Gut health extends beyond being a mere buzzword. It refers to the balance of microorganisms in your digestive tract, which promotes physical and mental well-being, immunity, and more. Consisting of trillions of bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and other microbes, your gut microbiome forms a sprawling ecosystem, encompassing beneficial and harmful organisms. This is one of the reasons you need to improve gut health.
- 1 How to Improve Gut Health Naturally
- 2 Conclusion
How to Improve Gut Health Naturally
Maintaining a healthy gut means having more of the good guys and less of the bad ones. But how can you improve your gut health naturally? Here are ten research-backed tips that can help boost your gut flora and enhance your overall well-being.
Take probiotics and eat fermented foods.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can support a healthy gut microbiome by replenishing the beneficial bacteria and preventing inflammation and other intestinal problems.
You can take probiotics as supplements in health food stores, drug stores, and online. Or you can get them from natural sources, such as fermented foods.
Fermented foods are culinary creations that have undergone a transformative fermentation process of natural fermentation by bacteria or yeast, which produces lactic acid and other beneficial compounds. Fermented foods can help improve digestion, detoxify the body, and provide probiotics to the gut.
Some examples of fermented foods that are good for your gut health are:
Eat prebiotic fiber
Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that feed the probiotics in your gut. By providing food for the good bacteria, prebiotics help them multiply and thrive in your gut.
Prebiotics also have other benefits for your health, such as lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar control, and enhancing mineral absorption.
Some foods that are rich in prebiotic fiber are:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Whole grains
Eat less sugar and sweeteners
Overindulging in sugar or artificial sweeteners may subject your health to adverse consequences, including causing an imbalance of gut microbes, also known as dysbiosis. This can lead to inflammation, metabolic disease, and impaired brain function.
The consumption of sugar nourishes detrimental bacteria in your gut, leading to the potential displacement of beneficial ones and disrupting the delicate balance of your microbiome. Conversely, artificial sweeteners can modify the composition and functionality of your gut microbiota, influencing your blood sugar levels and metabolism.
To improve your gut health, limit your intake of processed foods and beverages that are high in sugar or contain artificial sweeteners. Rather than that, consider choosing natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, or stevia, or relish the natural sweetness of fresh fruits to enhance your health.
Stress can hurt many aspects of your health, including your gut health. Stress can affect the communication between your brain and your gut, alter the balance of your gut microbes, increase intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut), and impair digestion and absorption.
To alleviate stress and enhance your gut health, explore the following natural stress management techniques:
- Breathing exercises
- Spending time in nature
- Listening to music
- Talking to a friend or therapist
Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily.
Antibiotics are pharmaceutical substances designed to eliminate or impede the growth of bacteria. They can be lifesaving when used to treat bacterial infections, but they can also cause collateral damage to your gut microbiome by wiping out both good and bad bacteria.
This can result in dysbiosis, reduced diversity, and increased susceptibility to infections, allergies, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease.
To protect your gut health, avoid taking antibiotics unless necessary and prescribed by a doctor. If you need antibiotics, follow the instructions carefully and complete the course as directed. You may also want to take probiotics during and after antibiotic treatment to help restore your gut flora.
Exercise benefits beyond just your muscles, heart, and lungs; it also promotes a healthy gut. Exercise significantly improves gut health by boosting blood flow to the digestive organs, stimulating intestinal muscle contractions, enhancing immune function, reducing inflammation, and influencing the composition and activity of gut microbes.
Moreover, exercise can aid in preventing and managing conditions that impact gut health, including obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The type and intensity of exercise that is best for your gut health may vary depending on your individual needs and preferences, but some general guidelines are:
- Striving to engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, is recommended.
- Include some strength training exercises at least twice a week, such as lifting weights, pushing-ups, or using resistance bands.
- Add flexibility and balance exercises to your routine, such as stretching, yoga, or tai chi.
- Select activities that bring you joy align with your schedule, and complement your lifestyle.
- Listen to your body and avoid overexertion or injury.
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Get enough sleep
Sufficient sleep is crucial not only for your general health and well-being but also for maintaining optimal gut health. Sleep affects your gut health in several ways, such as:
- Regulating your circadian rhythm is the natural cycle of your body’s biological processes, including gut function and microbiome activity.
- Influencing your appetite, hunger, and satiety hormones, which can affect your food choices and intake.
- Modulating your immune system can affect your gut inflammation and infection risk.
- Affecting your mood and stress levels, which can impact your brain-gut communication and microbiome balance.
To get enough sleep and improve your gut health, follow these tips:
- Strive to consistently sleep 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule and routine.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Make your bedroom dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable.
- Turn off or limit the use of electronic devices before bed.
- Practice relaxation techniques or read a book to unwind.
Use different cleaning products.
The cleaning products you use in your home may affect your gut health by altering the exposure and diversity of microbes in your environment. Certain cleaning products comprise abrasive chemicals capable of killing or inhibiting the growth of good and bad bacteria.
While this may seem good for hygiene purposes, it may also reduce the beneficial bacteria that help train your immune system and protect you from pathogens.
To improve your gut health, consider using more natural or eco-friendly cleaning products that are less harmful to the environment and your microbiome. You can also make cleaning products using vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, or essential oils.
Fill up on ferment.
Fermented foods serve as a reservoir of probiotics, which contribute to maintaining other beneficial compounds that can improve your gut health. These include:
- Lactic acid: This is the main product of fermentation by bacteria. It lowers the pH of the food and establishes an acidic milieu that hampers the proliferation of harmful microbes. It also helps regulate the pH of the gut and enhances the absorption of minerals.
- Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs): These are produced by some bacteria when they ferment dietary fiber in the colon. They provide energy for the cells lining the gut and have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. They also help regulate blood sugar, cholesterol, appetite, and weight.
- B vitamins: These are essential for various metabolic functions within the body, such as generating energy, synthesizing DNA, and nerve function. Some bacteria can produce B vitamins during fermentation, such as B12, folate, riboflavin, and niacin.
- Polyphenols: These plant compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. They can influence the gut microbiome by fostering the growth and multiplication of advantageous bacteria and impeding the growth of harmful ones. They can also interact with gut microbes to produce metabolites with health benefits.
Some examples of fermented foods that are rich in these compounds are:
- Live yogurt
Limit ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods have undergone multiple industrial processes and contain additives such as preservatives, colorings, flavorings, sweeteners, emulsifiers, stabilizers, or thickeners. Commonly, they tend to have abundant calories, sugar, fat, salt, and refined carbohydrates, while lacking in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Ultra-processed foods can harm your gut health by:
- Disrupting the balance of your gut microbes by favoring the growth of harmful bacteria over beneficial ones.
- Increasing intestinal permeability by damaging the tight junctions between the cells lining the gut wall.
- Causing inflammation by triggering an immune response to foreign substances or toxins in the food.
- Impairing digestion by reducing the production of digestive enzymes or interfering with their function.
Choose whole or minimally-processed foods rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to improve your gut health. These include:
- Whole grains
- Lean meats
Your body’s well-being and overall health greatly depend on the vitality of your gut. By following these ten tips, you can improve your gut health naturally and enjoy the benefits of a balanced and diverse microbiome.
Remember that improving your gut health is not a one-time thing but a lifelong journey. Although altering your diet and lifestyle requires dedication and effort, the outcomes are worthwhile.
If you have any questions or concerns about your gut health or need more guidance on improving it, consult your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can help you assess your situation and provide personalized advice and support.
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