Can we “hack” our gut health?

By Hayley Philip June 13, 2024 | 6 MIN READ

The Dirt

"Hack Your Health" delves into the fascinating and complex world of gut health. In her documentary, German scientist Giulia Enders leads viewers through an exploration of the microbiome and its impact on overall health. What did the film get right and wrong, and what can we learn about the importance of gut health?


Can we “hack” our gut health?


Food Production

Health and Nutrition


By Hayley Philip June 13, 2024 | 6 MIN READ

The Dirt

"Hack Your Health" delves into the fascinating and complex world of gut health. In her documentary, German scientist Giulia Enders leads viewers through an exploration of the microbiome and its impact on overall health. What did the film get right and wrong, and what can we learn about the importance of gut health?

Hack Your Health: The Secrets of Your Gut, a documentary featured on Netflix, highlights the microbiome, the community of bacteria living inside our bodies, as a crucial player in gut health.

Each person’s microbiome is unique, much like fingerprints. The microbiome consists of approximately 100 trillion microbes, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, that reside primarily in the intestines. These microbes help break down food, support the immune system, and communicate via the vagus nerve that connects our gut to our brain.

Hack Your Health follows the journey of four individuals, each with distinct gut health challenges. The variability in characters shows the complex nature of the gut and all that it impacts:

Michelin-starred pastry chef Maya learns that her anorexia and restrictive diet have severely impacted her gut health, necessitating a more balanced dietary approach to improve her well-being.


Daniell, the psychology student, discovers that her severe digestive issues and restrictive diet are linked to her gut microbiome, highlighting the need for personalized dietary adjustments.


Kimmie, labeled morbidly obese, finds that her lack of gut bacteria diversity affects her ability to feel full and lose weight, leading to tailored dietary recommendations to enhance her microbial diversity.


Competitive hot dog-eater Kobayashi realizes that his extreme eating habits have disrupted his hunger signals and gut health, prompting concerns about long-term damage and the need for a healthier lifestyle.

What the Documentary Gets Right and Wrong

The documentary is commendable for its scientific accuracy and approachable presentation of complex topics. It avoids the trap of pseudoscience by not offering overly simplistic solutions to complex problems. Instead, it emphasizes that gut health solutions are highly individualized, depending on one’s unique microbiome composition.

The documentary also accurately portrays the emerging science of the gut-brain axis, illustrating how the gut communicates with the brain and influences various bodily functions.

While the documentary is informative, it sometimes glosses over the intricate details of scientific studies, opting for a more infotainment approach. This style might leave viewers wanting a deeper dive into the science behind the microbiome and its broader implications.

Additionally, the documentary faced criticism for promoting untested claims about autism and gut health, which led to backlash from autism advocacy groups.

Scientific Insights & Treatments

To address their gut issues, Maya, Daniell, Kimmie, and Kobayashi send fecal samples for analysis. The results help tailor diets that could improve their microbiome diversity and overall health. One innovative treatment discussed is the “fecal microbiome transplant,” where healthy bacteria from a donor’s stool are transferred to the recipient’s gut.

This procedure has shown promise in treating conditions like Clostridium difficile infections and is being explored for other applications. But more underscore the new ways of diagnostics, such as as fecal sampling for additional information outside of just bloodwork.

What Does the Science Say About Our Gut?

Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis refers to the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. This connection influences various bodily functions, including mood, stress responses, and even cognitive functions.

For instance, the gut produces neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is crucial for mood regulation. Dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut bacteria, has been linked to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

hack your health, Can we “hack” our gut health?

Immune System

Approximately 70% of the immune system is located in the gut. The gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in training the immune system to differentiate between harmful pathogens and harmless antigens. A healthy microbiome can prevent autoimmune diseases by maintaining a balanced immune response.

Metabolism & Weight Management

Gut bacteria are involved in the metabolism of food and the extraction of nutrients. They influence how we store fat, regulate glucose levels, and feel hunger or satiety. Dysbiosis can lead to metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that individuals with a diverse microbiome are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

Inflammation & Chronic Diseases

A balanced microbiome helps control inflammation by producing anti-inflammatory compounds. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for several diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Dysbiosis is linked to increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which allows toxins to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation.

Digestive Health

The microbiome aids in digesting complex carbohydrates and fibers that the body cannot break down on its own. This process produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which nourish the gut lining, reduce inflammation, and support overall digestive health. Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease are associated with imbalances in the gut microbiome.

hack your health, Can we “hack” our gut health?

Key Takeaways for Consumers

While this documentary is not pseudoscience, it still lacks a bit of scientific depth. But here are some sound takeaways rooted in science from key points in the documentary:

Gut Diversity is Key

A diverse microbiome is crucial for good health. Each person’s microbiome is unique, and having a variety of bacteria can enhance resilience against diseases. Consuming a wide range of foods, especially plant-based ones, can help foster this diversity.

Plants provide different types of fibers, polyphenols, and other bioactive compounds that serve as substrates for various microbial species in the gut, promoting microbial diversity. A diverse diet boosts the production of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which play a crucial role in maintaining gut barrier integrity, reducing inflammation, and supporting immune function.

Individualized Solutions

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to gut health. Personalized approaches based on microbiome analysis can provide better health outcomes. For instance, Kimmie’s gut analysis revealed a lack of bacteria that help her feel full, leading to personalized dietary recommendations to increase her microbial diversity.

Similarly, Daniell’s restrictive diet was tailored to her specific gut needs. Understanding the unique composition of your microbiome can help in identifying the specific foods and treatments that are most beneficial for you.

Innovative Treatments

Treatments like fecal microbiome transplants (FMT) show promise but should be approached with caution and professional guidance. FMT involves transferring bacteria from a healthy donor’s stool to the recipient’s gut, aiming to restore a balanced microbiome.

This procedure has been effective in treating recurrent Clostridium difficile infections and is being investigated for other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. However, it carries risks, including the potential transfer of harmful pathogens, and should only be done under medical supervision.

Fiber is Essential

Eating more plants and fibers is universally recommended for maintaining a healthy gut. Fiber acts as a prebiotic, feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut and promoting their growth. High-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

The fiber in these foods is fermented by gut bacteria, producing short-chain fatty acids that support gut health and overall well-being. Increasing fiber intake can also improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and enhance immune function.

Hack Your Health: The Secrets of Your Gut is a compelling watch for anyone interested in the emerging science of gut health. While it may not delve as deeply into hard science as some might prefer, it offers valuable insights and practical advice in an engaging and accessible manner.

The Bottom Line

For those looking to improve their gut health, the documentary provides a good starting point and emphasizes the importance of personalized health strategies and dietary diversity. Understanding the role of the microbiome in health and disease can empower individuals to make informed decisions about their diet and lifestyle, ultimately fostering a healthier gut and a healthier life.