

  1. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., Ling, A. V., Devlin, A. S., Varma, Y., Fischbach, M. A., Biddinger, S. B., Dutton, R. J., & Turnbaugh, P. J. (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559–563. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820
  2. Sonnenburg, J. L., & Bäckhed, F. (2016). Diet-microbiota interactions as moderators of human metabolism. Nature, 535(7610), 56–64. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature18846
  3. Rodríguez, J. M., Murphy, K., Stanton, C., Ross, R. P., Kober, O. I., Juge, N., Avershina, E., Rudi, K., Narbad, A., Jenmalm, M. C., Marchesi, J. R., & Collado, M. C. (2015). The composition of the gut microbiota throughout life, with an emphasis on early life. Microbial ecology in health and disease, 26, 26050. https://doi.org/10.3402/mehd.v26.26050