How to Improve Gut Health

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how to improve gut health

In the 17th century, the alchemist and physician, Jan Baptist Van Helmont insisted that he felt emotions in the organs of digestion and proposed a link between emotion and the stomach. It was such an absurd hypothesis for the fellows of his time.

After passing three centuries, the vision of the gut reaches further than food digestion. Gut health is no longer restricted to digestive issues and becomes a gateway to overall well-being.

That being said, you might be wondering what is the big deal about gut health. This article will provide new insights into gut health and explore eight science-backed ways to improve your gut health.

Table of contents

  • What is gut health? Does it matter?
  • Eight science-backed ways to Get a Happy and healthy gut
  • How can I check my gut health?
  • Signs of a healthy gut
  • Signs of an unhealthy gut
  • Can I take supplements to improve my gut health?
  • Conclusion

What is gut health? 

There is no clear definition for gut health. Gut health can mean being free of gastrointestinal symptoms and diseases. It can also symbolize effective digestion and absorption of food.

Here, I prefer to portray gut health in two key entities; the healthy gut microbiome ( Probiotics ) and the healthy gut barrier.

Gut microbiome: the mastermind of the gut 

Your gut harbors over 100 trillion microbes: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other life forms. If you can zoom in to a microscopic level, you will be astonished at how super dense they are. They are collectively known as the gut microbiome.

Where do they come from?

The microbiome has co-evolved with you since you were born and came into contact with the external environment. No two people have the same microbiome. Your diet, lifestyle, environmental exposure, and everything you do can shape your microbiota.

What are they doing down there?

Humans have a symbiotic or beneficial relationship with most of these microbes though some can be pathogenic. 

Our friendly microbes are wholly efficient at multitasking. They overthrow pathogenic microbes, digest the food you eat, provide energy to the gut wall, preserve an intact gut barrier, boost the immune system, communicate with the brain, and ultimately influence your behavior and emotions.

Gut barrier: the gatekeeper 

The lining of your gut is like a gatekeeper. It allows the uptake of nutrients and water into the bloodstream while being restrictive against toxic substances and microorganisms.

If your gut lining weakens or becomes permeable, toxins and pathogenic microbes may leak through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and trigger inflammation throughout the whole body.

Does gut health matter?

Yes, a lot. 

More than 2000 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Though he was not entirely correct, evidence to date shows that gut health correlates to a large number of diseases both inside and outside the gut.

Inside the gut

An unhealthy gut gives rise to bloating, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea. Many large trials looking at the gut microbiome have evaluated its pertinence in gastrointestinal

disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), coeliac disease, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and colorectal cancer.

Outside the gut

Recent studies have revealed the link between gut inflammation and extra-intestinal diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, and autoimmune diseases.

Eight Science-backed Ways to Get a Happy and Healthy Gut

Throughout my clinical experience, I have seen no better option than diet and lifestyle modifications for a healthy gut. It is challenging to change habits but believe me, it is well worth the effort. The outcomes are incredible without expensive costs.

  1. Eat the rainbow

How many different fruits and vegetables can you find in the colors of the rainbow?

It is a super easy and fun way to get all the variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your gut thrives on. These superfoods are also a rich source of fiber which detoxifies your gut and keeps your digestion going smoothly.

What do the colors tell?

Each color signifies a distinct phytochemical. Phytochemicals are substances that give plants their color, aroma, and flavor. Different colors mean different phytochemicals and different properties.

Red foods

Red fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients like lycopene. They boost the immune system, fight inflammation and keep the gut healthy.

Orange and yellow foods

They are a rich source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that protects our cells from oxidative damage by free radicals.

Green foods

They contain a green pigment chlorophyll which detoxifies toxins and improves digestion.

Blue and purple foods

Anthocyanins in blue and purple foods have prebiotic activities, meaning that they are a favorite food for gut bacteria and promote the growth of a healthy gut microbiome.

How to eat the rainbow

The NHS rainbow diet recommends having at least five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. An adult portion of fruit or vegetable is 80g. They can be fresh, tinned, frozen, or dried – they all count.

  1. Add fermented foods to your diet

Fermented foods are made by adding microorganisms like bacteria or yeast to a food source. They are excellent foods to boost the number of beneficial bacteria or probiotics in your gut.

Probiotics confer a variety of benefits on gut health. They increase the number and diversity of bacteria in your gut, fight off pathogenic microbes, aid digestion and boost the immune system.

The best-fermented foods for your gut health 

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir – fermented milk drink
  • Kimchi – fermented vegetables like cabbages, radishes, leeks, and cucumbers
  • Kombucha – fermented sweet tea
  • Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage or sour cabbage
  • Miso – fermented soybeans
  • Aged cheddar, parmesan, Swiss cheeses, and some cottage cheeses
  • Sourdough bread

How to introduce them to your diet

I recommend adding small amounts of a variety of fermented foods each day. If you consume a large amount at once, gastrointestinal upset can occur. You should start slowly and increase gradually.

  1. Include whole grains, nuts, and legumes on your plate

Whole grains, nuts, and legumes are loaded with prebiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible dietary fibers that serve as food for your good bugs.

When this prebiotics are fermented by gut bacteria, short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are produced. The main benefit of SCFAs is that they help maintain the intestinal barrier by feeding the cells of the gut wall and by reducing inflammation. 

A systematic review of the effects of nuts on gut health revealed that nut consumption increased the relative abundance of good bacteria that produce butyrate. Butyrate is an SCFA and vital for gastrointestinal health.

Eating a wide variety of whole grains, nuts, and legumes will provide plenty of prebiotics and maintain a healthy digestive tract. 

How to add prebiotic foods to a diet

You may initially notice gas or other changes as your gut bacteria enjoy their feast and your body gets used to increased dietary fiber. So add one or two varieties in a small amount initially and advance slowly.

  1. Tame your sweet tooth

No one but you and your lifestyle creates your blend of bacteria.

A high-sugar diet promotes the inflammation of the gut lining, eliminates beneficial bacteria, and increases nasty bacteria. These bacteria not only harm the gut but also keep the brain on speed dial to eat more and more sugar. The gut-brain chatter drives more sugar cravings resulting in more inflammation and more disruption of the gut microbiome. This vicious circle will wreck gut health and lead to metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

What do the research findings suggest?

A scientific study published in 2020 implied that high sugar intake staggers the balance of the microbiome promotes gut inflammation and expands the risk of metabolic disorders.

Be aware!

Artificial sweeteners are just as bad. They can also interact with the gut microbiome.

   5. Your gut needs water too

With water making up 60% of your body weight, it is plausible that dehydration can harm your body, especially your digestive health. 

Your gut is super sensitive to dehydration. For the digestion of the nutrients, you need digestive fluids. And your digestive enzymes cannot function well if you are dehydrated. Your gut cannot absorb nutrients properly through dry cells lining your small intestine. Your dehydrated large intestine will also take up water from the food you consume, producing constipated hard stools.

Water and gut microbiota

A 2022 study, published in the Journal of Nutrition was the first to reveal the link between water and gut microbiota. Researchers found that drinking well water is associated with higher fecal microbiota diversity and the amount of water consumed may also influence the microbiota. Though it is too early to conclude that these changes in microbiota are beneficial, it’s clear that your water intake plays a role in the makeup of your gut microbiome.

Tips to stay hydrated

  • The Eatwell Guide says you should drink 6 to 8 cups or glasses of fluid a day.
  • Limit your alcohol because it is a huge dehydrator
  • Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up, before meals and snacks, and before bed.
  • Eat your water by eating fruits and vegetables with high water content
  • If you do not like the taste of plain water, add a slice of lemon or other fresh fruits and vegetables.

6. Get good quality sleep

The gut-brain communication is a two-way street. Your good gut bacteria can help you get better sleep and your sleep quality can influence the makeup of your gut microbiome.

In one analysis of the relationship between gut bacteria diversity and sleep, researchers found that better sleep increases gut microbial diversity.

Although scientists haven’t fully explored how sleep influences the gut microbiome, poor sleep will undoubtedly harm your gut health by inducing stress and unhealthy eating patterns due to a spike in hunger hormones (ghrelin).

Ultimately, good quality sleep will improve your overall health.

7. Be physically active

People who are more physically active tend to have a healthier gut. It is because exercise seems to influence gut microbiota.

A large sum of studies assessing the impact of physical activity on the human gut microbiome found that the gut microbiota of professional rugby players had a greater diversity of 40 different bacteria than the gut microbiota of sedentary controls.

The studies also found that 5 wk of exercise training increased butyrate, a bacterial metabolite produced from the fermentation of dietary fiber. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that promotes gut epithelial cell proliferation, strengthens gut barrier integrity, and regulates the immune system.

8. Cleanse your mind to detox your gut

Have you ever felt that sudden weird stomach-churning when you are anxious? 

Your gut has its nervous system known as the enteric nervous system and the nerve endings in the gut respond to stress hormones that the brain releases. This affects the digestive process leading to symptoms of bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and constipation.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a classic example of how your emotions control your gut. It is a chronic digestive disorder that affects about 20% of the population worldwide, with a tremendous impact on quality of life. The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but the link between the gut and the brain seems to play a pivotal role in IBS.

Your stress response can bring chaos to your gut. Stress-busting and cleansing your mind will have a dramatic impact on your health.

How can I check my gut health?

Although there are corresponding lab tests, imaging, and endoscopic procedures for gastrointestinal issues, they are not for a routine check-up of gut health.

You can check your gut health by listening to what your body tells you.

Signs of a healthy gut

  • Pain-free bowel movement
  • Regular bowel movement ( Bowel movement between three times a day and three times a week is considered healthy)
  • Passing healthy poops ( Healthy stool has a smooth texture, a sausage shape as a single large stool or in a few smaller pieces and sinks in the toilet bowls)
  • No bloating and tolerate most foods
  • Consistent energy
  • Mental clarity

Signs of an unhealthy gut

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Bloating
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Sugar cravings
  • Weakness and mental fatigue

Can I take supplements to improve my gut health?

Yes, supplements can lend a hand when you find it tough to stick to a healthy and diverse diet persistently.

My best recommendation is to adopt the diet and lifestyle changes mentioned above. But in conditions that demand supplements, my best bet would be probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics

Probiotics are good bugs that help us foster a healthy gut microbiome. You can get enough probiotics naturally from fermented foods, but probiotic supplements may be profitable for specific gastrointestinal problems. You can check my previous article: signs that you need probiotics.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are just essential as probiotics because they are food for the survival of probiotic bacteria. If you can’t get enough prebiotics from food, it is advisable to take prebiotic supplements.

However, compared with probiotics, there is much more limited scientific evidence on the long-term health benefits of prebiotic supplements.

Conclusion

“Think of your gut like a garden.” It is my all-time favorite metaphor for the gut.

You can grow your plants in any way you fancy in your garden. But how you nurture the plants can decide whether they will flourish or die. If you feed the plants the correct nutrients, water the garden regularly, and remove the garden waste, you will soon see a vibrantly flourishing garden.

My final say is there is no such thing as late to diet and lifestyle modifications. And it is always possible for you to reset your gut and relish a healthy gut.

The road to health is paved with good intestines!” 

― Dr.Sherry A. Rogers

References

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Dr Tun Min is s GP working in NHS UK and writing articles about supplements and vitamins based on personal clinical experience and clinical research.

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