Gut health is fundamental to our overall health, and there are a few things you can do to boost your gut health. In this article, we will discuss lifestyle changes you can make that will help to create a healthy and diverse gut microbiome to support overall wellness.
1 - Get Enough Quality Sleep!
It’s well known that sleep is fundamental to our health, but did you know it’s important for your gut health, too? Our digestive tract works hard whilst we sleep to digest our food, absorb any nutrients left over and get the waste ready to be expelled.
When your sleep is limited, your hormones can become unbalanced; namely, cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. An increase in cortisol can cause leaky gut, a condition where toxins and even food can pass through the intestine and into the bloodstream, causing health issues in the body.1
A tip to help digestion whilst you sleep is not eating in the hours before bedtime. Your body needs to work hard to rejuvenate and rest at night, so making it digest new food and drink entries means working harder.
Also, sleep on your left side! The stomach's natural position is on the left-hand side of your body, so sleeping this way allows gravity to help move the contents through the digestive tract.10 If you sleep on the right side, gravity is working against you.
2 - Regular Exercise
Exercise is fundamental to good gut health. Research has shown that regular exercise can impact your gut microbiome in as little as 6 weeks!2 Exercise can help diversify the gut microbiome's good bacteria, boosting its ability to overwhelm the bad bacteria and stop them from causing illness.
Exercise can help the good gut bacteria to thrive, assisting in producing short-chain fatty acids. These are essential for the body’s function and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, type 2 diabetes, health risks associated with obesity and heart disease.3
3 - Take a Probiotic Supplement
Diversifying the gut microbiome is important to maintain gut health, which is essential for overall wellbeing. Probiotics add new strains of good bacteria into the gut microbiome, making it stronger and healthier.
This can have a whole host of health benefits, which you can read about in our articles “What are Probiotics?” “Can Probiotics Help with Your Immunity?” “Can Probiotics Help with IBS?” and “Can Probiotics Help with Weight Loss?”.
4 - Keep a Food Diary
Keeping a food diary can help discover food intolerances. Food intolerances can be heavy on the gut, limiting its ability to digest the food and causing digestive problems such as excess gas, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
Food intolerances don’t always show up immediately, which is why a food diary can be helpful. For example, if you suffer digestive discomfort a few hours or days after consuming gluten, you can try removing gluten from your diet and monitor your symptoms.
5 - Reduce Stress
Obviously, this one is easier said than done, but it’s worth considering if there are any unnecessary stresses in your life that you could remove.
Stress can wreak havoc on your gut, as excess stress releases too much of the hormone cortisol, which can cause the liver to release glucose for a fast energy boost. The liver is a part of the gastrointestinal tract, and disruption of the liver can affect the entire system.4
6 - Mindfulness
Stress is sometimes unavoidable, but how you manage stress isn’t. Practising mindfulness for a short period every day can reduce the impact of stress on your body and help you to cope better when under pressure.
Mindfulness encourages you to focus on the here and now, which some find helps them to feel less stressed about the future or the past, have greater self-esteem and feel more satisfied in their lives.5
7 - Stop Smoking
Smoking isn’t just bad for the lungs; it can weaken the muscles of the food pipe and cause acid reflux by allowing acid from the stomach to come back up. Although reflux can be uncomfortable, it can also lead to inflammatory bowel conditions or worsen symptoms of existing conditions.
Acid is supposed to be contained in the right places, so weakening the defence mechanisms and allowing acid to move freely can disrupt the body.
8 - Don’t Binge Drink
Binge drinking can do a lot of damage to the gut. Firstly, it can cause excess acid production and lead to acid reflux. This, like smoking, can lead to inflammatory bowel conditions.
Binge-drinking can also lead to dehydration, as alcohol is a dehydrating substance. The higher the alcohol content, the more dehydrating it is, meaning if you are drinking spirits straight, you are most likely to suffer from dehydration.6
Hydration is fundamental for the gut to function; it needs fluid to move the food you have consumed throughout the digestive system, absorb nutrients and remove waste.
If this cannot be achieved, your intestinal lining can wear thin, leading to leaky gut - a condition in which toxins can enter the bloodstream and cause health issues.7
9 - Eat More Fibre
Prebiotic fibre is the absolute best food for the gut microbiome. It feeds the good bacteria, allowing them to grow strong and multiply. If the good bacteria aren’t fed, they can feed on the intestinal lining, leading to leaky gut.
Prebiotic fibre is a non-digestible substance, which means it arrives in our gut relatively intact and ready to be eaten for nutrients by the good bacteria.8
Fibre is essential for us to regulate bowel movements and is particularly useful if you suffer from diarrhoea, as it adds bulk to your stool.
10 - Look After Your Immune System
Your immune system is mainly based in the gut, so all of these lifestyle factors we’ve discussed will positively impact your immune system. If your immune system is out of whack, it can mean that foreign invaders enter the gut more quickly and cause issues in the body.
To look after your immune system, you must limit the number of foreign invaders entering the body through the mouth. This means washing your hands, keeping a distance from contagiously ill people and keeping fingernails short, clean, and out of your mouth.9
The fingernails can be a huge breeding ground for bacteria, and if this bacteria enters your mouth, you can become ill. If the immune system spends unnecessary time fighting foreign invaders, it cannot focus on maintaining your body's health.
Including just a few of these lifestyle changes can positively impact your gut's health and, therefore, your overall wellbeing. Gut health is crucial to a happy and healthy life, so ensure you take care of yourself wherever possible.
As always, we recommend speaking to your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet and lifestyle, particularly exercise and supplementation.