If you’re interested in wellness, you’ve likely come across the term “gut health” in recent years. A variety of products ranging from supplements to drinks claim they can improve gut health, and as a result, a whole slew of health problems. Consumers facing these claims might wonder if they’re true. Gut health is real, but researchers are just beginning to understand it. Keep reading to learn what people mean when they talk about gut health and what you can do to help your gut stay healthy.
Understanding the Microbome
When health professionals and wellness marketers use the term “gut health,” they’re generally referring to something more specific than a digestive system free from major problems.
Your intestines are home to about 100 trillion microorganisms. Most of these are bacteria, but among them are viruses, fungi, and other microbes. Together, they are called your “gut microbiota,” and their collection of genomes is your “gut microbiome.” The term “microbiome” has mainstream popularity, and is often used interchangeably with “microbiota.”
Although researchers know very little about the gut microbiome, they’ve learned that different patterns of bacteria are associated with different health outcomes. Although there aren’t exactly “good” and “bad” bacteria like some marketers claim, high or low amounts of certain types of bacteria have been associated with skin problems, cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, mental health issues, and other problems.
When people refer to “good” gut health, they mean a person has a microbiome with a combination of bacteria that supports their health. Conversely, “bad” gut health means a person is host to a combination of bacteria that’s detrimental to their overall health. Generally, more diverse gut microbiomes are healthier than less diverse microbiomes.
Symptoms of An Unhealthy Gut:
Bad Taste in Mouth
What Improves Gut Health?
Gut health begins early. Babies that are born vaginally generally have a more diverse gut microbiome than babies born via c-section. Babies that breastfeed generally have a more diverse gut microbiome than those who drink formula. While this information might influence pregnant women’s decision-making, it doesn’t do much for adults wanting to improve their own gut microbiomes.
The foods you eat likely have the largest impact on your
gut health. The following foods have been associated with increased gut microbiome diversity:
• A diverse diet made of a wide variety of foods
• Plant foods high in fiber (leafy greens, carrots, beets, broccoli)
• Whole grains
• Fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled foods)
• Fermented drinks (kefir, kombucha)
• Probiotic supplements
Readers should know that while probiotic supplements have led to improved gut health in some people, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome, they might not work for everyone. Since everyone’s gut microbiome is different and there’s currently no way to find out which bacteria you have a lot or a little of, it’s difficult to determine which probiotics would benefit you.
If you want to try probiotics, do so on a trial and error basis. If a supplement causes side effects such as diarrhea or bloating even after you’ve beentaking it for a few days, it probably isn’t doing your gut microbiome any good.
Foods aren’t the only factors that can improve your gut microbiome. Relaxation, high-quality sleep, exercise, and plenty of water also promote good gut health.
What Worsens Gut Health?
Just as the foods and supplements you consume can improve
your gut health, they can also worsen it. Here are items known
to throw gut microbiomes off balance, especially when consumed in excess:
• Animal-based protein (meat, eggs, dairy)
• High-sugar foods (sweets and simple carbs)
• Artificial sweeteners
• Saturated fats (found in animal products)
• Trans fats (found in highly-processed and fried foods)
• Foods you’re allergic to or intolerant of
• Antibiotic medications
Readers should be aware that antibiotics often serve a very important function, and can even be life-saving. We are not suggesting you shouldn’t take needed antibiotics. That said, experts believe that 30% of all antibiotic prescriptions aren’t medically necessary.
Since lifestyle habits can promote a healthy gut microbiome, the opposite habits can negatively affect your gut health. Feeling large amounts of stress, receiving too little sleep, drinking too little water, and not exercising enough can all hurt the gut microbiome.
Our gut microbiomes are amazing, living worlds, and research shows when we promote their health, it benefits our health as well. Unfortunately, experts don’t yet fully understand how the thousands of bacteria strains in our guts affect us. Until they find out, eating a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to promote gut health.