You may be thinking that your gut is in perfect health – after all you don’t suffer with irritable bowel syndrome or bloating, you never experience acid reflux or heartburn and almost never get stomach upsets.
But symptoms of an unhealthy gut can often manifest themselves in other parts of the body. After all, the body is an integrated ecosystem, so warning signs appearing in one area may be caused by imbalances in an entirely separate system.
Scientists and medical professionals are continually learning about the complexity of the human gut, and the influence it exerts over immunity, cognitive function, weight management, hormonal balance and more.
Among other conditions, studies have found enhancing the health of the gut can lead to an improvement in:
- Immune function (as 80% of our immune system is located in the gut!)
- Brain function
- Symptoms of anger, sadness and depression
- Toxin levels in the body
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
Why Is The Gut So Important To Overall Health?
Our bodies – specifically, our guts – are full of bacteria. In fact, there is more bacteria in the human body than there are cells, with approximately 100 trillion microorganisms inhabiting the bowel alone.
Thankfully, the vast majority of these bugs are good – or at least they should be, if we’re talking about an ideal gut. And that’s the key to gut health – ensuring that we have more of the ‘good’ bacteria than the ‘bad’.
These beneficial microorganisms are known as ‘probiotics’ – which literally translates to ‘for life’. They help us:
- digest food
- absorb nutrients
- break down some medications
- kill some of the bad bacteria that lead to infections
Now that you know how important beneficial bacteria are to gut health, and overall health, here are 13 ways to help boost the numbers of probiotics in your body:
13 Ways To Boost Probiotics & Improve Gut Health
1. Eat Probiotic Rich Foods
Kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, natural yogurt and apple cider vinegar are all examples of fermented foods you can eat for a healthier gut. In fact, some of these couldn’t be simpler to make – here’s how to get started fermenting your own foods.
2. Don’t Forget The Prebiotics
You can elevate the effectiveness of your probiotic rich foods by consuming some prebiotic foods too. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that ‘feed’ the probiotics, encouraging them grow and multiply in your gut.
Prebiotic rich foods include artichoke, asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, onions, tomatoes and whole grains.
3. Use Probiotic Supplements
While fermented foods are the best and most natural way to get a healthy dose of probiotic bacteria, some people simply can’t stand the thought of consuming these cultures. In this case, probiotic supplements can be a good alternative.
It’s very important to choose a high-quality supplement from a reputable brand. Make sure it contains live strains of bacteria – which need to be kept refrigerated. This Now Foods Probiotic Capsules is regarded as one of the best probiotic supplements on the market.
When ConsumerLab.com tested 12 different probiotic products they discovered that, even though all contained at least one billion organisms per daily dose (an amount that may provide some benefit) some products contained far lower amounts than they claimed to.
4. Cut Out Sugar & Processed Foods
The bad bacteria in our guts go into overdrive when we eat too much sugar! They are also quite partial to the fats found in processed foods – including cookies, cakes, chips, fries and pastries.
In 2010, researchers compared Italian children who ate a diet high in fat, sugar and starch with tribal African children who ate high fiber, plant based foods. They found that the African children had more beneficial bugs in their gut.
And a 2015 study at Oregon State University indicates that both a high-fat and a high-sugar diet causes changes in gut bacteria. They found that this negative impact on gut microbiome led to a significant loss of cognitive flexibility – the power to adapt and adjust to changing situations!
5. Go Vegetarian
Cutting out meat from your diet has a huge number of health benefits – from lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and diabetes to helping you shed pounds, improve mood and boost nutrient intake.
Research now shows that a vegetarian diet can also alter the composition of your gut microbiome for the better. It’s so effective that these changes can be seen in a matter of days!
A 2014 study, published in the journal Nature, reports that the gut microbiome of subjects changed dramatically within four days of switching from a diet of animal products to a vegetarian one, and vice versa. Other research states that a vegan gut profile is similar to that of vegetarians.
The microbiota of omnivores, compared to that of vegetarians and vegans, produces more of a chemical that is associated with heart disease, inflammation and intestinal diseases.
Why not begin by going meat-free one day a week? Join the Meatless Monday movement and make a start towards enjoying better gut health.
6. Open the Windows
We now spend more time indoors than ever before. Some surveys estimate that we’re indoors 90% of the time!
Fresh air is so important to both the mind and body, as is sunlight, so spending time outdoors is important. But given how much of our day and night is spent inside, we need to be aware of the air quality indoors too – and the effect this can have on the microbiome of our homes.
A 2012 study highlights the importance of opening windows and increasing natural airflow. The researchers found that this can improve the diversity and health of the microbes in the home, which in turn benefits our bodily microbes.
7. Stress Less
While stress is an unavoidable consequence of our busy lives, how we manage that stress matters.
The gut is especially vulnerable to stress, which can affect gastric secretion, gut motility, sensitivity, blood flow and more.
Our stress hormones can also influence how gut bacteria affects the production of hormones and the neurochemicals that communicate with the brain, including ones that influence appetite. Shifts in gut microflora induced by stress can also leave us open to infection.
Long-term stress may lead to the development of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, IBD, IBS, and even food allergies.
Whoever said that laughter is the best medicine was on to something! There has even been a study to show that laughter can improve gut health.
Researchers studied both healthy people and patients with atopic dermatitis – a disease typically associated with imbalances in gut bacteria. After watching funny movies daily for one week, the patients’ gut flora had actually changed and was becoming more in line with the flora of the healthy participants.
9. Consider if Antibiotics are Always Necessary
Some estimate that half of the antibiotics we are prescribed are unnecessary. We already know that this over-prescription leads to drug resistant bacteria, but it may also be seriously impacting the health of our guts in the long-term.
Following a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, it can take weeks, months or even years for the gut’s microbes to get back into balance.
Shockingly, some researchers believe that antibiotics may even be causing permanent changes to the microflora of all people from generation to generation – passed on from mother to child.
While antibiotics are obviously very necessary in some cases, quiz your doctor before accepting them without question. According to the Mayo Clinic, common viral infections that do not benefit from antibiotic treatment include cold and flu, most coughs, most sore throats, some ear infections, some sinus infections and stomach flu.
10. Exercise Regularly
Exercise has an important influence on gut flora. It not only increases species diversity and reverses gut microbiota changes associated with obesity, but it also works to reduce stress and the impact that has on the bugs in your digestive system.
When scientists from the University College Cork in Ireland studied 40 professional rugby players, they found that the athletes’ microbiomes were far more diverse than those of normal people.
The earlier you start exercising, the better. New research has demonstrated that exercise in the early years of development has a significant impact on the diversity of the gut microbiome.
11. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep isn’t always easy – in fact, one third of US adult don’t sleep for as long as they should, something which could lead to an unhealthy gut.
A 2014 study demonstrated that sleep disturbances and irregular sleeping patterns can negatively impact intestinal microbiota, which may lead to inflammatory diseases.
Furthermore, the disordered breathing associated with the common condition of sleep apnea has been shown in studies to disrupt the health of the microbiome. Mice subjected to conditions which mimicked the effects of sleep apnea for six weeks showed significant changes to the diversity and makeup of their microbiota.
This sleep-gut connection is a two-way street. Scientists believe the bugs in our gut can affect sleep in a number of ways: shifting circadian rhythms and affecting the hormones that regulate our sleeping and waking patterns.
12. Don’t Be A Clean Freak
Much like antibiotics alter the gut microbiome by indiscriminately killing all bacteria (even the good), so does our obsession with cleanliness.
For example, research shows that parents who cleaned their child’s pacifier by sucking on it instead of boiling it in water were doing their children a big favor in terms of gut health. These kids were less likely to develop allergies, thanks to immune stimulation by microbes transferred from the parent’s saliva.
Children who grow up with a dog also have a lower risk of allergies because dogs are associated with a type of house dust that exposes us to important strains of bacteria, like L. johnsonii – an essential species within the gastrointestinal tract.
Household cleaners that are marked as antibacterial have got to go – as do most other chemical laden products. Less toxic cleaners like vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and castile soap are much better options.
13. Start Gardening
Finally, getting your hands dirty in fresh soil will introduce your immune system to the trillions of microorganisms on the plants and in the ground.
Gardening also eases stress and gets you outside in the fresh air – two important factors in a healthy gut. Here are some great tips to help you start your own organic garden.
Bonus: Test Your Gut Bacteria At Home & Get Personalized Recommendations
It’s difficult to make improvements when you don’t know exactly what’s wrong with your gut bacteria. Luckily, a brand new at home testing kit from Viome allows you to find out exactly what’s wrong with your gut microbiome and then delivers specific advice (including foods to eat and avoid) to help you make improvements.
If you can’t shift stubborn weight or are unexpectedly gaining weight, if you are always tired, are ill more often than normal, have digestive issues like constipation, gas, bloating or acid reflux, experience regular acne breakouts or feel depressed or anxious with no obvious reason, then you should consider getting your gut bacteria tested. You can learn more and order your at home gut testing kit from Viome here.