Over the past few years, I've noticed my gut health has been in less than stellar shape. No matter what I eat, I'm consistently gassy and bloated, my heartburn is frequent, my bowel movements are irregular, and my acid reflux (which stings like hell) is always creeping up my throat. Worst of all, I cannot stop burping. And it's not just a normal burp here and there after a sip of soda — it's a series of full-on croaks, and it happens from the moment I wake until I'm off to bed. While I hope to schedule a comprehensive microbiome test with my local gastroenterologist soon, I've been looking to probiotics — specifically Ritual's best-selling Synbiotic+ capsules — for relief.
According to the brand, Synbiotic+ is the most successful product launch to date since it was introduced in April 2022. That's no surprise, considering it was developed after 98% of Ritual customers specifically requested a product to help support gut and digestive health. Surely, something is going on with the gut!
Mike Hoaglin, MD, medical director for the 24/7 telemedicine service DrHouse, tells me he's also observed an uptick in gut health issues over the past few years, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. "The gut and the brain are intimately connected and can communicate through signaling through the nervous system and from chemicals in the blood," says Dr. Hoaglin. It is thought that around 95% of serotonin — a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood, among other things — is produced in the gut, he adds.
"The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with 'resting and digesting.' It allows your gut to move things forward in a coordinated fashion, whereas the sympathetic nervous system is all about 'flight or flight.' In fight or flight, your gut gets shut down, as energy is needed elsewhere. This is partly why you get indigestion when you're anxious."
Okay, so maybe there's some underlying anxiety going on with my body. Or maybe it's that I'm not getting enough fiber in my current diet. Luckily, probiotics — capsules containing live bacteria and yeasts — have been known to aid with digestion. They're known to be a safe, affordable, and effective over-the-counter solution when taken correctly and as directed. Synbiotic+, though, is more than a probiotic, and that's because it's a three-in-one: It's a prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic.
Katerina Schneider, founder and CEO of Ritual, tells me it took the brand over four years to develop Synbiotic+, a "traceable biotic with 11 billion CFUs (colony forming units) of probiotics for digestive support." The pills consist of "two of the world’s most clinically studied bacterial strains, LGG and BB-12." (Ritual does note that its statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and that this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.)
The pill itself is a marvel to look at: It's a minicapsule nestled inside a normal-size capsule, and it's specifically designed to be delayed-release, so that it reaches the colon, and not the stomach, for optimal absorption. Swallowing is also a breeze: There's a mint-infused tab in every moisture-controlled bottle, so it leaves a fresh mouthfeel after every dose. Refrigeration of the pills is not required.
So, how did my one-month trial of Synbiotic+ go? First, two caveats: I have ongoing, existing gut health issues, and I very well know that I cannot expect nor rely on probiotic supplements alone to get my body back on track. Also, I can only speak to my own experiences — please consult a medical professional for what treatments or supplements may be right for you.
That said, it took a couple of weeks of trial and error to find a decent rhythm for Synbiotic+ to work with my body. My nonscientific measure of "is it working?" includes if my bowel movements are regular, if I'm feeling more energized and less sluggish, and if my burping is under better control. I can say that at the end of 30 days of taking Synbiotic+ I've become far more regular than before. My energy levels more or less have been consistent (I'm an active person anyway, and I've been a fan of Ritual's other energy-boosting product, the Daily Shake 18+ protein powder, for some time because it helps with post-workout recovery). My burps, unfortunately, remain (maybe I'm just part frog).
For me, I started seeing results way later in the month, and I don't know if this is a placebo effect, but I felt like taking Synbiotic+ in the evenings before bed rather than first thing in the morning was more effective for me. However, Schneider tells me Synbiotic+ can be taken morning or night, with or without food, so the time of day you decide to take it is totally up to you.
Also, what does it even mean to take a three-in-one capsule? I asked Dr. Hoaglin about his stance on probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics. All three types are beneficial and have slightly different jobs. "Prebiotics are typically considered the material that commensal bacteria (the bugs currently living in our gut) 'eat' or ferment into other helpful materials like short-chain fatty acids (also called postbiotics)," he says.
Probiotics, Dr. Hoaglin says, are live microorganisms that "have beneficial effects on immunity, digestion, GI symptoms, and inflammation" — plus, it's the most common biotic you can purchase at any pharmacy or drug store. The research on postbiotics isn't as extensive as the other two biotics, but that doesn't mean they are ineffective or bad: "[They're] shown to nourish the gut wall and help the liver control blood sugar." Given that Synbiotic+ contains all three biotics, I feel like I'm getting a full platter of bacteria goodness.
I appreciate that Ritual conducts extensive research and testing — which Schneider tells me is in accordance with the gold-standard United States Pharmacopeia guidelines for measuring CFUs — so I've felt nothing but confident in giving Synbiotic+ a shot. The TL;DR version of the testing process touches upon two studies: The first study showed that the delayed-release pill actually does deliver bacteria to the colon, allowing for optimal absorption. The second found that "Synbiotic+ was shown to significantly increase the growth of beneficial bacteria along with microbial diversity," says Schneider.
If you're feeling skeptical about any of this, the best course of action is to speak to a medical professional about whatever gut health concerns you have. "There are certainly serious gastrointestinal issues that can be treated medically," says Dr. Hoaglin, who also advises that your doctor can take a closer look into your diet and lifestyle and run appropriate lab tests to rule out any medical conditions.
If you do not have a doctor at the moment, you can access one through DrHouse’s health care promotion, which offers free doctor appointments through October 31. But if, like me, you are in steady need of a gentle capsule that can help aid in your daily digestive journey, Ritual's Synbiotic+ is a "gut instinct" product I certainly recommend.
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