The gut is often referred to as the body’s “second brain,” because like the brain, the gut impacts virtually every bodily system in one way or another. Poor gut health is linked to fatigue, inflammatory disease, skin conditions, a variety of chronic diseases, and even mental health. It’s vitally important to be mindful of digestive health and take steps to preserve the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut.
We’ve put together list list of 25 ways to improve gut health to help you start taking action today to promote a healthy gut, increase your energy levels, reduce the risk of disease, eliminate skin conditions and other inflammatory conditions throughout the body, and improve your overall well-being. If you’re looking for ways to foster a healthy gut, here are 25 tips to get you started (click on a link for more detail):
- Consume a diversity of foods.
- Follow the four Rs.
- Limit your use of antibacterial soaps and alcohol-based sanitizers.
- Take probiotics to restore the gut’s optimal bacterial flora population.
- Eat whole foods that contain an abundance of good bacteria.
- Avoid overuse of antibiotics.
- Laugh a little.
- Take other steps to reduce stress.
- Limit high-fat and processed foods.
- Prebiotic-rich foods (such as high-fiber foods) provide a hospitable environment for healthy but bacteria.
- Pay attention to indicators of toxin buildup.
- Try intermittent fasting.
- Learn how your body responds to different foods to customize your diet.
- Avoid inflammatory foods.
- A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and yogurt promotes bacteria diversity in the gut.
- Bone broth can promote gut healing.
- Play in the garden or snuggle with your pets.
- Eat foods containing polyphenols.
- Check your hormones.
- Cut back on caffeine and alcohol.
- Find out what effect gluten has on your body (and mind).
- Cut back on added sugars.
- Kombucha has a healing effect on leaky gut.
- Add yellow and green vegetables to your diet.
- Eat clean and practice the 80/20 rule.
Ready for improved health and well-being thanks to a healthier gut? Read on to find out how you can start implementing these tips today for a healthier gut and improved overall health.
“Generally speaking, a diverse microbiota is considered to be a healthy one. This is because the more species of bacteria you have, the greater number of health benefits they may be able to contribute to.
“A diet consisting of different food types can lead to a diverse microbiota.
“Unfortunately, the Western diet is not very diverse and is rich in fat and sugar. In fact, it is estimated that 75% of the world’s food is produced from only 12 plant and 5 animal species.
“However, diets in certain rural regions are more diverse and rich in different plant sources.
“A few studies have shown that gut microbiota diversity is much greater in people from rural regions of Africa and South America than those from Europe or the US.” – Dr. Ruairi Robertson, 10 Ways to Improve Your Gut Bacteria, Based on Science, Authority Nutrition; Twitter: @AuthNutrition
2. Follow the four Rs. “In Functional Medicine, there is a very successful protocol called the 4Rs, which stands for Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, and Repair. There are many resources for learning more about the 4 R’s. I like Raphael Kellman, M.D.’s book, The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss. You can also listen to my interview with Dr. Kellman on my radio show, Flourish.
“The beautiful thing about the 4Rs protocol is that it doesn’t have to be followed in order. Once you remove the processed foods and toxins from your diet, you can start doing all of the remaining 3 steps together. Unless you suffer from a serious digestive disorder or other condition, you can follow the 4Rs on your own. Or, find a practitioner who can tailor the protocol to your specific needs.” – Christiane Northrup, M.D., How To Improve Your Gut Microbiome in A Day, DrNorthrup.com; Twitter: @DrChrisNorthrup
3. Limit your use of antibacterial soaps and alcohol-based sanitizers. “Our obsession with sanitization is making us sick. Ironic? The Sonnenburgs cite a May 2013 study published in the journal Pediatrics that found that children whose parents cleaned their dirty pacifier by sucking on it instead of boiling it in water were less likely to have eczema than the kids of the sanitization freaks. Two years ago, a team of scientists discovered why children who grow up in homes with a dog have a lower risk of developing allergies and asthma — they help diversify the microbiome community, of course. The study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that dog ownership is associated with a kind of house dust that exposes us to important strains of bacteria, like Lactobacillus. I believe it, based on the substantial dust and hairballs that used to grace every corner of our home when we had two Lab-Chow dogs. Soil, especially, has wonderful healing elements that we need. Gardening or weeding can serve as a way of boosting our immune systems.
“Most of the gut experts say we ought to be picky about the household cleaners we use to disinfect our homes. Most of them are like antibiotics: they obliterate everything, which includes some of the helpful bacteria we need to stay sane. The Sonnenburgs suggest using less toxic cleaners such as vinegar, castile soap, and lemon juice. Limiting our exposure to such chemicals as chlorine can help protect our health as well. If you’re a swimmer with gut issues, like I was, you might want to think about swapping the activity with a more microbiome-promoting exercise such as yoga. And avoid antibacterial soaps and alcohol-based sanitizers if you can.” – Therese Borchard, 10 Ways to Cultivate Good Gut Bacteria and Reduce Depression, Everyday Health; Twitter: @EverydayHealth
4. Take probiotics to restore the gut’s optimal bacterial flora population. “This is done with the introduction of probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. A probiotic is a good bacteria and is ingested to help reinforce and maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and to help fight illness. In general a healthy lower intestinal tract should contain around 85% good bacteria. This helps to combat any overgrowth of bad bacteria. Unfortunately in most people these percentages are skewed and this allows for the gut health to drastically decline. The human gut is home to bad bacteria like salmonella and clostridium, which is fine as long as they are kept in order and don’t get out of control.” – Brad Sly, The Four Rs: How To Restore Optimal Gut Health, Breaking Muscle; Twitter: @BreakingMuscle
5. Eat whole foods that contain an abundance of good bacteria. “You can also eat whole foods that are fermented and contain large amounts of good bacteria. Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, microalgae and coconut kefir are fantastic plant-based probiotic-rich foods. When looking for probiotic-rich foods, avoid vinegar-based and/or pasteurized varieties, since these elements kill good bacteria. You want to pick up (or make!) lacto-fermented probiotic foods (FYI–this is a plant-friendly approach, no whey is necessary). If you’re interested in making your own probiotic foods, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz is a popular book on the subject. Word to the wise: Get educated on fermenting at home before diving in–it can be risky if you don’t know what you’re doing!” – Kris Carr, How to Improve Your Gut Health, KrisCarr.com; Twitter: @Kris_Carr
6. Avoid overuse of antibiotics. “Antibiotics kill bacteria. Although that includes the bad bacteria that can make you sick, it also includes the good bacteria your body needs. This disruption of intestinal harmony can cause a lack of diversity among bacteria that’s sure to affect your health.” – Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM, 5 Tips to Help You Restore and Maintain Your Gut Health, Global Healing Center; Twitter: @GHChealth
7. Laugh a little. “There’s a reason why researchers talk about the ‘gut brain’ as a crucial part of your overall nervous system around 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, for example, is actually located in the gut. Brain health and gut health are connected. Stress or anxiety in your brain will rebound down to the gut: there’s a reason why Irritable Bowel Syndrome is so strongly associated with depression and mood disorders!
“Stress plays a role in almost every kind of gut flora problem – undergrowth, overgrowth, the wrong types of bacteria, lack of diversity, or whatever else might be troubling you. And that implies that stress-reducing activity will probably help almost any gut.
“One practical way to make that happen is to find a way to get a laugh out of yourself – and yes, there’s actually been a study on this. The researchers studied healthy controls and patients with atopic dermatitis, a disease typically accompanied by gut flora problems. The patients had notably different gut flora from the healthy controls. After watching funny movies every day for a week, their gut flora had changed to look much healthier.
“Finally, justification for watching as many adorable kitten/puppy/seal/red panda/penguin videos as your heart desires: it’s for your health!” – 5 Simple Ways to Support Your Gut Flora, Paleo Leap; Twitter: @PaleoLeap
8. Take other steps to reduce stress. “Stress may change the makeup of your gut flora. A 2011 ‘Brain, Behavior, and Immunity’ study reported that stressed-out mice (which had been left in a cage with aggressive mice!) experienced a plunge in beneficial bacteria and an increase in inflammatory chemicals in the blood serum.
“Stress ‘alters the functioning of the immune system — either by suppressing or enhancing its response to foreign invaders,’ says Ohio State University associate professor of oral biology Michael Bailey, the paper’s author.
9. Limit high-fat and processed foods. “We know that fatty foods are linked to obesity and inflammation.”Because these systemic disorders can then turn into more serious health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there is real reason for concern.”Studies have demonstrated that the problem with too much fat in the diet is that it inhibits the growth of healthy bacteria.”Because carbohydrates are digested very easily and absorbed into our small intestine without any help from the microbes, the gut bacteria have nothing to digest and end up eating the mucus lining of our intestines — which is meant to be a strong barrier between the gut and the rest of the body.”When the wall of the intestine is permeated, particles of food enter the bloodstream, and our immune system alerts our brain and other organs to attack the foreign substance, causing inflammation in various parts of our body.”As we have discussed, inflammation is the root of a lot of health problems.
“Similarly, sugar also feeds organisms like Candida Albican, a kind of fungus that grows in the gut and attacks the intestine wall.
10. Prebiotic-rich foods (such as high-fiber foods) provide a hospitable environment for healthy but bacteria. “I also want to give my new guests plenty of nourishment, to make them feel at home and inclined to stick around. That means serving up plenty of fiber-rich foods. In particular, I want to seek out foods that are high in soluble fiber, such as flax and chia seeds, beans and legumes, apples, oats and oat bran.” – Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS, Foods to Restore Your Intestinal Flora, Quick and Dirty Tips; Twitter: @quickdirtytips
11. Pay attention to indicators of toxin buildup. “The body expels solid wastes through the digestive tract, but if there is a blockage or an inefficient flow of elimination, then toxins build up. This can even lead to the reabsorption of toxins into the bloodstream, filtering through the wall of the colon (a problem commonly known as leaky gut). The toxins come from the normal by-products of metabolism (endogenous toxins) and from the endless chemicals, pesticides, pollutants and more from the outside world (exogenous toxins).
“There is a strong connection between your gut health and the quality of your skin. Is your skin breaking out? Breakouts can indicate toxic buildup in your system. Your elimination organs may be overwhelmed, which can encourage impurities to push out through your skin. There may be excessive phlegm buildup from overeating congestive, difficult-to-digest foods (such as dairy), or your digestive system may be compromised. So when you want your skin to be better, great products, while super important; simply aren’t going to cut it! You need to go deeper to get deeper, better results.
“More efficient digestion can also allow you to clean out toxins more productively and make it easier to restore and maintain your natural weight.” – Kimberly Snyder, 16 Ways To Improve Gut Health, The New Potato; Twitter: @TheNewPotato
12. Try intermittent fasting. “Intermittent fasting refers to a reduced ‘feeding window’ and extended ‘fasted state’. A classic way of approaching this is the 16/8 split.
“That means 16 hour fast and 8 hour feeding window. People will commonly run the fasting time between 9pm and 1pm, eating all of their calories then between the corresponding 1pm to 9pm window. This time split can be adjusted to fit your lifestyle and isn’t as hard to do as you would think if you are completely new to the idea of not eating for a slightly extended duration.
“Other fasting time splits could be:
- 12pm – 8pm
- 11am – 7pm
13. Learn how your body responds to different foods to customize your diet. “Having balanced hormones is extremely important. Hormones play a key role in maintaining health. Many hormones, and several essential vitamins and minerals, can only be absorbed through the gut and the digestive tract. If the PH in your gut is not healthy, these essentials are discarded through the waste process, and are never able to nourish and stablilize your body.
“Dr. Brady suggests that the most important thing you can do for your body is to feed it right. It might take some trial and error, but learning how your body responds to different foods will help you make better choices in the foods that you eat. White blood cells react differently to different foods, for different people. Discover which foods your body gets along with. Probiotics are an excellent way to maintain a healthy gut. Drink plenty of water and move around a lot, even if you don’t consider it exercise, try not to be sedentary. Still having difficulties improving your health? Dr. Brady talks about how some doctors are using parasites to achieve a healthy gut, relieving systemic inflammation. Find what works for you, and what helps you to feel your best. As you improve the health of your gut, you will begin to see massive changes in your overall health and wellbeing.” – 9 Reasons to Improve Your Gut Health, WorldHealth.net; Twitter: @Anti_AgingNews
14. Avoid inflammatory foods. “When it comes to inflammatory foods, highly processed and sugary foods are at the top of the list.
“‘Sugar is very inflammatory, it’s going to feed your bad bacteria and upset your balance of good and bad flora,’ cautions Lee Holmes, nutritionist and whole food chef, who runs a four week Heal Your Gut program on her website, Supercharged Food.
“Adds Angel [Dr Nicola Angel, sequencing facility manager and microbiome expert at the Australian Centre for Ecogenomics], ‘A lot of autoimmune diseases weren’t prevalent until our diet became highly processed. If you look at the microbiome of ancient people, as well as hunter gatherers who still exist today, they’re markedly different and you don’t have the correlation of diseases we have.'” – Zoe Muenier, Eat your way to good gut health, Good Food; Twitter: @goodfoodAU
15. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and yogurt promotes bacteria diversity in the gut. “Naturally, diet is important. ‘High amounts of carbohydrates and soda drinks are associated with reduced microbiota diversity, whereas diets high in fruits, vegetables and yogurts are linked with increased diversity,’ says Alexandra Zhernakova, a researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands whose work focuses on the composition of the gut microbiome. Because antibiotics are still used on Canadian farms to fatten livestock (a practice banned in Europe), look for meat and eggs that are antibiotic-free. Emma Allen-Vercoe, an associate professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Guelph, also recommends avoiding processed foods with artificial additives. ‘Most of these additives have never been assessed for their effects on gut microbes and those that have show detrimental effects,’ she says. Instead, feed kids high-fibre, unprocessed foods.” – Sydney Loney, 3 ways to improve your kid’s gut health after antibiotics, Today’s Parent; Twitter: @Todaysparent
16. Bone broth can promote gut healing. “Your grandmother or great-grandmother may have offered real chicken soup (not the stuff you buy in cans) to anyone who was sick with the flu or a cold.
“This was not just a gesture to offer comfort to someone who is ill, but real chicken soup contained bone broth which introduced lots of minerals and beneficial amino acids, including glutamine, into the body.
“Studies have shown that there is a significant link between glutamine and the repair of the epithelial lining of the gut.
“If you can’t make bone broth at home, you may want to consider buying bone broth from pasture-raised or grass-fed animals online.” – Kristen Michaelis, How to Recover Gut Health After Antibiotics, Food Renegade; Twitter: @FoodRenegade
17. Play in the garden or snuggle with your pets. “Both activities are easy ways for your child to encounter good bacteria while avoiding the ones that can make him sick. Our dog actually serves as an ideal conduit between the bacteria-laden dirt in our yard and our children. Instead of cringing when I see him nuzzling my daughters and licking their faces, I think about the benefits that the bacteria he’s carrying can bestow on them. For example, a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested that babies who grow up exposed to dogs are less likely to develop asthma before they reach age 6. As for gardening, it exposes children to bacteria from soil and animals. My kids routinely dig carrots out of our garden with their bare hands and quickly brush the dirt off before snacking on them. In fact, I view each unwashed carrot my girls eat as the ultimate vitamin: a fiber-filled supplement that nourishes the gut microbiome. And though I don’t have any lab results to prove that my kids’ guts are benefiting, they rarely get sick, and when they do, their illnesses never last long.” – Erica Sonnenburg, Ph.D., 5 Ways to Boost Your Kid’s Gut Health, Parents Magazine; Twitter: @parentsmagazine
18. Eat foods containing polyphenols. “You’ve probably heard that free-radical-fighting antioxidants known as polyphenols are essential in reducing inflammatory, disease-causing oxidative stress, but a study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemical Nutrition found an additional benefit might be due to their contribution to gut health. In rats fed a high-fat diet, only rats who also consumed an anthocyanin polyphenol extract (similar to what you’d find in blueberries) were able to decrease the damaging effect on the rats’ gut microbiota. Looking at the results together, the researchers speculated polyphenols may play a significant role in the prevention of degenerative diseases (as well as aiding in weight loss) because they improve your microbiome environment. What are you waiting for, grab these polyphenols, stat!” – Olivia Tarantino, How Good Gut Health Can Change Your Life, Eat This, Not That!; Twitter: @EatThisNotThat
19. Check your hormones. “A hormone imbalance can point a finger at potential gut dysfunction. Poor thyroid function can be due to an unhealthy gut as some of the less active thyroid hormone,T4, is converted to the more active thyroid hormone, T3, in the GI tract along with a required enzyme for the conversion called intestinal sulfate. The stress hormone, cortisol, increases as more and more pathogens penetrate the gut lining. This increased stress directly impacts important hormones such as pregnenolone, progesterone, and DHEA which leads to a decreased production of estradiol and testosterone. Lastly, melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the gut. If an individual has an unhealthy, more than likely, their melatonin levels will be decreased.” – Andy Scott, DHEd, MS, FDN-P, Pn1, NASM-CPT, CCWS, How You Can Improve Your Gut (and Overall) Health, Lifetime Training; Twitter: @Core3Training
20. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. “With a few changes, your good health bacteria can thrive and a happy gut is happy body. There are the obvious things you will need to reduce in your diet: sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed food. Then there is also the focus on good quality sleep and making sure you are not exposed to long periods of stress (Pilates is a good way to de-stress! See how Pilates has helped me in my life.).” – Sarah Vrancken, Follow Your Gut – Tips on How to Improve Your Gut Health, Kalm Pilates; Twitter: @KalmPilates
21. Find out what effect gluten has on your body (and mind). “For many people, limiting gluten will also have positive effect on their gut microbiome. The traditional methods of soaking, sprouting and souring grains in order to make them digestible and nutritious has been abandoned for a fast and convenient method of mass producing food.” – Dr. Josh Axe, The Gut-Brain Connection: What Remedies Can Both Heal & Improve It?, Dr. Axe; Twitter: @drjoshaxe
22. Cut back on added sugars. “At this point you might be saying to yourself, ‘The link between gut issues and health is understandable, but what if I think I already have leaky gut? What can I do now?’ The good news is that there are many effective strategies to heal the lining of the intestines and in turn also heal digestive issues and other chronic diseases related to leaky gut. A good place to start is to begin to cut back on or completely eliminate sources of added sugars. Some other helpful steps to take include:
- switch to an all-organic diet if possible
- determine and remove foods you are intolerant to (can be identified through testing or an elimination diet)
- eliminate other inflammatory foods (ie. cooking oils made with vegetable oils, highly processed foods, alcohol, etc.)
- consider drinking homemade bone broth several times per week (contains powerful nutrients for healing the gut lining)
- supplement with probiotics (may need to start slowly)
- reduce stress (ie. meditation, biofeedback, yoga, etc.)
- keep use of antibiotics and NSAID drugs to a minimum, as they can contribute to leaky gut” – Improve Gut Health: Avoid the Sweets!, Holtorf Medical Group; Twitter: @HoltorfMed
Known in the East as the ‘immortal health elixir,’ Kombucha is a type of fermented tea that’s loaded with gut-benefiting bacteria.
“Research has shown Kombucha can prevent and heal leaky gut (where bacteria, food particles and/or viruses ‘leak’ through your digestive lining and into your bloodstream) and stomach ulcers.
“Kombucha can also help keep candida yeast from overpopulating within the gut. In other words, it helps restore balance to your digestive system.
“Kombucha is full of powerful antioxidants, including a very unique one known as D-saccharic acid-1, 4-lactone (DSL).
“DSL, and the accompanying vitamin C present in Kombucha, provide you with protection against cell damage, inflammatory diseases, tumors and overall depression of the immune system.
“You can find Kombucha at most grocery stores now, but be wary of brands that use a lot of sugar.” – Brad Hoppmann, 3 Delicious Ways to Improve Your Gut Health, Uncommon Wisdom; Twitter: @uncommon_wisdom
24. Add yellow and green vegetables to your diet. “Your gut health diet should also contain foods with a rich fibre content, as these foods assist with digestion and allow the waste to pass through easily from the colon. Fibre rich foods include, apples, beans, broccoli, wheat bran, pears and figs. Start with just a few of these foods and gradually add more fibre to your gut health diet. A sudden influx of fibre in your body can cramping, bloating and gas. Make sure you drink about 6 to 8 glasses of water each day to keep yourself hydrated.
“In addition to these foods, include green and yellow vegetables in your gut health diet. These vegetables are a rich source of carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. They also contain folate which can help safeguard against stomach cancer.
25. Eat clean and practice the 80/20 rule. “A poor diet can result in what’s commonly called ‘leaky gut syndrome.’ While it’s not totally understood, its symptoms include all manner of gut health issues like gas, cramps, sensitivities to certain foods and stomach pain.
“By implementing rules for eating a healthy gut diet, we can potentially overcome virtually all the problems associated with leaky gut syndrome and increase our stomach health and total health. What we eat is up to us. It’s all about choice.
“By implementing the 80/20 rule in our diet, we can begin eating for a healthy gut. The 80/20 rule means covering 80% of our plates with greens and vegetables and 20% with proteins and good fats. It’s a great way to start eating for a healthy gut.
“Living with stomach problems and a low quality of life can be prevented by learning about what foods your hut needs to get healthy and stay healthy.” – Dr. Alejandro Junger MD, Improve Your Gut Health With Clean Eating, Health Talks Online; Twitter: @HealthSummits