6 Ways To Improve Gut Health Naturally
"Gut Health" has sort of become a buzzword in recent years, but what does it really mean?
Our digestive tract (the intestines) consists of microorganisms that maintain the health of our gut.
Therefore, when we refer to 'improving gut health' it means how we help these microorganisms aka "gut microbiome" or "gut flora" maintain a balance in our digestive system for our physical health, and immune system.
But how do we maintain a healthy gut microbiome? In other words, how do we improve gut health?
The answer to this question can ideally be split into 2 important categories; first, is 'lifestyle' and the second is 'diet'.
Lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your gut health:
1. Reduce Stress
Research suggests that the gut and the brain are very closely linked. We often think stress is only mental, but remember when your stomach was in knots and you felt all the heebie-jeebies? This is the "gut-brain connection".
A Harvard Health Publishing article mentions, "Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there."
So the next time you feel discomfort in your stomach, don't rule out stress as a cause because the brain and the gut are very much in sync! Our gut is often called the second brain and according to the BBC bacteria can influence our behaviour via the 100 million neurons present in our gut!
Fun Fact: Did you know there are 100 billion bacteria to every gram of intestinal content?
So you can now do the math, how much bacteria are actually present in our gut?
2. Exercise Regularly
Studies have shown that moderate exercise can increase the diversity of the gut microbiome, leading to healthier metabolism and body composition.
One study even found that physical activity enhances the production of a fatty acid called butyrate. This beneficial nutrient is produced by the gut flora, it supports overall gut health and disease prevention. It acts as a protective lining of the gut that fights inflammation. Butyrate is the fuel for the friendly soldiers working hard to protect your gut from inflammatory bowel diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Chrohn's disease.
So get moving!
3. Get Enough Sleep
Not getting adequate sleep is also one of the major lifestyle causes that affect the gut microbiome.
Digestion is a whole system in which each organ involved plays a huge part; from salivation, chewing, and swallowing to every other process that takes place after. All these processes slow down when we sleep. The digestive system uses the glucose consumed during the day as energy to fuel other rejuvenating processes.
What are the Do's & Don'ts...
Don't eat within 3 hours of going to sleep!Eating within the 3-hour window of going to bed doesn't allow the digestive system enough time to rest, hence digestion continues while you are asleep. This causes issues like restless sleep because of heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux.
Don't deprive yourself of sleep!
Lack of sleep increases stress, which directly impacts our gut health. Due to this, our hormones become unbalanced and cortisol, the stress hormone, tends to rise. This can lead to a leaky gut, whereby the intestinal permeability is increased which causes toxins to flow into your bloodstream through the intestinal walls. As a result, it can lead to bloating, food sensitivities, inflammation and other negative changes to the gut microbiome.
Do: Sleep in an appropriate position!
A lot of people may find it comfortable and ideal to sleep on their stomach, but did you know it isn't the most ideal position for your digestive health?
Sleeping on the stomach can put pressure on the digestive organs, causing discomfort and heartburn.
Your wind downtime is in fact, a lot more important than you think! Avoid spending time on social media, television, or brain active screen time. Instead, spend time reading or meditating. - P.S. This tip comes from experience. Thank us later!
Dietary changes that you can make to improve your gut health:
4. Have a Diet Rich in Probiotics
If you didn't already know probiotics are live bacteria residing in the gut, that aid digestion and maintain gut health! It can help manage some serious conditions like IBS, IBD, constipation, diarrhoea and even lactose intolerance. Doctors even recommend consuming probiotic supplements or natural sources of probiotics during and after antibiotics.
Some fermented foods naturally contain probiotic microbes that are very beneficial for the gut. These include yoghurt, milk, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, fermented vegetables, and kefir. Try adding these to your diet for optimal gut health!
5. Consume Prebiotic Fiber
Often called resistant starch, are non-digestible fibers that work as food for probiotics once passed down the gut where fermentation takes place and the resistant starch acts as prebiotic fiber. This encourages the gut microbiome to multiply, building a stronger and more resilient gut!
Some prebiotic fibers you can take are green bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, baobab, jackfruit, dark chocolate, berries, flaxseeds, oats, soybeans and the list goes on!
6. Don't Be Afraid to Spice It Up!
Believe it or not, spices actually help the friendly gut microbes! For example, ginger, can, in fact, be quite soothing for the digestive system. It can help relieve nausea, gas and bloating.
Turmeric also plays a positive influence on the microbiome community because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
These spices aren't the only ones that benefit the gut, others include; fennel, garlic, rosemary, peppermint, cardamom, cloves,
To sum up...
Every system in our bodies depends on one another, therefore maintaining a healthy gut contributes to optimal immunity and physical health.
Make positive lifestyle and dietary changes to help the gut microbiome flourish; quality sleep, managing stress, consuming pre and probiotics, adding exercise to your lifestyle and simply adding some beautiful herbal spices to your dishes!