Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Looking after the health of the gut and maintaining the right balance of these microorganisms is vital for physical and mental health, immunity, and more.
These bacteria, yeasts, and viruses, of which there are trillions, are also called the “gut microbiome” or “gut flora.” Many microbes are beneficial for human health, and some are even essential. Others can be harmful, especially when they multiply.
To boost the beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, in the gut, some people choose to take probiotic supplements. These are available in health food stores, drug stores, and online. Some research has suggested that taking probiotics can support a healthy gut microbiome, and that it may prevent gut inflammation and other intestinal problems.
Fermented foods are a natural source of probiotics. Fermentation is an ancient technique of preserving food. The process is still used today to produce foods like wine, cheese, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kombucha. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial probiotics and have been associated with a range of health benefits, from better digestion to stronger immunity.
Probiotics feed on non-digestible carbohydrates called prebiotics. This process encourages beneficial bacteria to multiply in the gut. Research from 2017 suggested that prebiotics may help probiotics become more tolerant to certain environmental conditions, including pH and temperature changes.
People who want to enhance their gut health may wish to include more of the following prebiotic-rich foods in their diet:· Asparagus
· Jerusalem artichoke
· Whole grains
Cut down on added sugar.
This is good anyway. However, eating a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners may cause gut dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of gut microbes. The authors of a 2015 study in animals suggested that the standard Western diet, which is high in sugar and fat, negatively affects the gut microbiome. In turn, this can influence the brain and behaviour. Another animal study reported that the artificial sweetener aspartame increases the number of some bacterial strains that are linked with metabolic disease. Metabolic disease refers to a group of conditions that increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Research has also indicated that human use of artificial sweeteners can negatively impact blood glucose levels due to their effects on gut flora. This means that artificial sweeteners may increase blood sugar despite not actually being a sugar.
Managing stress is important for many aspects of health, including gut health. Animal studies have suggested that psychological stressors can disrupt the microorganisms in the intestines, even if the stress is only short-lived.
In humans, a variety of stressors can negatively affect gut health, including:
environmental stress, such as extreme heat, cold, or noise
disruption of the circadian rhythm
Some stress management techniques include meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. Exercising regularly, sleeping well, and eating a healthful diet can also reduce stress levels.
Avoid antibiotics if you can.
Although it is often necessary to take antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, overuse is a significant public health concern that can lead to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are also damaging to the gut microbiota and immunity, with some research reporting that even 6 months after their use, the gut still lacks several species of beneficial bacteria.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors in the United States prescribe around 30% of antibiotics unnecessarily. In the UK, research by Public Health England (PHE) suggests “GPs write 20,000 unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions per day”. According to them, “At least one in five of around 100,000 antibiotic prescriptions issued by GPs in England every day are unnecessary”.
As a result, the CDC recommend that people discuss antibiotics and alternative options with their doctor before use.
Yep, I know we bang on about it, but it comes up in virtually every study as something that benefits your overall health.
Regularly exercising contributes to good heart health and weight loss or weight maintenance. Research has also suggested that it may also improve gut health, which may, in turn, help control obesity. Working out may increase species diversity.
A study back in 2014 found that athletes had a larger variety of gut flora than nonathletes. However, the athletes also ate a different diet to the control group, which could account for the differences in their microbiomes.
The Physical Activity Guidelines around the world recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, along with muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days each week
Cleaning products can affect it
Just as antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiota, so too can disinfectant cleaning products, according to the results of one study in 2018. The research analysed the gut flora of over 700 infants ages 3–4 months.
The researchers found that those who lived in homes where people used disinfectant cleaning products at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of “Lachnospiraceae” gut microbes, a type associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
At age 3, these infants had a higher body mass index (BMI) than children without exposure to such high levels of disinfectants. That is incredible reading, and something parents should be thinking about.
Yep, here is another one we go on about, and every study says it is bad for you. Please, give up smoking if you have this habit. And here is yet another reason why.
Smoking affects gut health as well as the health of the heart and lungs. It also greatly increases the risk of cancer. A 2018 review of research published over a 16-year period found that smoking alters the intestinal flora by increasing potentially harmful microorganisms and decreasing the levels of beneficial ones. These effects may increase the risk of intestinal and systemic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
So much of this is common sense. Healthy lifestyle is always best. Maintaining a healthy gut contributes to better overall health and immune function. By making appropriate lifestyle and dietary changes, people can alter the diversity and number of microbes in their gut for the better.
Simple lifestyle changes a person can make include getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.
However, a person should talk to their doctor before making any drastic changes to their diet. This is because for some people, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other medical conditions, probiotics and fibre-rich or vegetarian diets may not be helpful.