6 Ways to Improve Gut Health
Changes in gut health are often caused by changes in stomach acid, immunity, and your gut microbiome — the microorganisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract. But what’s behind those changes?
You might be surprised to find that gut health is not only related to your digestive system. Our body systems work together as a whole, so when one system is unhealthy or “off” it can affect other systems.
You usually know when there’s something off with your gastrointestinal system; the symptoms can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. But what you might not know is that there are a number of ways you can improve your gut health, and not all of them start with your gut.
Feed your gut right
What you eat doesn’t just travel through your gut, it nourishes and supports it. A diet high in fiber helps improve gut health by adding bulk to your stool, making it easier to pass. But high fiber foods do more than just help you move things along. They also act as fuel for good gut bacteria that fight inflammation and chronic disease.
Limiting fats and animal products and eating plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods can also help support your good gut bacteria. Prebiotics are foods that feed healthy gut bacteria.
Foods like onions, garlic, spinach, beans, bananas, and whole wheat are good sources of prebiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria like those in yogurt or fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut. They help maintain the population of good bacteria in your gut.
Adding fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics to your diet can help support a healthy gut. But your best bet is an overall healthy diet, complete with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
Get enough sleep
Adequate sleep is necessary to rest and restore our bodies from the past day’s activities. Without enough sleep, we may not have enough energy for our digestion to function as well as it should.
Lack of sleep also causes food cravings which can lead to overeating, especially those comfort foods that can contribute to weight gain and obesity. And obesity is linked to many digestive diseases, like GERD, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, colon polyps, and more.
Regular exercise is good for your heart and can also help keep your gastrointestinal system regular. Not only does exercise help maintain a healthy body weight, but low-intensity exercise can help keep stool moving through and out of your system.
But, if you have gastrointestinal issues, you may want to avoid high-intensity workouts, which can slow down digestion by shifting blood away from digestion to support your hard-working muscles.
You may have experienced stomach upset or a queasy feeling when under stress. That’s because the digestive system and brain communicate through nerves that connect the two.
When you experience stress, your brain responds by releasing stress hormones that can disrupt your digestive system. Long-term, that can aggravate conditions like heartburn, ulcers, and Crohn’s disease.
Treat your mental health
The gut-brain connection is more than a reaction to stress, however. It’s a two-way sharing of information. If you suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, your gut may send signals to your brain that cause depression or anxiety.
Likewise, if you suffer from depression or anxiety, your brain may send signals to your gut causing gastrointestinal issues. If you’re suffering both gastrointestinal and mental health issues, it’s important for your recovery to treat both.
Don’t overuse antibiotics or antimicrobial cleaning products
Antibiotics for bacterial infections and antimicrobial cleaning products are necessary in many cases but be cautious about overusing them. Antibiotics can be harmful to gut bacteria long-term, so it’s important to only take them when necessary.
Cleaning and personal products with antibiotic or antimicrobial properties can also kill good bacteria along with the bad bacteria we want them to kill. Disrupting the balance of bacteria in your gut can lead to gastrointestinal issues.