Gut health has been a hot topic for a while now as there is an increase in gut-related conditions like Crohns, colitics, diverticulitis, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease etc. Gut health means everything that happens in your intestinal tract so obviously it is a very vast area that is constantly evolving as more research studies come out. Maintaining a healthy gut is super important because it directly or indirectly impacts our health & well-being more than we actually realize. It is virtually impossible for me to cover everything on gut health right now but I have summarized 5 Things You Should Do For Better Gut Health to get started.
Be familiar with your regular gastrointestinal (GI) patterns : We all have different GI routines but if you deal with constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, bloating, gas VERY frequently – that is not normal. A little upset stomach, bloating, and gas every now and then is pretty common but if you deal with it on a regular basis, please pay attention, keep a food diary to see if there is a trend after you eat certain foods, and inform your doctor/see a GI specialist dietitian! My RD friend Kylie wrote a post on “Being bloated is a side effect of being human” which you should totally read. A lot of people do not like talking about constipation, indigestion, bloating etc but these are common signs of GI issues that is better to get checked out. Most of the time, a change in your lifestyle will resolve the issue but for complicated cases, your physician/dietitian may suggest blood test, do a endoscope, or biopsy for better evaluation.
Assess your lifestyle habits : What you eat and drink directly impacts your gut health so be mindful of your eating habits. For example, constipation is often caused by inadequate fiber, fluids, and activity so if you eat more of those nutrients and be physically active, constipation will probably resolve but if you ignore the problem for too long, it could lead to diverticular disease. Indigestion is a very common condition and some possible causes includes overeating or eating too quickly, greasy/spicy foods, too much caffeine, alcohol, chocolate or carbonated beverages, or smoking. Instead of ignoring the root cause or being okay with discomfort, perhaps look into making some lifestyle changes.
Medications such as antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (for heart burn, indigestion) and anti-inflammatory like ibufopen has a role to play but improper or long term use may decrease gut diversity. Being on antibiotics long term can wipe out both good and bad bacteria so make sure to eat probiotics/prebiotics (more on it below).
Manage your stress better : Stress & anxiety are not good for your GI system. It’s really interesting how stress can alter gastric secretion, gut motility, cause heart burn, affect gut bacteria etc. I found this extremely resourceful article by RD Kelsey Kinney on Stress & Digestive Problems that is totally worth a read.
Eat more probiotics & prebiotics : Our gut has trillions of bacteria to help maintain the gut flora, assist with digestion, and play a role in immune system among many other things. There are things called probiotics (live good bacteria and yeasts to help keep your gut healthy) and prebiotics (non-digestible fiber that acts as food for probiotics) are both important for your gut health. Good sources of probiotics include yogurt (look “live or active cultures”), sauerkraut (or try Nepali style Fermented Radish), miso soup, fermented, soft cheeses (like Gouda), sourbread, kombucha –>read this post first though. You can get prebiotics from food such as asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, and legumes.
You can get probiotics in the form of supplements however not all probiotic supplements are created equal. Make sure the supplement has at least these things:
Look for many different strains of bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Check the potency count (CFUs or “colony forming units”) to see how many bacteria you will receive per dose. However, higher CFU doesn’t necessarily mean better quality or effectiveness.
Make sure the shelf life of CFU is long enough to retain their viability and is in a resealable package.
I found this informational article from Today’s Dietitian addressing more on probiotic supplements.
Be physically active : It may sound strange but there are many benefits of being physically active for your gut health. Conditions such as constipation and acid reflex can be relieved and you decrease the risk of colon cancer by being more physically active. Studies have suggested that exercise may have an influence on the gut microbiota as they promote microbial diversity and better intestinal barrier function. It is a new area of interest so nothing is conclusive right although here is a great review article if you are further interested.
Like I said, gut health involves so much more than things I addressed above but please remember that everyone has a unique gut profile so what works for you may or may not work for me. You should always listen to your body, pay attention to symptoms, and be mindful of your lifestyle choices. “5 Things You Should Do For Better Gut Health” is a quick guide to get you started towards healthier gut and I hope you will make necessary adjustments for your own health & well-being.