Your gut can affect your health in many ways—including your mental health and immune system.
The microbiome—the bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract—affects your health in huge ways. Located in the gut, the enteric nervous system (ENS) has the same neurons and neurotransmitters found in the brain and spinal cord. Called “the second brain,” it sends signals to your brain and influences your mental wellbeing and state of mind.
Your gut health also has a hand in your immune system. 80% of your immune cells are located in your GI tract. This means that if your gut is unhealthy, it can result in your immune system not functioning. It can even cause diseases like Hashimoto’s disease and digestive diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and more.
Additionally, an unhealthy gut is simply just painful and uncomfortable to deal with. Some signs of an unhealthy gut include digestion problems like bloating, cramps, constipation, and diarrhea. You may also experience weight changes, sleep disturbances, autoimmune problems, and skin conditions.
If you experience any of the symptoms above, know that improving your gut health is possible. We’ve created a list of ways you can improve your gut health. Remember to speak with your doctor first about any symptoms you experience and work out a treatment plan with a medical professional before considering the following ways to improve your gut health.
Changes that can improve your gut health:
1.) Lower stress levels.
90% of our body’s serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin, also known as “the happiness chemical” or “the feel-good hormone,” is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. As such, high-stress levels can cause a lower production of serotonin. To keep your serotonin levels healthy and improve gut health, reducing stress levels will help. Keep a routine of starting or ending your day with activities like meditation and deep breathing exercises. These exercises have often been cited to help lessen stress.
2.) Get enough sleep.
In addition to fatigue and impaired cognition, irregular sleep patterns or disrupted sleep have often been linked to gut inflammation and lower serotonin levels. Practicing good sleep hygiene can be helpful for your overall health. Regulate your sleep schedule by trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Pro tip: Many alarm apps make this easy by allowing you to set an alarm for going to bed.
3.) Stay hydrated.
Increased water intake can increase the amount of healthy gut flora, or the bacteria that live in your gut. Not drinking enough water also does not allow your intestines to absorb it, making it harder to pass stools and regulate your bowels. The rule of thumb is to drink eight glasses a day. While meeting water intake is important, it’s equally important how you drink your water. Experts suggest sipping water consistently throughout the day is better than gulping it down in large amounts a few times a day.
Working out can not only help with weight loss and maintenance, but it can also help keep your microbiome diverse with different gut flora. Professionals recommend adults clock at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense exercise, as well as weight training twice a week, to keep healthy.
5.) Eat slowly.
Many experts say that eating slower can help with digestive help. Digestion begins in the mouth, where saliva begins to break down food. Chewing thoroughly also breaks food down into smaller pieces, which can help with easier digestion. This, in turn, can improve the microbiome in your gut. You can start by counting how many times you chew with each bite. Though it depends on the texture and type of food, experts recommend chewing about 32 times before swallowing.
Fiber stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. It also helps bulk up your stool, keeping your bowel movements regular. Eat plenty of leafy greens, legumes (such as beans), and whole grains to get enough fiber in your diet. You can hold yourself accountable with a fiber diary by keeping track of the amount of fiber you eat per day. For women below the age of 50, aim for 21 to 25 grams a day. For men below 50, the target amount is 30 to 38 grams a day.
7.) Consume prebiotics and probiotics.
Eating foods with probiotics or probiotic supplements can help your microbiome create more healthy bacteria to boost healthy gut bacteria. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha contain colonies of probiotics. In addition to probiotics, prebiotics are also recommended. Healthy microbiome bacteria eat prebiotics. Some foods include onions, bananas, and whole grains.
8.) Cut out sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners can cause an imbalance in the microbiome. Studies have shown that a diet high in sugar negatively affects gut bacteria. Some artificial sweeteners have also been shown to increase the bacteria linked to metabolic disease. These sugars and artificial sweeteners can be found in processed junk foods like soda, candy, and chips. Some of these sugars and sweeteners include white table sugar, sucralose, aspartame, and saccharine.
While the methods listed above can help improve gut health, you should always consult with your doctor first to understand the best approach and treatment plan for you. Keep a diary of symptoms and share them with a GI healthcare expert to help come up with the best treatment plan for you. Programs like GIThrive can also provide the resources, 24/7 healthcare assistance and medical professionals that can help with taking control of your gut health.
Learn more about GIThrive, the all-in-one digital gut health program that is revolutionizing the future of healthcare for employees. By addressing gut health, employers can create a positive workplace culture and boost overall productivity.