Gut health has certainly received a lot of attention lately. This is because scientists are just starting to uncover how the gut interconnects with every other system in the body–possibly all the way up to the brain!
It’s possible that the types of bacteria found in our gut may influence the health of the brain, our immune system, our ability to lose weight, and even our risk for developing diabetes. Specifically, researchers have been spending a lot of time exploring this thing called the microbiome.
One of the biggest challenges when studying the microbiome is actually trying to define it. Even those that specialize in studying it aren’t really sure how to define it (or even what to call it). Some use the term microbiota as a synonym for the microbiome.
What we can agree on is that, first, we’re talking about the good bacteria found in the gut. And, we’re talking about LOTS of them; it is estimated that each person has anywhere from 10-100 trillion of these good bacteria in our intestines. These are good bacteria–they help keep us healthy.
What’s amazing is that each person’s microbiome is different. There are lots of different strains or species of these good bacteria within each person, but in different quantities. It is believed there are at least 400 different species of these good bacteria within each person. It’s these different quantities that make everyone’s microbiome unique to each person.
Researchers can agree that it is always a good idea to try to preserve the health of your gut. So, how do we do this?
What Destroys a Healthy Gut?
Certain things can actually injure the microbiome. To be clear, it would be quite a feat to destroy all of the good bacteria found there (it’s estimated we have billions of good bacteria at any given time in our intestines), but it is possible to temporarily decrease the amount of these good bacteria in the gut. One of the most common ways this happens is by taking antibiotics.
We take antibiotics to help us get over bacterial infections. The trouble is these medications don’t know the difference between good versus bad bacteria. Antibiotics just kill bacteria–good and bad–it doesn’t matter. Please don’t get me wrong. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics because you have an infection like bacterial pneumonia, strep throat, or a sinus infection for example, please take them! If you skip taking your antibiotics, the infection can spread and cause much more serious problems.
Let’s say you’ve finished your course of antibiotics and want to get the numbers of good bacteria back to a healthy level. How might you go about doing that?
How to Keep a Healthy Gut
Eat Fiber Rich Foods
One of the best ways to do this to consume fiber-rich foods.
- whole grains
These will support the regrowth of beneficial gut bacteria. Consuming a combination of these foods will provide your body with short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fats help the body create more healthy gut bacteria.
At this time, it’s not worth going out and buying short-chain fatty acid supplements. Instead, eating the fiber-rich foods above would be the way to go. If you can consume somewhere between 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day from these foods, you will replenish those good gut bacteria in no time.
What about probiotics, like those found in yogurt? Probiotics are live bacteria that support the health of our microbiome. And, yes, foods like yogurt, Kefir, and Yakult contain lots of probiotics.
The trouble is we don’t really know how helpful these foods are when it comes to actually increasing the number of good bacteria in your gut. This is because these foods have to first pass through the stomach before they get to the intestine. The stomach is a pretty harsh environment for most things. It’s possible that many of those good bacteria are destroyed before
they get to the intestines, where they can thrive.
We must also be careful before supplementing with probiotics, as well. As I’ve mentioned many times before, the supplement industry is kind of like the Wild West right now. Supplement manufacturers are creating products that aren’t being tested by independent third parties, so they are putting fillers in their products and marketing them as supplements. It is very possible that you could go out and purchase what you think is a probiotic supplement, but if we were to actually analyze the product to see what it’s truly made of, we might find it contains no good bacteria at all. Or, if the product does contain good bacteria, there aren’t enough of them to make a difference.
It really comes back to eating whole foods that are good sources of dietary fiber. Again, those are foods like beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, oats, fruits and vegetables. You know, all of the stuff I end up recommending we consume regularly anyway.
Another way to promote gut health is through exercise. Walking, jogging, and running may promote gut health because these activities help keep things inside the intestines moving along. In fact, a common treatment for constipation is to take regular walks or go for a light jog.
Lastly, stay hydrated. No need to go overboard here, but drink enough water so that your urine is a pale, lemonade-like color. If your urine is clear most of the time, you’re drinking too much water. You don’t need to over-hydrate because you can actually excrete vitamins and minerals that way. If your urine is darker than lemonade, you need to hydrate more.
Keeping your gut healthy really comes down to three things:
- Eat foods that are good sources of fiber (beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables)
- Drink enough water so that your urine is a pale yellow color.
If you’re able to do one or more of these things regularly, chances are, your gut will thank you!