Low energy, dull skin, mental fog… Many of us may chalk it up to an “off” day. But little do we know that the culprit behind these daily woes is likely our gut.
The thing is, we know our gut is about digestion. However, it plays a major role in how we feel, look, and think. And yet, it remains one of the least explored areas of our health.
What can be done? Finding out how to improve gut health can be your golden ticket.
It’s a sentiment that the founder of Viome, Naveen Jain, echos. His company has pioneered advancements in health testing by examining gut biology using artificial intelligence.
As he explains in his Certified Nutrition Coach program on Mindvalley, “You have to constantly understand what’s happening in your body so you can keep it like a finely tuned German machine that works all the time at optimal pace.”
The reality is, keeping your gut healthy is more than just a health trend; it’s an awakening.
What Is Gut Health?
Gut health refers to the balance and function of the gut microbiome—a diverse community of microorganisms, like bacteria, yeast, fungi, archaea, phages, and viruses—in your digestive tract. It’s where your intestines work in harmony to digest food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce essential nutrients.
Beyond just digestion, your gut is a central hub that significantly influences your overall well-being. When this system is in sync, you flourish. But when it’s disrupted, your health can quickly take a downturn.
What Are the Benefits of Good Gut Health?
A healthy gut does wonders for our body. Here are five major benefits:
- Improved digestion
- Enhanced immunity
- Elevated mood
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases
- Optimized nutrient absorption
The significance of the body’s gut microbiota is further highlighted in a 2022 study. It revealed that a balanced microbiota contributes to overall health, while an imbalance can be linked to conditions like heart disease and cancer.
So, by taking care of your gut, you’re enhancing your day-to-day well-being as well as setting a foundation for long-term health.
What are the signs of poor gut health?
Your body has its own way of signaling distress, particularly when it comes to the health of your gut. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Digestive issues
- Frequent infections
- Skin problems
- Constant fatigue
- Weight fluctuations
- Food intolerances or allergies
- Persistent bad breath
- Blood sugar swings
- Frequent mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
Backing up these findings, a 2021 study highlighted the relationship between gut microbiota and various health conditions. It stressed that shifts in the gut microbiota composition can be linked to health challenges like diabetes, obesity, and even neurodegenerative diseases.
“All these things take years, if not decades, to manifest,” explains Dr. Grant Antoine, a naturopathic physician at Viome. “But if we can catch the early signs of the transition from health to disease, we can prevent these conditions from ever occurring.”
5 Expert-Backed Daily Habits That Make a Difference in How to Improve Gut Health
Knowing how to improve gut health can be confusing, for sure. Where do you begin? What paths do you follow?
Thankfully, with guidance from Hilary Keiser, a biochemist and supplements expert at Viome, it becomes easier. They offer clarity as well as actionable steps that are tailored for each individual.
1. Optimize your dietary choices
One of the best ways to improve your gut health naturally is through your diet. Eating a variety of foods ensures you’re getting different kinds of nutrients beneficial for your gut microbiome.
“Eating food that’s devoid of nutrients, like processed food, does not feed the microbiome,” says Hilary. “So it’s really important to focus on a whole food diet.”
So, if you’re wondering how to improve gut health naturally, consider these foods:
- Plants and animals. Those that “come from the earth,” as Hilary suggests.
- Fruits and vegetables. Those that are rich in fiber can promote the growth of healthy bacteria and reduce inflammation.
- Probiotics. Add them through fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir.
- Prebiotics. Incorporate them to nourish the good bacteria in your gut; foods like asparagus, leeks, and bananas are excellent sources.
- Immunity-boosting foods. This includes garlic and ginger, which are also helpful.
By making these simple changes to your diet, you’ll be taking a big step toward better gut health and overall well-being.
2. Reduce your stress
It’s no secret that stress can wreak havoc on your mind, body, and soul, like Godzilla in New York. And it’s no different when it comes to your gut health.
Hilary explains, “Stress can influence your digestion and your microbiome by slowing digestion, making digestion incomplete, and affecting that delicate balance of microbes in your gut.” And this, according to research, can exacerbate conditions like anxiety and depression.
Stress-reducing activities can be a great way on how to improve gut health for depression. These include:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Mindfulness meditation
- Gratitude through journaling
- Nature immersion, like earthing
- Puzzles or brain games
So, the next time you feel the anxiety coming on, consider taking a few moments to relax.
3. Make exercise a regular thing
Consistent exercise can help you stay fit, definitely. But did you know it also contributes to a healthier gut?
“Exercising regularly increases the diversity of your microbiome,” Hilary says, highlighting that “a diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome.” Even a study published in Sports Health suggests that athletes have a more diverse gut flora compared to non-athletes.
What does this mean for you? Well, regardless of whether you’re an athlete or not, something as simple as a 30-minute walk every day can have an impact on balancing your microbiome.
Now, understand that exercise is a long-term commitment. However, it makes a huge difference in your gut health over time.
4. Maintain good oral hygiene
Chances are, your dentist told you not to neglect your oral hygiene. And it seems that it’s not only to keep your teeth healthy; it also has an effect on your gut microbiome.
“It’s not just the foods that we eat that affect our microbiome,” Hilary points out, “but also our day-to-day hygiene practices.”
Here are some methods on how to improve your gut health, specifically through oral hygiene:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day
- Flossing once a day
- Avoid harsh antiseptic mouthwashes
Such simple steps can go a long way. Not only for your smile but for your gut, too.
5. Get adequate sleep
If you’re struggling with how to improve gut health and bloating or other issues, regulating your sleep patterns can be key. Grant explains, “The gut and microbiome are sensitive to our circadian rhythms, so regular meal times and sleeping patterns are fundamental to good gut health.”
According to one study, irregular sleep can result in an imbalanced microbiome, contributing to obesity and metabolic issues. So aim for the recommended seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night.
And one more thing Hilary adds is to have a healthy evening routine. That means not doing what we’re all guilty of doing—screen time before bedtime.
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s not uncommon for questions to pop up about a topic that’s still quite foreign to many. Getting input from the experts at Viome, let’s demystify some common ones to better understand how to improve gut health.
1. How long does it take to improve gut health?
It’s the age-old question of patience. While some may notice changes within days, for others, it might take weeks or even months.
Research-wise, changes in microbial abundance can occur as early as two to four days. However, individual experiences may vary, and Viome suggests being consistent for three to six months to make a significant impact on your health.
“Just like starting a new exercise routine, improvements depend on your starting point and consistency over time,” Grant explains. “Someone who hasn’t been taking care of their gut health might notice changes faster than someone who has been dedicated to their gut health and only needs minor improvements.”
2. How do you improve gut health and bloating?
Ah, the dreaded bloat. It can turn any good day sour.
The solution for how to improve gut health and bloating lies in understanding and addressing your food sensitivities. According to Janelle Connell, RDN, registered dietician at Viome, eliminating foods that cause the gas and the bloating is often where the magic happens. This includes:
- Overly processed foods,
- Foods high in sugars or artificial sweeteners,
- Preservatives, and
- Meats raised with antibiotics.
Other things that can also help are increasing fiber intake and including both probiotics and prebiotics in your diet.
3. How do you improve gut health for depression?
Research has found that the gut and brain are connected through a network of nerves and chemicals that talk to each other.
When your gut is healthy, it can send good signals to your brain, helping you feel better emotionally. However, when it isn’t healthy, the signals aren’t so great, making you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed.
For example, as Janelle explains, foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, like turkey meat, aid in the production of serotonin. On the other hand, our gut microbes use foods high in the amino acid glutamate, like tofu, to produce GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps calm the nervous system and helps your nerves process sensory information in an organized way.
So what are some methods on how to improve gut health for depression? Focus on a balanced diet, stress management techniques, regular exercise, proper oral care, and adequate sleep.
4. What are the best supplements for gut health?
For better gut health, there are a variety of supplements you can consider. Here are a few that Hilary highlights.
- Probiotics can help restore and maintain a healthy balance of gut microbiota. They can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi and in supplement form.
- Prebiotics provide nourishment for and promote the beneficial activities of beneficial gut bacteria. Common prebiotic supplements include inulin, fructooligosaccharides, acacia, pomegranate, and green tea.
- Digestive enzymes can help break down food components, which aids in nutrient absorption and may help decrease bloating. Common digestive enzymes include amylase, protease, and lipase.
- Postbiotics are typically a collection of heat-killed bacterial cells and their beneficial metabolites, which can be concentrated to support efficacy. Some of them have even been shown to be more effective than their live probiotic counterparts.
Here’s the thing to remember, though: before you go rushing to the supplement aisle, it’s always recommended to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice. And while supplements can be helpful, they’re no substitute for the benefits of a balanced diet full of whole foods.
Make a Change, Create an Impact
Starting to improve your gut health is a big step, but it’s one that’s worth it. There may be some ups and downs, but the end result will be a healthier you.
The Certified Nutrition Coach program at Mindvalley, guided by Naveen Jain and the experts at Viome, isn’t just about improving your own health. You’ll also acquire the skills to guide others on their journey to better well-being. To equip you for this, the program zeroes in on pivotal areas: cleansing the body of toxins, learning the secrets of balanced eating, and strengthening the immune system for long-lasting health.
Your path to a better life and a fulfilling career starts at Mindvalley. Welcome in.
Images generated on Midjourney.