Gut health has become one of the hottest health topics in recent years as people begin to learn about the complex connection between their gut health and their overall health, from their skin to their mood and everything in between. And this is largely thanks to social media, especially TikTok, where gut health is a rapidly trending topic and hashtags like #guttok, #guthealth, and #guthealing have millions of viewers.
While you might dismiss the concern with gut health as another viral phenomenon, this is a wellness topic that should be taken seriously because your overall health is strongly linked to your gut health. “The last 15 years have taught us that you have a lot of bacteria in your gut and they play a big role in your well-being,” says Mark Pimentel, MD, a gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Medical consultant at Angeles and Good LFE.
What is the gut microbiome?
Your gut has its own microbiome, an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms that live in your large and small intestines. Some of these bacteria are beneficial, some are not. And while everyone’s gut microbiome’s composition is unique, when you’re healthy all of these microscopic inhabitants—good and not-so-well—must coexist in peaceful balance in your gut.
Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome (a healthy environment in which these microbes can thrive and function properly) is incredibly important because it plays several important roles in your body. For example, did you know that gut health is directly linked to your immune system? D., a gastroenterologist at the Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey in Clifton, NJ. “About 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gut and is intricately dependent on the gut microbiome,” says Andrew Boxer. .
The gut microbiome is also closely linked to metabolism, breaking down the nutrients your body needs and influencing weight and energy levels. Gut health is also associated with more serious disease prevention and inflammation regulation, reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, as well as affecting cognition and mental health.
When your gut microbiome is disrupted, your body will let you know. Dr. Boxer often assesses the health of his patients’ microbiomes based on how they feel. Digestive issues such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating are common signs of gut health problems, but there are also less obvious symptoms of chronic low energy, skin inflammation/irritation, intense sugar cravings, and an unhealthy gut. even sleep problems.
The exciting news is that by adjusting certain lifestyle habits that directly affect the balance of your microbiome, you can naturally restore and improve your gut health, as well as prevent gut dysfunction.
Best Habits for Gut Health
Eat more plants.
Nutrition is “the foundation of good gut health,” according to Desiree Nielsen, RD, a registered dietitian in Vancouver, Canada. Good for Your Gutand ambassador for Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery. After all, the food you eat is in direct contact with your gut lining and microbiome. This is because anything that isn’t 100 percent digested and absorbed, such as certain nutrients, phytochemicals, dietary fiber, and non-digestible carbohydrates called FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), will interact for better or worse with your intestinal tissues and gut bacteria. . What’s more, “the type of food you eat determines the type of bacteria that can live in your gut,” adds Nielsen, and the beneficial microorganisms in your gut favor plants. Therefore, adding tons of plant-based foods to your plate is the best way to start improving your gut health right away. This includes all vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, teas and whole grains.
Take foods like onions, strawberries, tea or even coffee, for example. These contain flavonoids, a group of phytochemicals that encourage the growth of a beneficial type of bacteria called Bifidobacteria. Also, eating more flavonoid-rich foods has been associated with an increase in bacteria that produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that supports gut barrier function and immune function. Plant starches, along with a compound called arabinoxylan found in whole grains, also promote the growth of butyrate.
Is there another reason why plants are critical? Fiber, a nutrient that animal-based foods do not provide, keeps your intestines moving and the digestive system working smoothly. A type of fiber called insoluble fiber sweeps the intestinal lining and helps bulk up stools to make them easier to pass. Nielsen explains that the other type of fiber, called soluble fiber, forms a gel that helps hydrate stool and makes them easier to pass. Most Americans get an average of just 15 grams of fiber per day, although the recommended intake is 25 to 38 grams per day.
Eat a wide variety of foods.
Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s also what keeps your gut healthy. “Data from the American Gut Project show that people who consume at least 30 different types of herbs each week have a stronger, more diverse gut microbiome than those who eat fewer than 10 herbs per week,” says Nielsen. This is important because your gut bacteria essentially eat what you eat, so consuming a colorful and diversified diet means your gut will have a greater variety of nutrients for them. “Different bacteria with different metabolisms will have the food they need,” he says. Thirty might sound overwhelming at first, but consider something like a bowl of oats with blueberries, hemp hearts, soy milk, and cinnamon. In that one dish, you get five plant foods!
Eat fermented foods.
If you already love fermented things like kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and sauerkraut, consider yourself lucky because these are excellent, gut-healthy foods that help your digestive system thrive. Do you want proof? According to a study in the journal Cell, after following a diet of an average of 6.3 servings of high-fermented foods per day for 10 weeks, participants experienced improvements in microbiome diversity. Not only are fermented foods usually made from nutrient-dense plant foods like soybeans, kale, and tea, they also contain something called commensal microbes, which Nielsen says helps support a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. Here are a few of the healthiest fermented foods you can eat and more on their health benefits.
Find healthy ways to reduce stress.
Stress is a natural part of life, but too much stress, especially when left unchecked, can harm your health in a number of ways, including your gut health. It’s not entirely clear why stress affects the gut so deeply, but experts do know that the gut is supplied with nerves by the enteric (intestinal) nervous system. Dr. “It’s a huge neural network that intricately controls the functioning of the gut,” explains Boxer. “It can affect and cause pain, constipation, diarrhea, and many other symptoms.”
It’s impossible to avoid stress completely (and there’s research showing that a little bit of stress is good for you), but you should take time out of your day to do something that relaxes you and reduces stress, even if it’s just a few minutes. Pimentel says. Play with your pet, read a book, watch a funny TV episode or take a yoga class.
Commit to regular aerobic exercise.
You know that cardio is great for your heart and it’s also great for your gut. “Regular cardiovascular exercise can help keep your gut microbiome healthy and improve irregular bowel movements,” says Boxer. Be sure to move and exercise several times a week until you’re sweaty. No gym membership? No problem. Try climbing the stairs in your apartment building or the grandstands at your local high school football stadium. Grab a jump rope and go outside. Dance to your favorite upbeat tunes for 20 minutes or take a brisk walk that gets your heart rate up.
Record plenty of sleep.
How many times have you heard this advice? It turns out there’s another reason to get the proper amount of sleep each night: Inadequate sleep can significantly affect your gut. “Sleep deprivation can lead to changes in your gut microbiome,” Boxer says, adding that sleep (or lack of sleep) can also affect the foods you choose to eat the next day. Most people with insomnia reach for chips and cookies instead of carrots and cabbage because they have lower impulse control, their hunger and satiety cues are distorted, and the body craves fast calories for energy when little sleeps. “If your sleep is irregular, that will also disrupt your gut health.” The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, so make this a priority.
Moisturize all day.
Staying hydrated helps with everything from daily cognitive function to energy levels and metabolism. It’s also important for gut health, as hydration is an important factor in keeping you regular. “If your body is dehydrated, it slows elimination to get more fluid from stool, leading to constipation,” says Nielsen. Also, if you eat more fiber, you need to drink more water because fiber needs water to do its job properly. How much water you need per day isn’t the same for everyone, but as a general rule start with eight 8-ounce glasses a day. You can also check the color of your urine; if it is pale yellow, consider yourself watery.
Do not take antibiotics unless absolutely necessary.
There are certainly times when antibiotics are necessary, but you shouldn’t take them if you don’t really need them. (Many people run to the doctor for a prescription whenever they sniff or sneeze, press the doctor for antibiotics, and usually do what they want).
“Antibiotics can affect the gut microbiome,” says Dr. Boxer explains that they can eliminate or replace existing populations of microorganisms. If antibiotics are a must, she recommends eating probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, and kombucha, or taking a probiotic supplement to counteract the damage antibiotics can cause. While there are hundreds of these supplements on the market, Dr. Boxer says one isn’t better than the other, but recommends choosing a big brand online rather than a small, expensive brand. For the best advice, ask your doctor which over-the-counter probiotic he recommends or whether simply eating more probiotic foods works.