7 Ways to Rapidly Improve Your Gut Health
The role that our gut microbiome plays in our health is one of the hottest topics in medicine today. Dozens of studies have shown that your gut microbiome is linked to your immune system, mood, mental health, endocrine health, skin health, and yes, even cancer.
Until very recently, the consensus was that your gut was one of the simplest systems in your entire body. Basically, it was believed to be just a big tube that transported food in and then out.
But new research has shown that to be far from the truth. Turns out a healthy gut is absolutely critical to a happy you. And you ignore it at your own peril. Dr. E.M. Quigley, one of the nation’s leading gastroenterologists, has even gone so far as to say that the study of the gut microbiome has ushered in a “new era in medical science.” 1
So what is the gut microbiome?
It’s the blanket term for the rich bacterial environment within your stomach and intestinal tract. Don’t get freaked out by that — those bacteria help keep your body functioning properly.
Are some of the microorganisms residing in your gut bad?
Yes, but the vast majority are incredibly helpful. At any given time, there are around 500 different species living there. And the goal of any gut health protocol is to provide the good gut flora with nutrients they need to thrive. At the same time, you want to limit the nutrients the bad bacteria feed off of.
Thankfully, you can take steps to improve your gut health today. Below are seven quick and simple ways to nourish your microbiome.
1. Get Adequate Sleep
We’re still in the very early stages of understanding the relationship between gut health and sleep.
But multiple studies have confirmed that they are indeed intimately connected.
A recent study published in the journal Molecular Metabolism found that just two nights of inadequate sleep led to a 54% decrease in some strains of gut flora.2
What’s more, the researchers noted that lack of sleep led to the increase of two types of gut bacteria specifically associated with obesity: Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes.
Another study, this one by researchers at Kent State, may have uncovered a hidden link between your microbiome, sleep, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The researchers discovered, among a group of thirty-seven 50- to 85-year-old men, that better sleep led to higher levels of beneficial gut microbes (Verrucomicrobia and Lentisphaerae), as well as better performance on certain cognitive tests.
Did the increase of the two species of gut flora lead to improved cognition? The researchers noted that it very well might have: “The current findings suggest a possible relationship among sleep quality, composition of the gut microbiome, and cognitive flexibility in healthy older adults.” 3
They went on to suggest that if lack of sleep causes neurodegenerative disease, then a healthy microbiome may be a way to protect against the damage.
If that doesn’t make you want to sleep more, then this will:
Fragmented sleep — the kind you get when you toss and turn all night long — may actually disrupt a specific part of your microbiome that controls your weight.
Writing in Nature, scientists found that fragmented sleep in mice led to the proliferation of two specific strains of bacteria associated with impaired metabolic function: Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae.
Once these two strains began proliferating, they triggered a cascade of biological side effects that led to an increase in adipose (fatty) tissue, inflammation, and insulin resistance.4
The bottom line is you need sleep. A lack of it allows the nasty bacteria in your gut to proliferate, which leads to a variety of negative consequences. On the other hand, an adequate amount of sleep nurtures the good bacteria and optimizes your microbiome.
Turn off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
Stop using your bed for anything other than sleeping or intimacy. That means no watching TV while you lay there, and no cell phones.
Make sure your bedroom temperature hovers between 60 and 67 degrees. Research has shown that this is the best temperature for sleep.
2. Stop Stressing
There’s a powerful connection between stress and your gut. Poor gut health can trigger your body’s stress response, and stress, in turn, can cripple your microbiome.
In just the past few years, multiple studies have uncovered a meaningful link between microbiota health and the activation of the brain’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.5,6,7,8 The HPA axis modulates the release of cortisol, which is your body’s stress hormone.
Cortisol and its precursor compounds can increase intestinal permeability. When this happens, the “castle walls” of your microbiome are weakened, which allows toxins and waste to invade your gut.9
At the same time, a permeable intestinal barrier also allows bacteria to flow out of your gut and into your bloodstream, which can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation.10
In mice, stress has been associated with a decrease in gut flora diversity and a change in the types and concentrations present in the microbiome.11,12,13 And in humans, stress has been shown to increase the concentration of harmful bacteria like Clostridium and decrease the amount of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacilli. 14
What’s more, the administration of certain strains of probiotics has been shown to modulate the stress response. In 2016, Japanese researchers divided students into two groups. Both groups were preparing for a major exam, but one group was administered a probiotic drink containing Lactobacillus casei, a beneficial bacteria naturally found in the human biome.
As test day approached, the stress levels of both groups increased. However, while the non-Lactobacillus group began to experience sleep disruptions (one of the hallmarks of stress), the group of students receiving the probiotic drink didn’t experience any negative changes to their sleep patterns.15
But that’s not all. The amount of delta wave sleep — the deep, highly restorative phase — actually increased in the Lactobacillus group as the exam drew nearer. And the students in the group reported feeling more rested as compared to the control group. So it seems certain probiotics can protect, or at least dampen, the effects of stress-induced cortisol.
Meditate. All it takes is just 10 minutes a day, and it’s been shown to reduce blood cortisol levels by nearly 20%.16
Consume a diet rich in B vitamins and magnesium, which have both been suggested to have positive effects on stress levels.22,23 So what’s on the menu? Grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, leafy green vegetables, and avocados.
3. Eat a Diverse Array of Foods
Over the last 50 years, the amount of nutritional diversity in the United States has plummeted. 75% of all our nutrients come from a small group of just 12 plants and animals.24
This is horrible for our guts. Because the food you eat is the fuel your microbiome uses to survive. So the more diverse your diet, the more diverse the range of gut flora inside you.
And a diverse gut flora has been shown to have a number of health-promoting effects. One study from the journal Nature found that elderly subjects with more diversity in the microbiome were significantly less frail, had less disease, and had lowered levels of inflammation.25 Another study found gut diversity to confer a protective effect against disease.26
The good news is that you can increase the diversity of your microbiome quickly simply by changing your diet.27,28 Whole foods and foods with high polyphenol content can nurture healthy intestinal bacteria.
Cut sugars and processed carbs out of your diet. These types of food feed harmful bacteria like Candida.
Replace them with prebiotic foods like oats, beans, and lentils that promote the growth of friendly bacteria.
Add more color to your diet. Polyphenols are responsible for the color of fruits and vegetables. They also help maintain a healthy gut balance.29 So try to eat food rich in polyphenols like berries, dark chocolate (over 80%), leafy green vegetables, and red cabbage.
Incorporate fermented foods, which contain powerful probiotics, as a regular part of your diet. Things like kimchi or kefir are an excellent way to introduce beneficial bacteria into your gut.
4. Cut Back on Alcohol
Alcohol consumption has been linked to the alteration of the microbiome.30 Even just one episode of excessive drinking has been shown to disrupt intestinal absorption of vitamins and minerals and to increase gut permeability, a.k.a. “leaky gut.”31
The alcohol-induced gut permeability allows bacteria to move out of the gut and enter organs like your liver. This can lead to damaging inflammation and toxicity.32
If you consistently consume alcohol and don’t give your gut a chance to heal, then the damage and toxicity just builds and builds.
What’s more, the microbiome appears to exert some level of control over the function of your liver, especially the metabolic pathway that is associated with drug detoxification.33
And if it’s impaired, then your liver is less able to detoxify your body. This theory was put to the test in a recent study published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
Researchers found that by improving the subjects’ gut flora, they could reduce alcohol-induced liver disease.34
So should you cut out alcohol all together? You don’t necessarily have to do that, but you should think about limiting yourself to one drink a couple times a week.
And if you do drink, make sure you pick the right drinks. Because not all alcohol is created equal. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that gin reduced beneficial gut bacteria, while a moderate amount of red wine actually increased healthy gut flora. At the same time, the red wine decreased the numbers of unhealthy bacteria like Clostridium.35
The researchers noted that red wine’s beneficial effects were likely due to its polyphenol content.
Limit alcohol consumption to two to three drinks per week
Give your body a day or two between each drink, so you give your gut time to heal.
When you do drink, avoid hard liquor and beer, and opt instead for polyphenol-rich red wine.
Making your body move is good in so many ways. And new research shows that it’s even good for your gut. Exercise has been shown to lead to an increased number of good bacteria, Bacteroidetes, and a decreased number of bad bacteria, Firmicutes.36 A high ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes is associated with leanness.
How much does exercise increase your floral biodiversity? A LOT.
One study from 2016 found that male rugby players had double the amount of species in their microbiome than more sedentary men who were the same age and weight.40
So, the more you exercise, the more good bacteria grow in your gut. These good bacteria in turn help you lose weight and maintain leanness. But don’t worry — you don’t have to do physically difficult workouts to reap the benefits.
Just 20 to 30 minutes a day of low- to moderate-intensity exercise can help you rejuvenate your microbiome and enjoy the positive effects.
- Walk, row, lift weights, or run 20 to 30 minutes a day.
6. Eat Plenty of Prebiotics
Probiotics are all the rage right now. You can get them through supplements, in yogurts, and in fermented foods like kimchi and kefir.
Just as important, however, are prebiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible bits of fiber that you get from the foods you eat. The fiber passes through your gastrointestinal tract, and then, when it gets to your colon, it ferments. The fermentation process releases healthy bacteria into your gut.
On the other hand, probiotics are live bacteria that you introduce into your gut. Both are crucial for your health, and even if you take a probiotic supplement or eat probiotic-rich food, you need to make sure you’re ingesting adequate amounts of prebiotics as well.
One study found that obese women who consumed prebiotics enjoyed higher levels of beneficial bacteria strains like Bifidobacterium and Faecalibacterium. What’s more, the women’s improved gut profile actually helped them lose weight during the course of the study.45
- Add plenty of prebiotic foods to your diet every day. These include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, flaxseed, and seaweed.
7. Cut the Artificial Sweeteners
But artificial sweeteners are deadly for your gut health. Aspartame, the popular sweetener used in chewing gum and sodas, is one of the worst offenders. It has been shown to kill off healthy bacteria in your gut like Bacteroidetes, while increasing dangerous disease-causing strains like Clostridium and Enterobacteriaceae.48
Another study was able to link artificial sweeteners with a change in the microbiota, which in turn led to glucose intolerance and metabolic disease.49
Cut the artificial sweeteners out ASAP. Since the biggest sources of these sweeteners are sodas and junk food, by avoiding artificial sweeteners, you’ll improve your diet at the same time.
While you should always limit your sugar intake, if you have to use a sweetener, try to use healthier ones. Molasses, maple syrup, and monk fruit are all healthier alternatives to plain sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Your gut health is inextricably linked to the health of the rest of your body. And taking care of your gut will allow your gut to take care of you. By following these seven steps, you’ll set yourself up for an improved microbiome and a healthier you.
To your health, Alex Reid
President, Clear Health Now
To your health,