It is important to maintain or restore healthy gut flora. And when it comes to gut health, a life without bacteria is ironically not one of peace.
Our gut contains trillions of microorganisms – bacteria, viruses and fungi, together known as the microbiota, and they outnumber human cells. It is the Promised Land, so full of riches that trillions of bacteria are fighting every day to colonize the region.
But, like with most interesting tales, there is the good side and there is the bad. Who wins is entirely up to us. We can empower either side with the food we eat and the life choices we make.
Good and bad bacteria
While some bacteria are associated with disease (Clostridium difficile, Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella) others keep the gut healthy. And a healthy gut does more than just improve digestion. Our immune system, nervous system, heart, weight and many other aspects of health are taken care of by the beneficial bacteria (Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus).
To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.
The importance of gut health cannot be overstated.
The right diet and an active life with minimal stress life give power and authority to the “good” bacteria to keep peace in the region, which reflects in our physical well-being and in our lives.
Be careless with the food and your lifestyle and the gut balance is disturbed. That is the green light for the bad bacteria to bare their fangs and carry out their nasty intentions. The consequences are sickness, infection, even death.
Here’s how to how to improve gut health naturally…
The following are 10 easy to achieve steps to improve or restore healthy gut flora:
1. Vary your diet
Our gut health will be so much better if we just provide our intestines with the right foods and enable them to flourish with the beneficial bacteria. Your gut houses a vast community of microbes and each of these prefers certain foods.
Vegetables are the ideal gut health foods.
Vegetables from the lily family (asparagus, chives, garlic, leeks, and onions) and the sunflower family (artichokes, chicory, lettuce, radicchio, tarragon) are particularly beneficial to gut bacteria.
Fermented foods are also good for your intestines, such as yoghurt, kimchi, natto, kefir, miso, and sauerkraut. People in regions where these foods are eaten have better gut health.
Besides vegetables, other good fibers are fruits, pulses, nuts, vegetables, probiotics foods, and extra virgin olive oil (contains microbe-friendly polyphenols).
It will not happen overnight, but the more variety in your diet the better will be your gut health.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
These are used interchangeably but are not the same thing. Probiotics, the most popular of all gut health supplements, are bacteria. Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that foster a happy environment for beneficial bacteria to flourish. Foods containing insulin, such as onion, garlic, and artichoke are all prebiotics.
For more on probiotics, their benefits, drawbacks, what to look for on the label etc, click here.
2. Cut down on sugar and processed foods
The simplest way to improve gut health is to have a balanced diet. Focus more on whole foods and avoid processed foods. The latter are among the worst foods for gut health and packed with additives and preservatives that adversely affect the balance of bacteria in our intestines.
Added sugar is another big problem.
It reduces the good bacteria in the gut and makes you crave more sugar. This can lead to conditions like inflammation of the body and even cancer.
Studies have found that glucose and fructose blocks the production of Roc, a protein that is necessary for the colonization of beneficial bacteria in our intestines.
3. Drink water
It is one of the enduring health mantras we are taught – drink your glass of water!
Water intake has a positive effect on the balance of good bacteria in our gut and also strengthens the mucosal lining of the intestines.
Also, if you have recently been on a high fiber diet, the sudden change can cause bloating. You can control this condition by making a gradual change to your diet and drinking lots of water.
4. Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary
Beneficial and bad bacteria are both single-celled organisms that are easy to kill and antibiotics kill them more easily than most.
Antibiotics are deadly for bacteria in the gut. If they don’t kill the bacteria outright then they stop them from multiplying. Alas, they can’t tell good from bad bacteria and destroy everything in their way like an unforgiving flood.
If you need them, make sure you eat lots of foods that boost your microbes afterwards.
5. Get a dog
It seems man’s best friend offers more than just love and friendship.
It also brings dirt indoors from outside, which is not a bad thing at all for our guts. This dirt carries varieties of microbes that are useful to our gut health.
The transfer of microbes can take place through the air around us and also activities like the good old dog lick or the handshake. All this strengthens the immune system.
Studies have shown that children raised with dogs are less vulnerable to asthma and allergies.
6. Active outdoor lifestyle for healthy gut flora
The previous point applies to us as well. For some reason, we are shunning the outdoors more and more.
Enjoying home comforts is fine but staying indoors too much means that we are breathing the same old recycled air and not getting the diverse microbes required to improve gut flora.
Children exposed to these microbes early on in life develop a strong immune system. Even adults can improve gut health through regular outdoor activities.
One experiment on dirt microbes has shown that they also have anti-depressant properties.
7. Don’t over-clean
All aboard the “dirt is good” train.
No, this is not a campaign against hygiene and cleanliness but sometimes, especially in the case of microbes, less is more. Think of microbes as a force field tasked with preventing bad things from entering the environment. If we scrub our houses and ourselves too much, we may just risk breaking the protection.
So, let your kids play in the dirt. A permanently clean physical may not be the best thing for your child’s immune system and gives rise to superbugs (yes, they are literally called that!) – antimicrobial-resistant infections that were once treatable but are now complex because we have become too soft.
No, we must not become hogs. We must still take baths but focus on smelly regions and leave the rest to get acquainted with the dirt once in a while.
8. Exercise regularly
Get the tracksuit and the sneakers ready!
We know that proper exercise has a zillion benefits and no negatives. One of these benefits is gut health.
Research has established that people with higher cardiorespiratory fitness have more diverse bacteria in the gut than those not keen on exercise.
Fit people also produce more butyrate, a type of fatty acid that keeps the gut healthy and fights obesity. A lack of bacteria that produces butyrate can put people at risk of colon cancer.
9. Sleep well
Don’t compromise on sleep. Lack of it can impact gut health which leads to more sleep issues.
A healthy gut is a result of the bacteria in our intestines being in balance. When we are deprived of sleep, this balance is affected. It takes just two consecutive nights of insufficient sleep for the numbers of specific beneficial bacterial strands to be halved.
Our bodies function best when there are predictable routines to our sleeping and eating habits.
10. Dental health
Gut health begins in the mouth.
It’s all connected.
When we maintain oral hygiene we are ultimately laying a solid base for our gut to thrive.
Regular brushing keeps harmful microbes from reaching the gut. An unclean mouth is like lax border security which allows microbes get to the gut with little trouble and sometimes, dangerously, even the bloodstream.
So, while we may religiously follow points 1-9 in this list, it will count for little if we do not clean our mouth properly and regularly.
Fun fact: About 90 percent of our overall serotonin, the primary neurotransmitter that is responsible for our moods, is produced in our gut. A lack of serotonin in our bodies may lead to depression and anxiety.
So, those were 10 simple ways to restore healthy gut flora. If you have any more interesting suggestions, let us know in the comments below.