Gut health is critical to overall health as poor digestion can impact your body’s ability to absorb nutrition.
There are around one-hundred-trillion microorganisms in the human digestive tract. Known collectively as the “gut microbiome” or “gut flora”, these yeasts, viruses, and bacteria play an important role in maintaining digestive health. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to digestive problems including intestinal inflammation and a condition known as leaky gut.
The gut microbiome does more than just maintain digestive health, though. Recent research suggests that imbalances in gut flora can lead to other serious health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The good news is there are a number of simple things you can do to improve the health of your gut microbiome.
Go Easy On The Sugar And Sweeteners
Eating too much sugar or overusing artificial sugar-substitutes can cause an unhealthy imbalance in the gut microbiome. Research has suggested that this condition, known as gut dysbiosis, leads to increased strains of certain bacteria that are linked to metabolic diseases. Metabolic diseases are conditions that can lead to diabetes and heart disease. It should also be noted that artificial sweeteners may affect the gut flora in such a way that blood glucose levels are actually increased. In other words, the artificial sugar ultimately ends up as sugar in the blood, thereby defeating its entire purpose for being.
Eat Fermented Foods
Experts in the field believe that probiotics increase the levels of essential bacteria in the gut flora, helping to fight against issues like intestinal inflammation and “leaky gut.” “Leaky gut” is a condition in which the intestinal lining becomes porous, allowing toxins to escape into the body. Dr. Jay Davidson of MicrobeFormulas.com recommends eating fermented foods like yogurt in order to improve issues with a leaky gut. Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut are all rich natural sources of probiotics and can help manage all manner of digestive problems by balancing intestinal flora.
Learn To Manage Stress
Undue stress can negatively affect all aspects of a person’s health, including their digestive health. Studies show that exposure to even short-term stressors can disrupt the gut microbiome. Psychological stress, sleep deprivation, and environmental stressors can all negatively influence gut flora. Deep breathing exercises and meditation are two effective stress-reduction techniques suggested by stress-management experts. Sleeping well, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly will also contribute to a person’s ability to manage stress.
Avoid Unnecessary Use Of Antibiotics
There are times when, in the course of fighting a bacterial infection, it is necessary to take antibiotics. According to the Center for Disease Control, though, almost thirty-percent of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily. This is problematic, as antibiotics can damage the gut microbiome. For this reason, it is recommended that you ask your doctor about possible alternative options whenever you’re prescribed antibiotics.
Get Quality Sleep
Getting enough good quality sleep is beneficial to overall health, and this includes the health of the gut microbiome. Unhealthy sleep patterns and disrupted sleep have been shown to adversely affect the balance of the gut flora, which can lead to digestive problems including intestinal inflammation. Adhering to a regular sleep schedule and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night will help to keep the gut microbiome healthy and properly balanced.
We all know that regular exercise contributes to improved cardiovascular health, but recent studies suggest that it also directly affects digestive health. Research has shown that people who exercise regularly (including athletes) have a greater variety of flora in the gut. Experts recommend strength-building exercise at least twice a week for healthy adults, and moderate exercise for at least one-hundred-fifty minutes every week.
As is the case with most recommendations for improving gut health, quitting smoking is (obviously) beneficial to almost every aspect of a person’s overall health. Smokers have been shown to have fewer of the beneficial strains of bacteria in their gut flora than do non-smokers. Also, smokers tend to have more of the less-beneficial and even harmful strains in their gut microbiome. This imbalance can lead to intestinal and digestive issues, including inflammation and leaky-gut.
Eat A Vegetarian Diet
Research has shown that a vegetarian diet can prove beneficial for gut health. People with diets that include meat tend to have higher instances of intestinal and digestive-tract inflammation than do people who eat strictly vegetarian. Experts suggest that the reason for this may be the high-levels of naturally occurring prebiotic fiber in vegetables.
Take Prebiotic Fiber
Probiotics are beneficial to the health of the gut flora. In order to be effective, though, probiotics need prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic fibers, which are nondigestible carbohydrates, provide nutrition for probiotics. Research also suggests that prebiotic fibers help probiotics survive in another way too. The stomach is a terribly hostile environment, and it is believed prebiotic fibers assist probiotics in surviving long enough to be beneficial to the gut microbiome. Asparagus, bananas, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, whole grains, and onions are all foods rich in prebiotic fibers.
Change Cleaning Products
Strange as it may seem, the overuse of disinfectant cleaning products can disrupt and adversely affect the gut microbiome. Recent studies suggest that using disinfectant cleansers even twice weekly can negatively impact gut health in significant ways, including an increase in the number of Lachnospiraceae. Lachnospiraceae is a microbe type associated with obesity and type two diabetes.
Research continues to confirm that maintaining a healthy gut microbiome aids not only in digestive health but in our overall health as well. Unhealthy levels of certain microbes, if not balanced out by other more beneficial ones, may result in metabolic disease, obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease.
Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do to help regulate our gut flora. Eating fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi that are rich in probiotics is a great way to maintain a healthy, balanced gut microbiome. Reducing our sugar intake, getting quality sleep and regular exercise, avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics and disinfectant cleaning products, and avoiding smoking will also help. Finally, don’t forget to eat foods that are rich in prebiotic fibers, as probiotics depend upon these carbohydrates in order to do their jobs.