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16 Ways to Boost Gut Health, Including After Age 40
By Jordan Rubin
August 11, 2023
In the past decade, the importance of gut health has taken center stage in the health and wellness space. 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, while also facilitating a normal, healthy response to inflammation. You can see why a healthy gut microbiome is one of the most important aspects of overall health.
What are some signs of a healthy gut? And how can you promote the overall health of your gut? In this article, we’ll look at what it means to have a healthy gut, some of the best foods and supplements for gut health, plus other tips for possibly improving how well your microbiome functions overall.
A “healthy gut” and well-functioning microbiome refer to a gastrointestinal (GI) tract and digestive system that do their jobs well, which include:
Supporting a healthy immune system (thanks to the gut-immune system connection)
Helping to produce neurotransmitters
Maintaining normal energy levels and a positive outlook
The degree to which your gut is healthy depends a lot on the balance of bacteria and other organisms living in your GI tract. 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.
To maintain overall health, we need to have more beneficial bacteria and microbes in our guts than non-beneficial ones, as well as a healthy gut lining. That gut lining can be compromised as you get older. Therefore, it's smart to get enough collagen, probiotics, vitamins C and D in your diet to promote the health of your gut lining as well as support proper digestion.
Another important indicator of a healthy gut is a well-functioning nervous system. The “gut-brain connection” refers to the communication system between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system, which are connected by the vagus nerve that runs from the brainstem to the abdomen.
The gut-brain connection is believed to play a role in many processes, including digestion, metabolism, immune system function, stress response, mood regulation and even cognitive function. Meanwhile, the gut-skin axis refers to the relationship between the health and function of the gut and the appearance and integrity of the skin.
Some characteristics of a healthy gut include:
Efficient digestion: Foods are effectively digested, while nutrients are broken down and absorbed.
Regular bowel movements: Waste is eliminated regularly, without difficulty or discomfort. Toxins are also able to be removed with waste (which is normal).
Balanced gut microbiota: There’s diversity and balance of organisms in the gut, which maintain overall health in part by promoting a healthy response to inflammation.
Strong intestinal barrier: A strong intestinal barrier helps to prevent non-beneficial substances from entering the bloodstream (where it doesn’t belong).
Normal immune system function: A healthy gut plays a critical role in healthy immune system function, helping to keep the body healthy overall.
Before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation, you should always consult with your healthcare professional.
Want to know how to improve your gut health quickly? For most people, increasing their plant intake, while also drinking plenty of water, is a great place to start.
While a “standard Western diet“ is lacking in variety and many key nutrients, a diet that mimics the Mediterranean diet and includes the best gut health foods (like plenty of veggies and herbs) is a much better approach for taking care of your microbiome.
Each week, make a point to eat lots of plants, including fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Some of the best types include:
Herbs and spices
Onions and garlic
Among the best nutrients and foods for promoting gut health are prebiotics, which are types of non-digestible fibers that help feed healthy bacteria (aka probiotics) in your gut microbiome.
What’s the difference between prebiotics vs. probiotics? Prebiotics are used by probiotic organisms for energy, helping them to populate the microbiome. Ideally, these two are combined for the most effects. Prebiotic foods to seek out include: whole grains, garlic, onions, asparagus, artichokes, chicory root, and underripe bananas.
What are superfoods for gut health? Look no further than probiotic foods and fermented foods, which contain live and active organisms that live in your GI tract and support absorption and elimination of waste.
Probiotic foods and beverages to eat regularly include: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, cultured veggies, kimchi and kombucha.
Similar to prebiotic foods, high-fiber foods help create an optimal gut environment because they facilitate elimination, help to prevent constipation and help probiotics to thrive.
You’ll find plenty of fiber in: 100 percent whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits. You can also make your own high-fiber smoothie.
Polyphenols are a group of naturally occurring compounds that are found in many plants that are rich in antioxidants. Because polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, they can help support a healthy gut lining as well as a healthy immune system.
Some different types of polyphenols you’ll find in plant foods include flavonoids (such as quercetin and catechins), stilbenes (such as resveratrol) and phenolic acids (such as ferulic acid and caffeic acid).
Common food sources of polyphenols to fill up on include: fruits (such as berries, grapes, apples and citrus fruits), vegetables (such as artichokes, broccoli and spinach), tea, coffee and red wine.
Certain herbs have the potential to be beneficial for digestion and your microbiome, such as:
Ginger, a well-known herb for soothing the gut and alleviating occasional digestive upset like nausea, bloating and constipation.
Turmeric, which contains a compound called curcumin that supports normal inflammation responses and can help improve gut motility.
Peppermint, an herb that can help to soothe the gut and alleviate occasional digestive upset.
Chamomile, a calming herb that can promote relaxation in the gut.
Fennel, which helps alleviate occasional digestive upset like bloating, gas,and indigestion.
Dandelion, a herb that can help to promote healthy digestion by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
Consuming too much sugar can have negative effects on gut health by promoting growth of non-beneficial bacteria, negatively impacting the gut lining, gut motility and disrupting the balance of organisms in the gut microbiome.
You don’t have to entirely avoid sugar, but consume it in moderation from natural sources, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Ultra-processed foods, which contribute a shockingly high percentage of calories to modern-day diets, are probiotic disruptors, difficult to digest and lack nutrients. This makes them some of the worst foods for gut health, considering they can contribute to occasional constipation, growth of non-beneficial bacteria in the gut, and impact the body’s normal inflammation response.
Ultra-processed foods to give up include:
processed meats like hot dogs and cold cuts
dressings and fried foods made with refined vegetable oils
many packaged cheeses
You can think of probiotics as the “friendly bacteria” that populate your gut/microbiome.
These “good guy” types of yeast or bacteria (such as the strains called Saccharomyces boulardii (a yeast that functions as a probiotic), 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 constipation, gas and bloating and supporting healthy elimination/bowel movements.
Supporting nutrient absorption.
Facilitating healthy hormone production, including the 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.”
You can take SBO Probiotics daily (which contain soil-based probiotic organisms), as they provide hardy, beneficial bacteria that populate the digestive tract. There are best probiotics for women and probiotics for men. There are even probiotic gummies available, including probiotics for kids.
Other gut supplements to consider adding to your routine include digestive enzymes, which assist in nutrient absorption. Of course, as previously mentioned, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle program, including supplementation.
Collagen is a protein that’s found throughout the body, including in the gut lining. It’s a major component of the connective tissues that make up the gut barrier, which is where nutrients are absorbed and some neurotransmitters are made. Collagen for gut health also works because it can help to promote the health of the gut lining, which may help promote the health of the rest of the body.
Consider adding these collagen supplements to your routine for gut, skin, joint, hair and nail health benefits:
Multi Collagen Protein: This easily mixable powder features 10 types of collagen from four real food sources, along with 2 billion CFUs* (*at time of manufacture) of soil-based organism (SBO) probiotics and 1,000 percent daily value of vitamin C. For additional gut support, try our MCP Gut Restore capsules, which feature elm bark, peppermint, apple cider vinegar and ginger.
Bone Broth Protein: Our chicken-based Bone Broth Protein formulas feature collagen type II, along with collagen cofactors including glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid that contribute to healthy connective tissues. Our Bone Broth Proteins are 3x more potent protein-wise than homemade bone broth and 5x more potent in macronutrients and micronutrients compared to the leading bone broth brands.
Stress takes a toll on gut health, due to the brain-gut connection, and is known to impact immune system function. Therefore, managing stress through practices like meditation, exercise, yoga, journaling, time spent in nature, and/or deep breathing exercises is important for taking care of your gut.
Regular exercise can also help maintain a healthy gut as it helps to support a normal response to inflammation and increases blood flow to the digestive system. It’s also a natural way to manage stress, regulate your appetite and sleep more soundly.
Try exercising for at least 30 minutes most days, aiming for a combination of aerobic and strength-training exercises.
Sleep plays a vital role in healthy immune system function and gut health due to the effects of the gut-brain connection. Additionally, being well-rested can positively affect digestion (not to mention help to curb cravings for unhealthy foods) and support how the gut absorbs nutrients. Ideally, aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Alcohol consumption can have several negative effects on the gut, including damaging the gut lining, disrupting the gut microbiome (the balance of bacteria in the gut), contributing to an overgrowth of non-beneficial bacteria and decreasing beneficial bacteria. Alcohol can also negatively impact digestion.
In addition to avoiding too much alcohol, don’t smoke cigarettes and limit environmental chemical/toxin exposure, such as by using clean household and beauty products.
Drinking plenty of water and other fluids helps you stay hydrated and flushes out waste and toxins from your GI tract. To help prevent constipation, assist in detoxification and feel more energized, drink lots of fluids throughout the day such as water, seltzer, bone broth, herbal teas, green and black teas, and fresh pressed juices.
The mouth and gut microbiomes are closely related, and maintaining a healthy balance of microorganisms in both areas is important for overall health. For example, dysbiosis (imbalance of microbes) in the gut microbiome can lead to an overgrowth of non-beneficial bacteria in the mouth, which can increase the risk of gum and tooth health.
Practicing good oral hygiene by brushing and flushing, while also consuming a balanced diet that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria, can help to support both the mouth and gut microbiomes.
Jordan Rubin is one of America’s most recognized and respected natural health experts. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Maker’s Diet and 26 additional titles, including his latest work Essential Fasting. An eco-entrepreneur, author and lecturer on health and nutrition, Jordan is the co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, where he currently serves as CEO. Jordan is also the founder of Heal the Planet Farm and the Ancient Nutrition Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Sustainability located in southern Missouri and middle Tennessee.