10 Tips to Maintain or Improve Gut Health
Did you know that your gut is home to an entire ecosystem of microscopic, living organisms? It’s true! Called our gut microbiome, this community lives in your digestive tract and is responsible for maintaining regular digestion, keeping your immune system functioning, and so much more. Your gut microbiome has a nervous system, produces hormones and neurotransmitters, and is regulated by circadian rhythms.
While the gut microbiome is still the topic of a lot of scientific research, scientists agree that it plays a big role in many functions of the body. So what are some ways we can maintain or improve our gut health?
Read on to find out!
What are signs of a healthy gut?
You know your gut is healthy when you eat food, digest it, absorb the nutrients, and expel the waste 1-2 times daily. If this process doesn’t include any pain or abnormalities, then chances are you have a relatively healthy gut.
What are signs of an unhealthy gut?
While an unhealthy gut can manifest in many ways, it tends to be characterized by gut disruption — both short-term and chronic. The most telltale signs of a gut issue include diarrhea, gas, constipation, abdominal cramping, bloating, and hemorrhoids. While less common, an unhealthy gut can also be diagnosed via chronic fatigue, skin irritation, food cravings, weight changes, depression and anxiety, migraines, and autoimmune conditions.
That said, prolonged gut health disruptions can also result in more serious issues for some people. In a 2018 study, the journal F1000 Research summarized that prolonged gut bacteria disturbances, referred to as dysbiosis, can lead to the development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in some cases.
10 Ways to Maintain or Improve Gut Health
First and foremost, if you feel like you may have gut health issues, paying a visit to a doctor or naturopath should be your first move. A trained physician will be able to tell you if your symptoms are gut-related or if there are multiple factors to your discomfort.
I don’t recommend taking any medications or supplements without contacting a professional beforehand.
That said, there are some things you can do to help maintain or improve your gut health yourself:
#1 – Lower Your Stress Level
We all know that high or even moderate levels of stress can wreak havoc on the body. But were you aware that stress can disrupt your gut microbiome as well?
According to the US National Library of Medicine, “psychological stress and depression can reshape the gut bacteria’s composition through stress hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations. In turn, the gut bacteria release metabolites, toxins, and neurohormones that can alter eating behavior and mood.”
Further, these changes in behavior and mood can lead to enhanced de-regulated eating and heightened risks of anxiety and depression.
If you’re looking for ways to manage stress, check out this article on how to tap away stress and anxiety.
#2 – Consider Taking a Prebiotic or Probiotic
Together, prebiotics and probiotics support the body by creating a healthy microbiome full of good bacteria and other microorganisms. The two systems work together to support the gut, help digestion, and provide an ideal environment where the organisms can live.
In particular, probiotics help maintain and restore the microbiome composition and help defeat inflammation and other intestinal issues. They’re living microorganisms that include bacteria and yeast (such as candida).
Meanwhile, prebiotics are an indigestible type of fiber. These fibers are essentially food for probiotics that help them flourish.
You can find both prebiotics and probiotics in different forms (including capsules) but, while it’s generally safe to take prebiotics and probiotics together, for the best results they shouldn’t be taken at the same time.
Again, I suggest consulting a physician before taking regular supplements.
This article on candida is a great resource for understanding how it can be out of balance.
#3 – Eat Fermented Foods
Speaking of probiotics, an easy way to get more of them in your body is to eat fermented foods. In particular, foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso, yogurt, and tempeh are rich in probiotics and could go a long way in helping improve your digestion and immunity.
The probiotics in these foods grow during fermentation and are an easy, healthy way to keep up your gut flora.
#4 – Test for Food Intolerances
Another reason your gut may be out of balance could be food intolerances or sensitivities. Each and every body is different, and although there are some foods that are prone to cause inflammation in humans, you could unknowingly be digesting food that is disrupting your microbiome.
A great resource for testing out what foods are causing inflammation is The Elimination Diet by Tom Malterre. The ideas in it will help you find out what foods work best with your body, and which are best to avoid — and it’s all personalized!
#5 – Cut Down on Sugar
In recent years, studies have shown that sugar plays an active role in gut health in a variety of ways. While it’s known that sugar tends to cause inflammation, this 2018 study also suggested that fructose “causes changes to the microbial make-up of the gut”.
In that same study, it was also found that a dominant amount of sugar in young rats would alter their microbiome even after the sugar had left their body.
#6 – Understand Antibiotic Use
Whether it’s been for an ear infection, chest infection, or would infection, chances are you’ve taken an antibiotic at least once in your life or know someone who has. And while antibiotics work very well at killing bacteria that cause infections, they don’t stop there — they tend to kill off good bacteria too.
So, if you find yourself on antibiotics for any reason, make sure you balance it out by taking your prescription with food, especially fermented foods, and staying away from sugars.
This is a great article for learning more about how antibiotics affect your gut microbiome.
#7 – Use Different Cleaning Products
It’s wild to think that the cleaning products we use in our homes could be having adverse effects on our microbiome, but it’s true — those “kills 99% of bacteria labels” could be altering your gut. While there are certain regulations on cleaning products for various reasons, ones with the compound Triclosan have been noted to alter the flora in some people.
While health regulators have concluded that trace amounts of Triclosan in our days don’t hurt (and I’m certainly not bringing this up to be alarmist), it’s when the compound is in everything that it can potentially disrupt our gut. If you’re having trouble with your gut flora, try switching up your cleaning methods and see if you notice a change.
#8 – Change When You Eat
If you’re having stomach upsets, then changing when you eat could be just as important as changing how you eat. When we’re constantly snacking, we’re filling our digestive tract with food and not allowing it to fully empty and reset.
When we take breaks between meals, whether by following hunger signals from our body or by intermittent fasting, our gastrointestinal system has time to properly digest the food from the last time we ate. This is called the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC), and it happens from 1-3 hours after digestion is complete.
MMC is a series of contractions in the stomach and intestines that begin after you’ve eaten a meal. It’s a sweeping motion of sorts that clears out undigested food from the digestive tract and keeps it from sitting in the gut for too long. This process keeps the food from fermenting, meaning you’ll experience less gas, bloating, and constipation.
#9 – Exercise Regularly
In a study from the University of Illinois, scientists found that just six weeks of constant exercise could have a significant effect on the microbiome.
In the study, researchers examined 18 lean and 30 obese sedentary adults. After six weeks of exercise, they studied the gut flora of the participants and noticed an increase in the microbiomes that help produce short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are important in reducing the chances of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Further, the researchers found that after the period of exercise, when the participants had returned to a sedentary lifestyle for six weeks, their microbiome returned to how it was before the exercise program.
As if you needed another article with the benefits of exercise!
#10 – Get Good Sleep
Like with everything else in your body, your gut and your brain are two very interconnected systems, and there is a ton of research out there deducing that getting good sleep will directly impact your gut microbiome and vice versa.
While we know that not getting regular sleep can affect our circadian rhythm, a 2016 study has also shown that it affects the rhythm of gut microbiomes as well. Gut microbiomes depend largely on our schedule — when we sleep when we eat, and what our circadian rhythm is in regards to all organs.
Further, a lack of sleep decreases the hormones leptin, which is responsible for feelings of satiety, and ghrelin, which is responsible for feelings of hunger. So, when we don’t sleep, our hormones are out of whack and our microbiomes take the hit.
It can feel like a never-ending hamster wheel with balancing your microbiomes and getting good sleep, but making good choices in regards to your gut could set you on a course for a great night’s sleep!
That’s it for my 10 tips to maintain or improve your gut health! I hope this gave you a lot of inspiration for improving your gut so you can feel great and stay healthy. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!