the gut is one of those body systems that has a more far-reaching effect on our health than we realize. It’s not just about digestion. The trillions of beneficial bacteria that comprise the gut microbiota are a key player in the immune system, and the gut and brain share a unique and fundamental connection. So it’s a good idea not to think of gut health as an everyday pursuit, not just something to be addressed when symptoms surface. These are gut health tips that really work, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Not surprisingly, your gut health is highly dependent on what you eat. A diet high in processed foods and fast food can kill beneficial bacteria in the gut that improve digestion and bolster the immune system. Conversely, “the low FODMAP diet is a good example of a diet good for the gut,” says Jonathan Kung, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York City. This diet restricts certain simple carbs that are hard for some people to digest, emphasizing whole foods instead. “Eating a diet rich in antioxidants such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, spinach, kale, green tea, and even dark chocolate may help prevent or decrease gut imbalances,” says Kung.
The good bacteria that resides in the gut, also known as the gut microbiota, is a fundamental component of the immune system. Taking probiotics (supplements or foods containing beneficial bacteria) can be good for the gut. According to Harvard Medical Schoolthey may improve issues like diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and other uncomfortable health conditions.
Consuming a diet high in fiber is also important for gut health: It’s when fiber begins to ferment in the large intestine that good gut bacteria is produced and harmful bacteria is suppressed. Fiber is a prebiotic, meaning it’s what probiotics use for food. If you’re taking probiotics in the hope of improving your gut health without sufficient fiber, they won’t work as well. For overall health, experts recommended that women consume at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams daily.
Alcohol can kill beneficial gut bacteria and irritate the stomach lining, leading to a condition called gastritis. For good gut health—and overall health, including a reduction in heart disease and cancer risk—drink only in moderation. Experts say that means no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.
To keep your gut healthy, take antibiotics only when necessary. These medications can kill off the healthy bacteria that comprise the gut microbiome. “Antibiotic use can have several negative effects on the gut microbiota, including reduced species diversity, altered metabolic activity, and the selection of antibiotic-resistant organisms,” wrote authors of a 2020 review of studies in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. “There is also evidence that early childhood exposure to antibiotics can lead to several gastrointestinal, immunologic, and neurocognitive conditions. The increase in the use of antibiotics in recent years suggests that these problems are likely to become more acute or more prevalent in the future. ”
Stress is an underrated factor in health; it can wreak havoc on the heart, immune system and gut. Stress has been associated with gut-related issues like IBS (inflammatory bowel disease) and leaky gut. Experts believe that there’s a connection between the gut and the brain—some even call the gut the “second brain.” “Stress can affect brain-gut communication, and may trigger pain, bloating, and other gut discomfort to be felt more easily,” says the American Psychological Association. “Stress is associated with changes in gut bacteria which in turn can influence mood.” Reducing stress—via methods like exercise and relaxation techniques—is important for overall health.
And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more