There are trillions of microorganisms that live in the gut. This collection of microorganisms is called the microbiome.
Gut health refers to how healthy the microbiome is and the balance of good, probiotic microorganisms versus the bad, pathogenic microbes that can harm us and cause disease.
Having a healthy gut can improve your digestive, immune and overall health. In this article, you'll find 16 ways you can improve your gut health.
1) Eat Fermented/Probiotic Foods
Eating fermented foods is a great way to get probiotics naturally in your diet. The process of fermentation of foods usually involves using bacteria or yeasts to convert sugars into organic acids.
Fermented foods are often rich in bifidobacterium and lactobacillus probiotic species.
Studies have found that people who eat more yogurt have more good bacteria in their intestines and less pathogenic bacteria. (1) According to this study, probiotics in yogurt can modify the microbiome in a way that is beneficial in relieving lactose intolerance. (2)
Some foods that can contain probiotics include:
- Some cheeses
Just keep in mind that many brands that sell these foods use processing that kills probiotics, so look for natural/organic products.
2) Work More Prebiotic Foods into Your Diet
Prebiotic foods are incredibly healthy. Not only are prebiotics a food source for probiotics, but they're also rich in fiber, which is essential for proper digestion.
Prebiotics come in the form of non-digestible fiber, complex carbohydrates, and resistant starch.
Because prebiotics feed the good bacteria in the digestive system, they promote a healthier balance of the microbiome, the collection of microorganisms found in the gut.
Prebiotic foods can help improve gut health by increasing nutrient absorption, aiding in digestion, promoting better colon health, and reducing inflammation. Prebiotics help promote satiety, the feeling of fullness after eating, so they have the potential to help with weight management. (3)
Prebiotics are non-digestible by us, but they're an essential component of getting the most out of probiotics because it's what probiotics eat. Prebiotics don't just have their own health benefits, but they also allow probiotics to do their job.
Some prebiotic foods include:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Wheat bran
3) Reduce Your Sugar and Sweetener Intake
A diet high in sugar and sweeteners has been linked to dysbiosis of the gut. (4) Dysbiosis is an imbalance of the gut microbiota, where there are too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria.
Cutting out sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet can be difficult but doing so will be beneficial to your gut health. You may have to make some new dietary habits, like swapping out soda for water or unsweetened tea. You may also need to pay more attention to the labels on the food products you buy, as many seemingly healthy foods actually contain large amounts of sugar and artificial sweeteners.
4) Become a Vegetarian/Eat a More Plant-Based Diet
Some studies indicate that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet may be beneficial for gut health.
A 2012 study found that vegans and vegetarians had less disease-causing bacteria in their microbiome than people who eat an omnivorous diet. (5)
Another study found that after eating a vegetarian diet for a month, obese subjects saw reductions in disease-causing bacteria. They also had less gut inflammation, lower cholesterol levels, and they lost weight. (6)
5) Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
Eating fruits and vegetables may prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut. (7) This is partly due to there being a lot of prebiotic fiber in fruits and vegetables.
6) Include Whole Grains in Your Diet
Another good way to incorporate prebiotics into your diet is by eating more whole grains.
Whole grains have been shown to increase levels of probiotic bacteria, including bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species, and improves the overall composition of the gut microbiota. (8) (9) (10)
Eating whole grains has also been associated with stronger immune responses in the gut. (11)
7) Lower Your Stress Levels
Stress is increasingly being seen by the medical and scientific communities as a factor that modifies the microbiome.
An unhealthy microbiota is likely a contributor to adverse health outcomes related to stress. (12)
8) Don't Take Antibiotics if You Don't Need Them
It’s important to follow your doctor's prescriptions and advice, but overprescription of antibiotics is a serious issue and sometimes doctors don't get it right. According to the CDC, at least 30% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily in the United States. The majority of the time when antibiotics are wrongly prescribed, it's for illnesses caused by viruses, which don't respond to antibiotics.
With that in mind, it's a good idea to confirm with your doctor that you actually have a bacterial infection if they prescribe antibiotics. Depending on the circumstances, it may be worth getting a second opinion if your doctor prescribes antibiotics without finding a pathogenic bacteria in your blood work.
There are a couple of issues with being prescribed antibiotics when it's not necessary. One is that over prescription of antibiotics and being exposed to antibiotics in our food is causing bacterial pathogens to adapt to be resistant against antibiotics. It would be disastrous if we're not able to treat bacterial infections with antibiotics.
The other issue is that antibiotics wipe out the microbiome, both the good and bad bacteria. So while antibiotics are essential in killing off bad bacteria that can threaten our health, antibiotics also cause collateral harm.
The harm that antibiotics cause to the microbiome is long-lasting. (13) The good news is that you can help repopulate your gut with probiotics and get your microbiome back to a healthy state. (14) It's also a good idea to take probiotics during a course of treatment, as they can help reduce the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. (15) Just make sure to take your probiotics at least two hours after taking antibiotics because the antibiotics will kill probiotic bacteria along with any other bacteria in your digestive system.
9) Get Enough Exercise
Some research indicates that exercising is correlated with having a more diverse microbiome. A 2014 study of rugby players found that they had a higher diversity of gut microorganisms than non-athletes.
Similar findings have been observed in animal studies. (16)
10) Use Natural Cleaning Products
With antimicrobial cleaning products being so ubiquitous, it's easy to get overzealous with our cleaning habits. These cleaning products may be helpful in some cases, but could actually be doing more harm than good. That's because the surfaces that we come in contact with have both good and bad bacteria.
By eliminating all bacteria that we come in contact with, both good and bad, it can weaken our immune systems. If you use cleaning products loaded with chemicals, consider switching to a natural cleaner.
11) Get Proper Sleep
There is a bidirectional link between sleep and the gut microbiome. That means that getting poor sleep can cause dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiome) and that having an unhealthy microbiome can also affect the quality of your sleep. (17)
One study found that even just a couple of nights of sleep deprivation had a negative effect on the microbiome in healthy adult men. (18)
If your gut health isn’t in the best state, improving your sleeping habits could help.
Some things you can do to help improve your sleep include getting on a consistent sleep schedule (meaning going to sleep and waking up at the same times each day), reducing your exposure to the light from devices like cell phones and computers before you go to bed, increasing the natural sunlight you're exposed to during the day, and not consuming caffeine late in the day.
12) Quit Smoking if You're a Smoker
Smoking has been linked to several gastrointestinal disorders. The good thing is, you can most likely get your microbiota back to normal levels if you quit smoking. (19)
A 2013 study found that smoking cessation increased microbiome diversity in study participants. (20)
13) Eat a Diverse Diet
The more beneficial bacteria in your gut, the better because each type of bacteria has its own health benefits. You can get a more diverse microbiome by eating a more diverse diet.
The problem for many people in Western countries is that the Western diet is not diverse enough and contains a lot of unhealthy, processed foods containing large amounts of sugar and fat, which feed bad bacteria.
You can improve your microbiome diversity by eating a wide range of healthy foods that contain a lot of prebiotic fiber.
14) Keep Yourself Hydrated
Not staying hydrated enough may be part of the problem if you don't have the best gut health. Drinking enough water benefits gut health by promoting good bacteria and keeping the mucosal lining of the intestines healthy. (21)
15) Take a Probiotic Supplement
Taking a probiotic supplement is one of the easiest and most convenient ways you can improve your gut health. If you're going to take a probiotic supplement, we recommend choosing a product with a wide range of strains so you get the most health benefits possible.
Also, be sure to choose a product that's delivered via enteric-coated capsules. This is essentially a must because if your stomach acid comes into direct contact with probiotics, the probiotics die. Enteric coating allows a supplement to pass through the stomach intact and not be broken down until it arrives in the intestines, which is where probiotics need to arrive in order to confer their health benefits.
BlueBiotics Ultimate Care contains 11 probiotic strains so you get the maximum amount of benefits for your digestive, immune, and overall health. It's also delivered via enteric-coated capsules for optimal bioavailability (meaning the probiotics are able to reach the intestines and be effective).
16) Take a Prebiotic Supplement
Taking a prebiotic supplement is another very easy and convenient way to improve your gut health. Probiotic strains have certain prebiotics that they feed on, so the ideal prebiotic supplement should contain a wide spectrum of prebiotics.
With a prebiotic supplement, you get the digestive benefits from taking fiber, but it also works synergistically with probiotics. Prebiotics provide nourishment for probiotics, help probiotics flourish throughout the gut, and essentially amplify the health benefits of probiotics.
Our prebiotic supplement BlueBiology Prebiotic contains a wide spectrum of prebiotic fiber to provide a food source for any probiotic strain and is designed specifically to synergize with BlueBiotics Ultimate Care.
The Takeaway for Better Gut Health
Improving your gut health may seem complicated, but it’s really more just about making new healthy habits. Everything you already know about improving your overall health applies to improving your gut health; eat right, exercise, and quit unhealthy habits that you know are harming you, like smoking.
When you couple that with taking probiotic and prebiotic supplements, you can really improve your gut health.