You have probably heard that your gut health is important, but why?
Your body is home to trillions of microscopic organisms including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. In fact, bacterial cells greatly outnumber human cells in the body.1 Of the thousands of bacterial species present in the body, only a minority cause disease. The vast majority are actually beneficial and play crucial roles in the healthy functioning of your body.
Many of these organisms reside in the intestines. Your gut microbiome has far-reaching effects throughout the body. The gut microbiome plays an important role in gut, heart, and brain health as well as regulating the immune system and reducing inflammation.2
Unfortunately, as our society has become more industrialized, we have seen a decrease in our microbiome diversity as well as an increase in chronic inflammation and its associated diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. These types of noncommunicable conditions are responsible for 71% of deaths globally.3
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
Studies have shown a decrease in gut microbial diversity when immigrants come to the United States and adopt our industrialized diet. An associated increase in BMI and levels of inflammatory markers have also been observed.4
In one study, a group of African Americans swapped diets with a group of rural Africans. Within just two weeks, researchers measured significant changes in their microbiota and markers of cancer risk.5
These observations have led to further studies that show improving the gut microbiome through the consumption of fermented foods is associated with weight maintenance as well as decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.6
A recent study demonstrated measurable increases in gut microbial diversity as well as a decrease in inflammatory markers associated with chronic diseases in only 17 weeks of consuming a few servings of fermented foods each day.7
These studies demonstrate that improving the gut microbiome through dietary changes is an effective way to improve overall health, decrease inflammation, and prevent disease.
HOW DO I IMPROVE MY GUT HEALTH?
- Eat a wide variety of plants. Vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, and seeds contain fiber and healthy carbohydrates that fuel the growth of healthy gut microbes.
- Eat fermented foods. Unsweetened yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha contain beneficial bacteria that promote positive shifts in gut microbial diversity.
- Limit refined carbohydrates and added sugars. High sugar intake from processed foods can contribute to an overgrowth of unhealthy gut microorganisms.8 Many fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir that would be beneficial to your microbiome contain added sugar that offsets the benefit so be sure to check the labels before purchasing. Learn 5 strategies to kick the sugar habit.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. Some artificial sweeteners result in detrimental changes to the gut microbiome.9
- Only use antibiotics when medically necessary. Antibiotic medications kill both bad and good bacteria and should only be used as prescribed by a medical doctor for treating a bacterial infection.10 Special care should be taken to restore the microbiota following antibiotic treatment.
- Breastfeed babies when possible. Breastfed babies develop better microbiomes than those that are bottle-fed.11
- Don’t be afraid of a little dirt. Our microbiomes evolved in synergy with the microbiomes of the soil around us. Overly sanitized conditions as well as modern agricultural practices have weakened our soil diversity and decreased our contact with healthy microbes in our environment.12
- Take a probiotic supplement. High-quality probiotic supplements contain many different bacterial strains that can repopulate the gut. Read more about why probiotics are essential to your gut health.