Here are some steps you can take to support a healthier microbiome:
1. Aim to eat a well-balanced diet
Your diet plays a pivotal role in nurturing a healthy gut. The food you eat is broken down, digested, and absorbed as it moves through your gastrointestinal tract. Your colon, the large intestine, has poor digestive capacity, so by the time your food reaches the colon, your body relies on your microbiome to finish the digestive process. The microbes in your gut use your food to produce important metabolites, such as synthesizing vitamins that we can’t produce ourselves or producing short-chain fatty acids, which studies have described as “key mediators” of cell function. This is one reason why the food we eat matters so much. To support your gut health, opt for a diet rich in fiber, lean proteins, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, consider adding anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, turmeric, and leafy greens to your meals. These choices can contribute to a healthier gut environment.
2. Prioritize eating probiotic and prebiotic foods
One of the cornerstones of gut health lies in the foods you consume, as this is where all of your food is broken down and absorbed. Probiotic foods introduce live beneficial bacteria into your gut, while prebiotic foods provide the sustenance for the beneficial bacteria already present in your digestive system. Together, they promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, aiding in the restoration of microbial balance.
Probiotic Foods: A good rule of thumb is to choose fermented foods. These include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha, among others. These fermented foods introduce specific strains of beneficial bacteria into your gut, contributing to a more diverse and healthy microbiome.
Prebiotic Foods: Incorporate prebiotics like chicory root, garlic, onions, leeks, and bananas into your diet. These foods are rich in fiber and compounds that remain undigested by your body and serve as nourishment for the beneficial microbes.
3. Limit sugar and processed foods.
High sugar and processed foods can negatively impact your gut bacteria and cause inflammation in your digestive system. Ready-to-eat foods often contain additives such as preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, and sweeteners which have been linked to gut inflammation and metabolic syndrome. High dietary sugar also increases Proteobacteria, which is a signature of dysbiosis, and decreases Bacteroidetes, which are generally beneficial bacteria. Prioritize whole and minimally processed foods which are in their originally harvested form, like fruits and vegetables, or which have minimal ingredients that are easily recognizable.
4. Stay hydrated
Staying adequately hydrated is essential for supporting digestion and maintaining the mucosal lining of your gut. Drinking plenty of water is a simple yet effective way to promote gut health. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend that men drink a total of 3.7L of water per day and women drink 2.7L of water per day. This hydration can come from beverages other than water, such as tea or kombucha, or from foods that have high water content, such as watermelon or cucumbers.
5. Focus on managing your stress
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system by triggering the release of stress hormones. To maintain a balanced gut-brain axis and decrease the effects of stress on your body, consider incorporating stress-reduction techniques into your routine. Daily practices of meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help alleviate stress's impact on your gut health. Try starting in small increments of 1-5 minutes per day and working up to longer periods.
6. Exercise regularly
Physical activity benefits not only your body and mind but also your gut. Engaging in regular exercise stimulates gut motility which helps to maintain a healthy gut. Studies have also shown that exercise can enhance the number of beneficial bacteria and increase microbe diversity. If you don’t already have an exercise routine, start small with activities like walking or join a friend on their exercise routine. You do not have to become a professional athlete, but aim for a routine that keeps you active and moving throughout the day.
7. Prioritize consistent, high quality sleep
Quality sleep supports your overall health and immune system while reducing inflammation, including within your gut. One study showed that increased microbiome diversity was associated with improved sleep time and sleep efficiency. Prioritize getting consistent, restful sleep for between 7-9 hours each night to support your gut microbiome. Small changes to your lifestyle like going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, limiting blue light exposure before bed, and decreasing caffeine intake late in the day can improve your sleep.
8. Decrease alcohol consumption
If you have ever felt that your digestive system feels worse while drinking alcohol or the day after, you are not wrong. Alcohol, especially when consumed chronically or in large amounts, is linked with intestinal inflammation and changes in your microbiota composition. Reducing your alcohol consumption can reduce stress on your gut
9. Avoid overuse of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Excessive use of NSAIDs can harm the lining of your gut and can impact the function and composition of the gut microbiota. Further, a dysbiotic gut can change the way you absorb and metabolize NSAIDs, potentially modulating therapeutic efficacy and toxicity. If you find yourself frequently relying on these medications, consult with your healthcare provider for alternatives that won't compromise your gut health.
10. Limit antibiotic use
Antibiotics should be used judiciously and only when necessary. Prolonged or unnecessary antibiotic use can disrupt your gut microbiome. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions regarding antibiotic use to minimize any potential negative impacts on your gut health. If it is medically necessary for you to take antibiotics, consider prioritizing other ways that you can support your gut health during and after your antibiotic treatment.