9 Ways to Improve Gut Health
If you’re not focusing on your gut health, you’re missing a huge piece of the wellness puzzle.
Because gut health is central to all health.
A healthy gut is linked to elevated mood, improved immunity, lower inflammation, and increased production of vitamins and amino acids that are essential for your body. 1
You don’t realize it, but there’s a major drama happening in your digestive tract at every moment.
While you’re driving to work and thinking about what classes you’re going to take at the gym this week, the bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa in your gut are fighting a never ending battle.
When the good guys are winning, you feel invincible.
You take the hour-long HIIT training instead of the 20-minute water gymnastics class.
You sleep as well as a mother on a much-needed night-off, and you’re as chipper as a 6 year old at Disney World.
Added bonus: you hardly ever get sick.
But when the “bad” bugs take over, it’s like you’re walking up hill with impossibly strong winds coming at you.
You feel lethargic.
Your tummy is so gassy that you have to wear an elastic waistband, and you try to stand by an open window whenever you can (if you know what I mean).
Your nose is runny, your head feels foggy, your muscles feel achy, and you can’t seem to kick those sugar cravings.
And you’re not just grouchy about being so uncomfortable in your body, (although you feel pretty gosh darn miserable).
You’re also finding yourself depressed, stressed, and anxious when there isn’t anything obvious to be depressed, stressed, or anxious about.
All of this starts in the gut.
Ancient traditions like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine have taught the importance of a healthy gut for thousands of years, long before microscopes were available to see any of the bacteria or chemical reactions that happen in the gut.
Ancient healers knew that if your digestion was off, other symptoms were never far behind.
So they designed their diets to make sure that digestion was supported first, before other medicine was even considered.
“All disease begins in the gut.”
“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”
And now that we have a front-row seat into this epic battle thanks to modern technology, we know even more about how to support a healthy gut.
At this point you’re probably wondering, do the ancient sages and modern scientists say the same things?
Sometimes traditional vs. modern medicine can seem as different as yin and a monster truck.
But in this case, the recommendations are totally aligned!
And if that doesn’t perk your ears and make you curious to try some of these strategies, I don’ t know what will.
Here are 9 ways to improve gut health:
1. Eat high-fiber foods
You’re not just feeding yourself when you eat high-fiber foods, you’re also feeding the microscopic roommates you have living in your gut.
Sometimes called prebiotics, high fiber foods feed the good bacteria in your gut so they get stronger and want to stick around.
The best prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed.
But in general, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains like wheat, oats, and barley are all good sources of prebiotic fibers.
2. Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods are probiotic, meaning they naturally contain billions and billions of beneficial bacteria to refurbish your gut.
One way to look at this is that while prebiotic foods feed those microbes, probiotic foods moves them in.
Fermented foods are said to stoke the stomach fire in traditional medicine, and are considered to be very heating.
So if you tend to feel cold, have a pale complexion, and have irregular bowel movements, try eating fermented foods 5-7x/week and observe whether your symptoms improve.
If, on the other hand, you have a rosy complexion, tend to feel hot, have a strong appetite and a fiery temper, add fermented foods in 3-5x/week and see what happens.
Probiotic foods include kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, pickled vegetables, kombucha tea, tempeh, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut.
It is important to note, however, that fiber-rich and fermented foods can cause gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable symptoms if introduced too suddenly. Slow introduction is best with a sensitive digestive tract, especially in those with IBS.
3. Eat foods rich in polyphenols
Polyphenols are another form of prebiotic food, meaning that they feed the good bacteria in the gut.
And polyphenols have the added benefit of having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, so they help to decrease your overall stress load and also help the body repair itself more efficiently. 2
Some foods that are rich in polyphenols include green tea, red wine, cocoa, chili peppers, and flax seeds. 3
You don’t want to go overboard with any of these, but a little here and there can go a long way.
4. Reduce sugar intake
Did you know that your sugar cravings usually aren’t your own?!
The not-so-great bacteria in your gut loooooove sugar, and they send signals to your brain when they’re hungry.
This is why sugar cravings aren’t just a matter of willpower, they’re actually rooted in gut health.
Doing all the other things on this list will help you re-balance your gut and reduce sugar cravings over time, but in the meantime you can focus on healthier alternatives to white sugar, including raw honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, stevia, and fruits to quell those cravings.
5. Practice stress-management
The gut-brain connection goes both ways.
When your gut is healthy, you feel less stressed.
And when you feel more stressed, your gut health gets thrown off balance right along with your emotions.
So stress management isn’t just something that you do for your mind, it also benefits your body.
6. Brush and floss regularly
Bacteria travel along your entire digestive tract, starting in your mouth and moving all the way down to your –forgive me but I have to say it– butthole.
So taking care of oral health can have positive consequences for your whole body, not just your smile. 4
7. Move your body
Exercise may also improve gut health
A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that moderate exercise induces positive changes in the gut microbiota composition and in the microbial metabolites produced in the gastrointestinal tract. 5
They also found that moderate exercise leads to reduced inflammation and intestinal permeability. And intestinal permeability is important, because you want it to be open enough that the nutrients your body need get into your blood stream, but secure enough that toxins stay out.
So get your body moving.
You don’t have to do big sweaty sessions every day, but make sure you’re letting your body do what it was made to do (move) so you can feel better in mind and body.
7. Get those zzz’s
Regular quality sleep improves mood, reduces overall inflammation, and supports a more active lifestyle.
And evidence is mounting that there is a correlation between the microorganisms in your gut and the hormones that regulate your circadian rhythm. 6
8. Reduce excessive use of antibiotics and antimicrobial cleaning products
Antibiotic and antimicrobial products are helpful in extreme situations, but most of the time they do more harm than good.
Because antibiotics and antimicrobial products don’t discriminate between microbes, they just come in and blast all of them.
So along with killing all the potentially pathogenic bugs that can cause problems for you, they also wipe out all the good bacteria that solve those problems by naturally fighting pathogens, boosting your immune system, and giving you all the other benefits we’ve already talked about.
So with the support of your doctor or natural medicine practitioner, try natural remedies first and leave antibiotics as a last resort.
At home, replace antimicrobial cleaning products with natural (and often cheaper!) alternatives like vinegar, sea salt, baking soda, and lemon juice.
And if you eat meat, make sure you opt for the anti-biotic free variety.
9. Take probiotic supplements
And finally, there’s nothing wrong with taking a probiotic supplement, but you’ll support your gut health more if you do the other things on this list as well.
Probiotics are especially helpful if you’re traveling, are sick, have lots of symptoms of imbalance popping up in your system (see point #2 on fermented foods and read this article for some examples,) or have just gotten through a round of antibiotics and want to give your gut an extra boost.
Which of these 9 techniques will you use first?
One of them? All of them?
Send me an email and let me know.
I can’t wait to see where this takes you!