Feeling bloated? Running to the restroom frequently? Are you asking yourself, “What’s up with my stomach these days?” Gut health is a key component to your overall health and when there’s disruption in this master ecosystem, it can wreak havoc on your life causing widespread effects.
Within our intestinal system lies a complex world known as the “gut microbiome.” An intricate system of microorganisms which comprise thousands of different bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. Gut bacteria have a number of important functions from breaking down food to strengthening our immune system. Research has drawn strong connections between the health of your microbiome (aka your gut) and how it effects your immune system, your brain, and your heart.
Imbalances in gut bacteria have been linked to a number of health issues including obesity, mood disorders, autoimmune disease, and altered immune response. How can you ensure that your microbiome is balanced and healthy? Here are my top seven recommendations:
Restore Healthy-Gut Bacteria. Your microbiome is filled with trillions of microorganisms. Having a healthy balance within this ecosystem influences healthy digestion, metabolism, mood, and so much more. Taking a daily prebiotic and probiotic can help to keep this in balance. The prebiotic helps to nourish healthful bacteria, while the probiotic ensures a healthy balance of microbial diversity. I recommend a probiotic like FloraMend Prime Probiotic, which is featured on My Picks page or for purchase online here, because it helps to balance healthy bacteria, strengthen the intestinal barrier, and modulate the immune response in the GI tract. It’s a good idea to change your probiotic every couple of months to strengthen your microbial diversity.
Stay Hydrated. Water helps to break down foods, dissolve fats and soluble fiber, and prevent constipation. Water requirements vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors such as environment, age, and activity level, however most people should aim to drink 1-2L of filtered water daily.
Consume Fermented Foods & Drinks. Foods like sauerkraut and kimchi or drinks such as kombucha and kefir are a great way to boost beneficial gut bacteria and enhance digestive health.
Stay Active. Movement and gravity help food move naturally through your intestinal system. Walking daily, or even short walks after meals, is great for digestion.
F². Eating healthy fats and fiber is good for the gut. Fat helps to move things along. Consider adding avocados, grass-fed butter, or olive oil to your diet. Fiber also helps with constipation, binds to toxins, can help to decrease cholesterol levels, and helps you feel full longer. Add foods, such as beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, and leeks, that are high in fiber to your diet.
Enjoy Some Bone Broth. It may sound strange, but bone broth is chock-full of minerals, amino acids, and gut-soothing gelatin and is considered good as well in a healthy gut diet. Not only will it help soothe your digestive track and improve nutrient absorption, but you may also notice improvements in your skin, hair, and joints.
Avoid Inflammatory Foods. Unfortunately, the standard American diet is full of them. Avoid processed foods, which are loaded with preservatives, chemicals, gluten, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol, as well as vegetable and seed oils. These are all known to cause inflammation in the gut and throughout the body.
In addition to food, some lifestyle factors can also influence the health of your gut. Evidence suggests that there is a link between chronic stress and poor gut health. Research shows that people who are chronically stressed have a much lower count of “good” bacteria and a higher count of “bad” bacteria. Poor sleep is another issue that can affect your microbiome. You may have heard of the “circadian rhythm,” your body’s internal clock which affects your hormones, brain, and other important body functions. Studies show those with poor sleep patterns have an abundance of bad bacteria, such as those associated with diabetes and weight gain. We all know that smoking causes widespread health problems, such as respiratory diseases and cancer, but now we also know that the gut microbiome of a common smoker is dramatically less diverse.
The microbiome has proven to be much more complex than once thought. What do we know? A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, brain health, heart health, an improved mood, and effective digestion. We have also learned that it can play a role in preventing autoimmune disease and certain types of cancer. Due to modern diets, more sedentary lifestyles, exposure to toxins, and increased stress levels, we have seen a decline in overall gut health.
As we age, we’re all striving for better overall health + wellness. If you want a great place to start, always listen to your gut.
Meghan Punda, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner and functional nutritionist with a focus on women’s health. With a passion for identifying and treating the root cause of health issues, Meghan works one-on-one with her clients to develop personalized dietary and wellness plans to fit each patient’s lifestyle and ultimately reach their full wellness potential.
What’s an Unhealthy Gut? How Gut Health Affects You, by Megan Dix, RN, BSN. Medically reviewed by Saurabh Sethi, MD, MPH. Healthline.com, August 25, 2020.
How to Keep Your Gut Healthy, by Anish Desai, MD. Thedailyguardian.com, February 22, 2022.
The 10 Best Ways to Heal Your Gut, by Cameron Hooper. Naturallife.org, March 9, 2016