Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria and yeast. Collectively known as the microbiome, or ‘gut flora’, these microorganisms can be both beneficial or detrimental and have a significant impact on the state of your health.
The aim is to increase the number of friendly microorganisms, especially good bacteria while reducing the bad ones.
A healthy gut refers to the balanced state of microorganisms required to sustain a strong immune system, which in turn directly correlates to better overall health. If you are wondering how to begin improving your gut health, here are a few effective steps.
Start with a healthy diet
It is no surprise that the health of your gut largely depends on what you directly put into it. Fibre is key when it comes to improving the state of the microbiome, hence, consuming a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and is a must.
Also consider reducing processed and refined foods, like sugar. Studies have been conducted that break down the effects of each macronutrient (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) showing that a change in diet can directly influence the microbiome.
Keep a daily food diary to track how many whole foods versus refined foods you’re consuming and change accordingly.
Take probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics are the good bacteria that already resides in your gut. In effect, you can bolster the army of good gut flora by taking a probiotic supplement or by consuming fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir. These can act as a natural colon cleanse.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, is the fibre that feeds the microbiome. In short, your gut flora needs to eat and thrives when it gets a healthy dose of prebiotics every day, therefore, incorporating a diet rich in prebiotic foods contributes directly to good gut health.
Some common prebiotic-rich foods include garlic, onions, bananas, asparagus, oats, apples, and flaxseeds.
Eliminate food allergens
Symptoms of an unhealthy gut are indigestion, weight gain/loss, and fatigue and can be caused by certain foods that may be considered healthy for some but just don’t suit that person’s particular constitution.
For example, while some people do fine drinking milk, others can get an upset stomach from just a few spoons of ice cream.
Consider trying an elimination diet that excludes common allergens such as gluten, dairy, corn, and soy for a month and see if that makes a difference.
If you notice a significant reduction in bloating, stomach ache, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue, you are on the right track. Then, reintroduce the eliminated foods one by one to see which of them works well in your system versus those that are not suitable for you.
Also, research shows that treating an unhealthy gut could reverse the effects of some of the foods you might have been initially allergic to, thus once gut health is restored, you may be able to enjoy those foods again.
Antibiotics were invented as a remedy to cure infections. Unfortunately, while antibiotics kill the harmful infection-causing bacteria, they also wipe out a large number of the good bacteria that protect your gut.
Prolonged use of antibiotics can cause irreparable damage to your microbiome. Studies have found that even a single course of antibiotics can negatively alter the microbiome for a year.
If you have a condition for which your physician has recommended antibiotics, always ask if there are any alternatives.
In scenarios where antibiotics are not optional, ask your doctor to recommend a good probiotic supplement that could replenish some of the helpful bacteria that has been depleted.
Exercise and sleep well
Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand for overall health and the same applies to the health of your microbiome. Exercise and sleep have both been proven to have a significant impact on the quality and the number of good bacteria in the gut.
Athletes who follow strict training protocols have been seen to have a more diverse range of microorganism species as compared to non-athletes. This does not mean you have to become a pro-athlete to have a healthy gut, but some form of daily physical exercise is recommended alongside a diet rich in fibre.
Lack of sufficient sleep is another factor that contributes to an imbalanced microbiome, leading to gut inflammation and a malfunctioning immune system. Limit late nights and irregular sleep patterns and instead adopt proper sleep hygiene for better gut health and a stronger immune system.
A ‘gut feeling’
Maintaining a healthy gut is an essential step to sustaining good health. The best strategy for strengthening your gut is to adopt a healthy lifestyle which also includes reducing stress.
Remember, a ‘gut feeling’ is literally the right feeling when it comes to the growth of your microbiome because a healthy gut translates into a healthier you.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.
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