I think at this point most people acknowledge the idea that gut health is important and as a result want to learn how to restore gut health. The problem though is that people aren’t exactly sure what good gut health looks like and how to actually fix it. The other challenge is not just one thing works for all people. Given that we are all bioindividual, meaning personal differences exist throughout each part of the human body, there is no perfect approach to ensuring our diet and lifestyle alone will restore gut health.
Despite bioindividuality though, we do know that there are aspects of what we experience in the foods that we eat and the lifestyle that we live, that disrupt our ability to have good gut health. The 10 things you can do today to help your gut health that I’m about to share with you are in fact universally beneficial to the health of our gut and increase our ability to have a diverse microbiome, which is the foundation for optimal gut health.
1 Avoid Certain Medications
I’ll make mention of 2 classes of medications that are most problematic for your gut health. That’s non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antibiotics. We’ll tackle them one at a time. Antibiotics are prescription medications designed to rid the body of harmful bacteria that cause infection. Now don’t get me wrong, I recognize that antibiotics are needed at certain times, however, in the US, we overuse antibiotics both by providing a prescription for an antibiotic even when it isn’t needed and the repeated use in the same patient. In addition, antibiotics are often prescribed at higher doses than what is actually required. Unfortunately though, antibiotics don’t only kill bad bacteria; they don’t know the difference between what is bad versus what is good. Therefore, good bacteria get killed along with the bad, which creates an imbalance in the gut microbiome that is usually unhealthy. NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, naproxen, and others are used to relieve pain. They too, however, can increase intestinal permeability. Research suggests that 65% of people that take NSAIDs consistently have intestinal inflammation and another 30% have ulcers. That persistent intestinal permeability over time can cause autoimmune responses that further provoke inflammation. Not good for the gut…
2 Skip the Alcohol
I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but alcohol is flat-out inflammatory. Drinking alcohol in large amounts irritates the gut and if consumed in large amounts over time, causes intestinal permeability or what is more commonly called, “leaky gut”. This means that over time, alcohol can interfere with nutrient absorption and decrease stomach acid, further weakening the body’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens.
3 Drink More Water!
Newsflash, you need water. And quite frankly, lots of it. Like half your body weigh in water lots. Adequate water intake improves the lining of the gut and therefore improves the gut microbiome. We also need water for the proper formation of our stool. Alongside water, it is important to increase our fiber intake. Think more fruits and vegetables, legumes, and high-quality grains. Always as your fiber intake increases, make sure you increase water alongside it.
4 Minimize Environmental Toxins
This one might actually come as a surprise to you as we rarely talk about environmental toxins. The gut microbiome is, however, sensitive to what you put in and on your body. You can find environmental toxins in plastics, household products, beauty products, and even the air you breathe. These toxins are known as endocrine disruptors that negatively impact the gut microbiome. The most common ones are triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in deodorant, toothpaste, and soap. Another is fluoride also found in toothpaste, phthalates found in household and health products, pesticides sprayed on nonorganic produce, and bisphenol-A, a synthetic compound found in plastics and the lining of canned foods.
5 Move Your Body
Sitting is the new smoking. Have you ever heard that? The phrase was coined when research showed that a sedentary lifestyle can be as unhealthy as smoking. The body needs movement to allow the proper flow of blood to keep your muscles healthy. That includes the muscles of the digestive system. Research suggests that the microbiome improves after 6 weeks of regular physical exercise. This doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise either. Follow my 3-2-1-1 method I teach in my coaching programs, 3 days of cardio, 2 days of weight training, 1 day of mind-body (i.e.) yoga, and 1 day of rest. Physically moving your body is essential for restoring gut health.
6 Get More Sleep
Oh, sleep. That thing that eludes most moms. And not just any sleep but deep sleep. Deep sleep is the only way the body can actually take time to relax and rejuvenate. This is the time that the microbiome resets. The gut microbiome has a circadian rhythm too and when it gets disrupted there can be consequences for the health of the microbiome as well as overall immunity. The main problem with lack of sleep though is the impact on our hormones including ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals hunger while leptin signals when you’re full. When these hormones are out of wack, we tend to overeat because we feel hungrier than normal and are less sensitive to when we are full. And then in comes cravings for sugary foods that can, of course, worsen digestion. Not only does sugar increase intestinal permeability, but it also feeds the bad bacteria in the gut. Lose, lose all around.
7 Cook More
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD!) is low in dietary fiber and high in sugar and processed food. Often during processing, foods are manipulated losing most of their nutritional value, not to mention the added fats and sugar. Everything you eat will feed your microbiome, and like marriage, that’s for better or for worse. Just like dietary fiber and probiotics feed good bacteria, processed food and sugar feeds the bad. This causes dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, and subsequently poor gut health. Processed foods including sugar, cause inflammation and damage the gut wall, increasing intestinal permeability which means excess food particles can get into the bloodstream causing autoimmune disease to appear elsewhere in the body. The key ingredient to include in your diet is dietary fiber. Fiber feeds good gut microbes, keeps you fuller longer, controls blood sugar, and keeps elimination moving properly so you can get rid of unnecessary toxins regularly. Fiber can be found in a variety of foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Healthy fats and good sources of protein are also essential for a healthy microbiome.
8 Don’t Smoke
Everyone talks about smoking and the risk for lung cancer, but smoking also causes and worsens heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers! There’s actually evidence that smoking impacts every digestive organ and, therefore, prevents good digestion, nutrient absorption, and promotes unhealthy elimination. For example, smoking has been linked to not only ulcers etc., but also cancer of the mouth, the esophagus, and even the stomach. It’s also been linked to Crohn’s Disease, pancreatitis, gallstones, liver disease, and colon polyps. Like I said, smoking impacts the entire digestive system, just don’t do it.
9 Stop Stressing!
Did you know that the system we rely on daily to digest our food actually malfunctions when we’re stressed? The sad part is, however, our daily lifestyle has become so accustomed to stress that we don’t even notice it. We assume we should feel busy, overwhelmed, and tired all the time. Your body can’t tell the difference between real stress, like running from a tiger, and perceived stress like trying to meet a work deadline. Your body sends the same signals to the brain regardless. And since digestion is considered nonessential during times of stress, it basically shuts down. Therefore, managing stress is key to good digestive health. As busy moms, we have to destress and prioritize self-care just to allow our bodies to function properly. Two practices you can implement immediately to destress are deep breathing and mindful eating. Deep breathing can immediately calm the sympathetic (i.e.) flight or fight response triggering your parasympathetic (i.e.) rest and digest nervous system to kick in. For mindful eating, try bringing awareness to your food by only eating when it’s time for your meal and not reading, scrolling social media, or watching TV while consuming whatever is on your plate. It may not seem like much, but these small shifts over time add up to big results.
10 Keep Your Blood Sugar in Balance
This may come as a surprise, but changes in the gut microbiome are often associated with conditions of insulin resistance like diabetes and obesity. Essentially any condition that involves having an imbalanced blood sugar is also linked to the gut microbiome. In the presence of insulin resistance though, advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are increased and as a result, increase gut permeability leading to decreased nutrient absorption.
There you have it, 10 things you can do today to help your gut health. Now that you know about these 10 things, take some time to evaluate yourself. Rate yourself in each area. If there’s something you need to work on, create a plan of action to improve in that area of your health. Let me know what you’re planning to work on in the comments below.