By Leah Zerbe
In the past decade, the importance of gut health has taken center stage in the health and wellness fields. For example, did you know that your gut houses between 70 percent and 80 percent of the cells that make up your immune system?
We now know that the gut acts like the “second brain,” and, generally speaking, plays a role in weight management, and helps facilitate a normal inflammatory response. A healthy gut microbiome is one of the most important aspects of overall health.
All of this is probably leading you to wonder, “How can I support my gut health?”
This article will explain just that: the steps to take to promote how well your healthy gut microbiome functions, the best and worst foods for supporting gut health, plus more useful tips including gut supplements to consider taking.
What Is Gut Health?
“Gut health” refers to how well your gastrointestinal tract and digestive system function, including how this relates to the balance of bacteria living in your gut.
The human microbiome (or “community of microbes”) is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria and other organisms, such as yeasts, fungi and more. In fact, believe it or not, within the human body, there are more bacteria and other microbes than there are human cells.
“Probiotics'' is a big buzz these word days, but in case you aren’t clear on what exactly probiotics are, you can think of them as the “friendly bacteria” that populate your gut/microbiome.
These “good guy” types of bacteria (such as the strains called Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, and Bacillus coagulans) have some of the following overall roles and benefits:
- Supporting your immune system, including immune defenses and activation.
- Promoting a healthy GI tract and a healthy inflammation response.
- Helping to keep your digestive systems running smoothly, including by reducing occasional diarrhea and constipation and supporting healthy elimination/bowel movements.
- Supporting nutrient absorption.
- Facilitating healthy hormone production, including production of “hunger” and ”fullness” hormones that regulate your appetite.
- Helping to produce B vitamins and vitamin K.
- Supporting cognitive health and keeping our brains working properly, due to the “gut-brain connection.”
Signs of A Healthy Gut
A healthy gut is now considered by most experts to be a foundation for good overall health. In fact, it’s been said that all health begins in the gut.
That includes digestion, immune system function, one’s outlook, metabolism and more.
A healthy gut also boils down to the ratio of “bad guy bacteria” vs. “good guy bacteria” populating your gastrointestinal system. Essentially, you need a higher ratio of gut-friendly bugs to outnumber those that are not gut-friendly to remain generally healthy.
So how do you know if your microbiome is in good shape or not? And what are the signs of an overall healthy gut?
Generally speaking, signs of a healthy functioning gut microbiome can include:
- Comfortable digestion
- Healthy bowel transit time
- Being able to consume a variety of foods
- A healthy functioning thyroid
- Healthy energy levels
- Having a positive outlook and motivation
- Overall bodily comfort
- Being able to focus
- Healthy skin
There are many factors that can support gut health, plus each individual is affected somewhat differently by their diet, environment, etc. Some factors that can contribute to a healthy ratio of gut bacteria in the microbiome and other GI benefits include:
- Eating a gut-friendly and overall healthy diet
- Getting enough vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber
- Managing stress
- Getting enough sleep
- Not smoking
- Limiting or excluding consumption of alcohol
- Limiting or avoiding environmental toxin exposure
How to Support Gut Health
Now that you know how important it is to pay close attention to the state of your gut microbiome, let’s talk about how to support gut health using dietary changes, supplements and other steps.
1. Eat An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Focusing on the quality of your diet is key for gut health because the foods in your diet directly impact the balance of bacteria in your microbiome. For example, fermented foods actually help increase microbiota diversity, while high-fiber foods help feed beneficial bacteria.
A good balance of gut bugs also facilitates you being able to properly absorb nutrients from your diet, plus it plays an overall role in your metabolism and in fat storage.
Related: Top Foods for Your Gut Health
2. Take Gut Health Supplements, Including Probiotics
While your diet is No. 1 when it comes to health promotion, a number of supplements can also help support the health of your gut.
Some supplements to consider adding to your routine include probiotics (which can benefit nearly everybody), digestive enzymes and collagen protein. Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle program, including supplementation.
Benefits of these supplements include supporting healthy digestive and immune system function, supporting healthy bowel transit time, and reducing occasional constipation, gas and bloating.
SBO Probiotics (which contain soil-based organisms) provide beneficial bacteria that populate the digestive tract, helping to support gut health in a variety of ways.
3. Manage Stress and Get Enough Sleep
Managing stress can positively impact your gut and even your gut lining. So make sure you keep stress under control.
Similarly, getting enough sleep, which can positively affect digestion (not to mention help to curb cravings for unhealthy foods). Getting enough sleep can also impact how the gut absorbs nutrients.
So, prioritize getting enough rest each night (aim or 7 to 9 hours per night) and also intentionally incorporate relaxing activities into your week, such as meditation, time spent in nature, exercising, reading and other calming and hobbies.
4. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is a natural stress reliever and can also help to strengthen the immune system. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise, three or four times a week, as a natural way to support your overall health.
Related: The Gut–Immune System Connection
The steps mentioned above that are aimed at supporting gut health are general guidelines for most adults, such as exercising and eating a “gut health diet.”
However, it’s best to make dietary and lifestyle changes gradually so that you don’t overwhelm your body during the process. You should also consult your healthcare practitioner prior to embarking on any new dietary or lifestyle regimen.
With a B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.