How Do I Fix My Gut Health?
Improving your gut health
Most of us have heard that having “good gut health” is important. But what does that mean? It boils down to having a good balance of bacteria in your gut, which are your intestines. The bacteria that live in your intestines play a vital role in not only your digestion but also your overall health. So, if you are told you need to improve your gut health, what can you do? Here is what you need to know about the microbiome in your stomach and how you can improve your gut health.
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses, that live inside our bodies, most of them in our intestines. Each person has nearly 100 trillion bacteria within their intestines, and they help facilitate digesting food, regulating our immune system and protecting us from disease.
What are signs of an unhealthy gut?
A low level of diversity of gut bacteria can increase the risk of developing gut diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and even eczema and allergies. Many factors can contribute to an unhealthy gut. High stress levels, not getting enough sleep, eating overly processed foods or foods high in sugar and even taking antibiotics can affect our gut microbiome. Symptoms of an unhealthy gut can include:
- Abnormal weight fluctuation – If your body fluctuates in weight without you changing your diet or your physical activities, this could be a sign of an unhealthy gut. An unhealthy gut makes it hard for your body to absorb the appropriate nutrients it needs and can cause it to store fat.
- Upset stomach – An unhealthy gut can cause digestion issues making it hard for your body to pass waste. This can lead to bloating, constipation, diarrhea and heartburn.
- Sleep issues or fatigue – Having a good gut microbiome is crucial in achieving hormonal balance. Serotonin, the sleep and mood hormone, is produced in the gut, so any disturbances to your gut microbiome can, in turn, affect your sleeping habits.
- Skin conditions – Studies show there is a link between gut bacteria and skin conditions like eczema, with some results showing improving gut bacteria with probiotics may improve skin, too.
- Food allergies - Studies have shown the gut’s microbiome can impact food allergies, with the study analyzing feces of healthy babies and those with egg or milk allergies. Results showed that allergic and nonallergic infants had different communities of gut bacteria.
How to improve your gut health
We know that diet influences the composition of the microbiome. However, different foods affect different people differently. There are multiple variables: the foods, the individuals, the microbial population itself. But there are several lifestyle changes that we can start making right now that can positively affect our gut health and, in turn, our whole-body wellness.
- Eat more plant-based foods - Aim to consume at least 30 different types of plants into your diet per week to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Consume foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics – Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. Probiotics can provide numerous health benefits and can be found in certain foods or supplements, like Greek yogurt, kefir, kimchi and kombucha. Prebiotics are food specific for the good bacteria in your gut. Their purpose is to increase the number of probiotic bacteria that become established in your digestive tract by providing a source of energy for them — allowing you to receive the immense benefits of probiotics. Prebiotics can be found in veggies and fruit like garlic, onions, apples and asparagus.
- Limit alcohol consumption – Consistent consumption of alcohol can lead to irritation of the gut and inflammation of the intestines (gastritis).
- Get regular exercise – Aim for at least 30 minutes of movement daily.
- Reduce stress levels – Mental health and the gut are connected. It has been said by experts that the gut is the body’s second brain. Some patients with stomach conditions might improve their symptoms with therapy to reduce stress or treat anxiety or depression.
- Stay hydrated – Staying hydrated can help regulate your bowel movements, prevent constipation and break down foods with stomach acids and enzymes.
- Get enough sleep – Practicing good sleep habits can help balance your hormone levels. Try to aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Looking to learn more about gut health? Schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist at Ochsner.