No gut health, no glory. There’s more to your gut than just breaking down the food you eat for energy. Your gastrointestinal tract is home to a diverse population of good and bad bacteria that are collectively called the microbiome.
Both types of bacteria exist in a balance in favour of the good bacteria to prevent the bad ones from wreaking havoc on your digestive system. A balanced (or imbalanced) co-existence of these living microorganisms can affect your appetite, digestion, metabolism, body weight, immunity to diseases and even your mood.
Striking this balance is crucial to your holistic wellness. Below are eight ways you can improve your gut health naturally.
1. Follow a Balanced Diet.
Having a diverse gut microbiota is a clear indication of good health, while a lack of diversity could mean poor nutrition. Therefore, to achieve a healthy gut microbiota through a desirable mix of different kinds of bacteria, you must eat a variety of healthy foods.
Foods rich in dietary fibre like fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains (e.g., wheat, rice, cereals, oats, or crackers) contribute towards the balance in your gut microbiome. The recommended amount of fibre intake for men and women are 38g and 28g per day, respectively.
Apart from fibre, a moderate amount of protein also helps maintain the balance of bacterial composition in your gut by nourishing the protein-digesting microbes. But be careful not to tip the scales in favour of these bacteria. Going on fad diets that promote low carbohydrate, high fat or high protein consumption could lead to gastrointestinal inflammation.
Read more: Top 10 Foods to Keep Your Gut Healthy
2. Eat Foods Rich in Probiotics and Prebiotics.
Probiotics, also known as the “good bacteria”, are live microorganisms that fight off pathogens in your gut to keep your digestive system healthy. They help prevent gut dysbiosis or microbial imbalance, a situation that may lead to temporary stomach pain or infections like diverticulitis and gastroenteritis. It may also exacerbate symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
So, stock up on fermented foods to keep your gut microbiome balanced and healthy. Yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, pickles, traditional buttermilk, sauerkraut and tempeh are good sources of probiotics.
Prebiotics—not to be confused with probiotics—are non-digestible carbohydrates that the good bacteria feed on. They are present in bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, asparagus, barley, dandelion greens, and leeks.
Prebiotics aid in the propagation of probiotics, as well as in increasing their tolerance for environmental conditions like shifts in temperatures and pH levels. This allows beneficial bacteria to live longer in your gut and improve stool quality.
Read more: Are Probiotic Drinks Good for IBS?
3. Include Polyphenols in Your Diet.
Polyphenols are antioxidants found in berries, soybeans, nuts, chocolates, cocoa powder, black and green tea, red wine, olive oil, and other plant-based foods. These compounds are not easily digested and absorbed by the cells in your intestines so they can travel all the way to your colon where they are metabolised by microbes. This produces anti-inflammatory chemicals that help lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress.
Polyphenols also boost the efficacy of insulin in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, thereby enhancing the body’s ability to digest sugar and regulate blood sugar levels.
4. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners.
Metabolic disruption and microbiota impairment can be associated with excessive intake of artificial sweeteners. Studies conducted on animals have shown that this imbalance in the gut flora has resulted in obesity and an increase in blood sugar levels. It was also reported that aspartame, a specific type of artificial sweetener, may increase your susceptibility to diabetes and heart disease.
5. Exercise Regularly.
Exercise can help improve your overall well-being, including your digestive system. Working out alters gut microbiota by increasing certain microbes responsible for producing hormones that suppress hunger and boost the regeneration of neurons. Thus, we recommend engaging in a 30-minute physical activity at least five days each week.
6. Get Enough Sleep.
Getting the recommended seven hours of sleep and establishing a healthy circadian rhythm promotes better cognition, improves your state of mind, and enhances gut wellness.
Circadian rhythm is an internal clock that is controlled by a part of your brain. It regulates your sleep-wake cycle by releasing certain chemicals at specific times of the day to make you either stay alert or feel sleepy. However, inadequate sleep or irregular sleeping habits can disrupt your circadian rhythm, which may result in an alternation of gut microbiota that could put you at risk for metabolic diseases.
7. Maintain a Healthy Gut-Brain Axis.
Have you ever heard of the gut-brain connection? Do you ever notice how anxiety or fear causes an upset stomach or nausea? Your gut acts as your second brain because they are actually connected with one another.
Commonly referred to as the gut-brain axis, it consists of bidirectional communication between the enteric and central nervous system. This system connects the cognitive and emotional centres of your brain with peripheral gut functions. Hence, the expressions like “go with your gut”, “my gut tells me” or “I have a gut feeling”. It’s also why your state of mind and shifts in mood can affect how your digestive system functions and vice versa.
For instance, neuropsychology researchers speculate that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may be associated with gut dysbiosis. It turns out it can trigger the immune system to overreact and make the inflammation of the gut worse, thereby increasing the risk for diseases that do not only occur in your digestive system but also in your brain.
Infections that occurred early in life could harm the lining of your gastrointestinal tract. This may disrupt the systems that connect your gut to your brain and hinder normal brain development. Radiation treatment, chemotherapy, antibiotics, and poor diet also pose a risk to your intestinal lining’s health.
To take good care of your gut-brain axis, we recommend managing and reducing stress, getting enough rest, spending quality time with friends and family, and most importantly…
8. Adopt Healthy Habits.
Leading a healthy lifestyle will benefit your overall well-being, especially that of your gut. Healthy living includes developing good habits and eliminating bad ones.
One healthy habit you need to adopt is proper oral hygiene. Regular tooth brushing and dental visits prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in your mouth that could travel to your gut and cause microbial imbalance.
Smoking also has side effects that could lead to gut dysbiosis. Avoiding this habit will not only improve your gut health but also the condition of your heart and lungs.
Aside from eating a balanced diet, you also need to have good eating habits to prevent risky metabolic changes in your body. Skipping a meal during the day and then overeating at night may lead to elevated blood sugar levels and delayed insulin response. If this habit persists in the long run, it could lead to diabetes.
Ideally, you should eat 3 times a day. But if you’re trying to lose weight, skipping meals every other day could provide some health benefits. A 2007 study showed how adults with mild asthma lost about 8% of their body weight after eating regular meals one day and then eating up to 500 calories the next day for two months.
Healthy Gut for a Longer Life
Your holistic wellness can be traced to the complex ecosystem of microbes found in your gastrointestinal tract so make sure you are taking steps to improve your gut health. Follow a balanced meal plan that’s rich in fibre, probiotics, prebiotics, polyphenols and none of the artificial sweeteners. Finally, strive to get enough rest, exercise regularly and follow proper oral hygiene while reducing stress and avoiding bad habits like smoking. A healthy gut means you’re doing something right not only for your tummy but for your brain and body, overall.
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Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, find out more about our gut and bowel health services.