The trillions of microbes that live in our digestive tract, collectively called the gut microbiome, play an integral role in our health. An imbalance in these gut bacteria can contribute to problems like inflammation, weakened immunity, and poor digestion.
The good news is that there are practical, daily habits we can adopt to optimize our microbiome and support overall well-being.
This informative article outlines eight science-backed strategies to improve gut health through simple lifestyle measures. Implementing even a few of these tips can profoundly impact your digestive function and health over time.
1. Eat More Fiber
Fiber is crucial for gut health, as it feeds the healthy bacteria in your microbiome. While getting at least 25-30 grams per day is recommended, it is also advised to increase fiber intake gradually to allow your body to adjust to it. You can incorporate high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet.
When increasing fiber, be sure also to increase water intake. Aim for at least 64 ounces per day to help fiber move through the digestive tract efficiently. Staying hydrated will also help prevent uncomfortable side effects like bloating and gas.
Additionally, get fiber from diverse sources and try to incorporate both soluble and insoluble varieties. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like texture and helps feed good bacteria. Insoluble does not dissolve and adds bulk to stool. Both play important roles in digestion and gut health.
2. Take Probiotic Supplements
Probiotic supplements can help replenish healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome. Look for broad-spectrum products that contain a diversity of bacterial strains to match what is normally found in the human gut.
When choosing a probiotic, go for reputable brands like Thorne that offer high-quality supplements. Considering trusted brands as a potential choice can provide assurance about the product’s quality.
It is recommended to take probiotics consistently, as the effects may diminish if you stop taking them. Remember, those with compromised immune systems need to exercise caution when taking any supplements. Therefore, work with your doctor to determine the appropriate probiotics and dosage for your needs.
3. Eat Fermented Foods
Consuming fermented foods is an easy and natural way to add more beneficial bacteria into your gut microbiome. Try incorporating at least one serving daily of raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, miso or tempeh.
When choosing fermented foods, look for brands that contain live and active cultures, and avoid pasteurized varieties that have been stripped of probiotics. You can also easily ferment vegetables like carrots, radishes, and cabbage at home with just salt and water. Adding a starter culture can kick-start the fermentation process.
Pair fermented foods with prebiotic fibers to help nourish the probiotics. Gradually increase intake, as too much too fast may cause temporary gas and bloating.
4. Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough fluids is vital for supporting every aspect of gut health. Water keeps stools soft and bowel movements regular to prevent constipation. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water daily as a general guideline. Increase intake during hot weather or exercise. Here are some tips to follow:
- Flavor water with fresh fruit slices or herbs to encourage drinking it.
- Herbal teas, bone broths, diluted fruit juices, and coconut water also contribute to fluid intake.
- Avoid drinking too much coffee, soda, or alcohol, as these can promote dehydration or gut irritation.
- Carry a refillable water bottle as a reminder to sip throughout the day.
- If urination decreases or urine darkens, increase water intake.
Proper hydration provides an optimal environment for your gut bacteria to thrive.
5. Get Adequate Sleep
Getting adequate sleep is vital for optimal gut health and function. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night on a consistent schedule. Having a relaxing bedtime routine, limiting caffeine, and avoiding screens before bed all support healthy sleep habits.
Getting enough high-quality sleep helps regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can negatively impact gut health if chronically elevated. The hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep, also exerts beneficial effects on gut function and microbiome balance. Make sleep a priority not just for your mind but also for the health of your digestive system.
To optimize sleep, be sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Consider blackout curtains and a white noise machine to minimize disturbances. Wind down with relaxing activities before bed, like light reading, gentle yoga, or taking a warm bath.
Adopting healthy sleep hygiene habits allows both the body and gut to recharge overnight.
6. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise provides multiple benefits for gut health, including improved circulation, stimulated digestion, and reduced stress. Aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Incorporate a mix of cardio, like walking, jogging, or cycling, along with strength training.
Intense exercise can disrupt digestion, so avoid strenuous workouts right before or after large meals, which can cause discomfort. On the other hand, light movement, like walking after eating, may aid digestion. Yoga poses that twist and stretch the core can gently massage abdominal organs and support motility.
Movement is medicine for both optimal physical and gut health.
7. Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics
Antibiotics disrupt the delicate balance of gut bacteria by killing off beneficial strains along with the infection-causing ones. Only take antibiotics when truly needed for illnesses like strep throat or a UTI. And always complete the full course as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
After taking antibiotics, focus on restoring your microbiome through diet.
- Eat prebiotic fibers like garlic, onions, bananas, and oats, which provide “food” for probiotics.
- Take probiotic supplements temporarily to repopulate healthy bacteria.
- Consume fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, which naturally contain probiotics.
Talk with your doctor about options like fecal transplants or microbial ecosystem therapeutics after repeated antibiotic use. While antibiotics have an important place in medicine, they should be used judiciously to minimize long-term effects on the gut microbiome and health.
8. Manage Medications
Some commonly prescribed medications like antacids, painkillers, and antidepressants can negatively impact gut bacteria. Speak with your doctor about alternative options if you take these long-term. However, never stop medications abruptly without medical guidance. Always take prescription medications as directed.
When starting a new medication, introduce it slowly and be attuned to any digestive changes. Take medications with food if they cause stomach upset. The right medication regimen optimized for your microbiome is ideal.
Optimizing your daily habits can go a long way toward supporting a healthy gut microbiome. Focus on getting more fiber, probiotics, fermented foods, fluids, and sleep. Manage stress levels and avoid unnecessary antibiotics and artificial sweeteners. Pair these lifestyle measures with eating a balanced, whole-food diet low in processed foods. Be patient, as it can take time to see improvements. With consistency, these simple habits will help nourish your gut and your overall health.