Updated: Oct 9
Do you know that there are over 39 trillion bacteria living in you? This information may be gross, especially, if you are obsessed with cleanliness. The bacteria I am talking about are actually good.
What’s more, you want to have as many of them as possible, and preferably as many different species as possible. You may ask why? It’s simple.
Those little living organisms are responsible for your gut health and your overall health and well-being, for that matter. The study of microbiome and gut health is relatively new, but it is going in the right direction.
The connection between your energy levels, mood, and the health of your gut can’t be ignored. So, sit back and immerse yourself in the gut health journey.
But before we start, get your copy of my NEW e-book The wholehearted diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.
How Your Gut Health Affects Your Body
Before you look how to improve gut health, you need to understand why there is so much fuss about it. Gut health has increased in popularity, mainly thanks to the studies on the topic and a deeper understanding of the role the gut plays in your health.
It also helps that more of us recognise the connection between our gut health and our overall health, and we want to know more! You see every organ, tissue, muscle, or other part of your body affects the rest. There is no one stand-alone piece in your body.
So, it is only natural that the gut will affect your body and mind.
Your gut has two primary roles to play. First, it contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that work very hard to protect you from infections, viruses, and harmful substances such as harmful bacteria or fungi.
Secondly, your gut is part of the gut-brain axis. The gut communicates with the brain via nerves and hormones about what is happening so you can maintain an optimal level of health and wellbeing.
This is especially important when it comes to the production of hormones, as those affect your emotional and physical levels. Some studies link unhealthy gut health to conditions such as anxiety, depression, or chronic pain.
In addition, if there are disturbances in your gut-brain axis, the signals of when you feel hungry or full may be incorrect. Your pituitary gland is in charge of the production of hormones such as leptin and ghrelin. Those hormones are responsible for your appetite.
If the signals are crossed, your pituitary gland may produce too much or too little causing an imbalance in your gut. This can lead to overeating with a further link to weight gain or even obesity.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
On a simpler note, think about the main function of your gut. Its job is to digest food and break it down, so nutrients can be absorbed. Ask yourself what happens when you can’t digest food.
You feel discomfort or possibly pain. You may experience bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea. It all means that your gut has trouble processing the food and eliminating the waste product.
Good bacteria help the gut not only process food but also to break it down. There are several internal processes that happen in your gut so your body can get the needed nutrients. If your body doesn’t get the required minerals and vitamins, you don’t have energy.
If you feel exhausted, it is much harder to complete simple day-to-day tasks, in addition to developing chronic fatigue. And because you don’t have the physical energy, your mood plummets too.
One of the easiest ways for me to check when my gut health needs some improvement is when I find myself craving sweets. I don’t have a sweet tooth, and I usually prefer savoury things. But each time I crave something sweet, I know my microbiome is out of balance.
Your good bacteria help to keep unhealthy bacteria in check. Bacteria are living organisms, and they need to feed to survive. Certain types of bacteria feed on sugar. So, the more sugar-loaded foods you eat, the more sugar-loving bacteria will grow in your gut.
It means that there are less of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
What Destroys Your Gut Health
Now that you know what the signs of unhealthy gut health are, let’s have a look at what impacts the health of your gut. Not all the causes of poor gut health are known yet, but scientists recognise that many parts of our modern life can harm our microbiome.
High levels of stress impact all areas of life, and they too, impact your gut health. Your immune system is ‘shut down’ when you are in a fight or flight response (aka stress response), meaning you are more prone to getting sick.
In addition, studies show that high levels of stress can change gut flora diversity. When your gut flora is altered, certain types of bacteria, such as Clostridium, increase. And healthy bacteria, such as Lactobacilli, decrease.
Lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep can also harm your microbiome. It is not news that lack of sleep can impact our health, but when it comes to gut health, it can disturb the circadian rhythm. When your body’s internal clock, aka the circadian rhythm, is imbalanced, harmful bacteria can grow much more easily.
A particular type of bacteria associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and fat metabolism can make changes to your gut.
However, possibly food has the highest impact on your gut health. The standard Western diet, full of processed foods and high in saturated fats and refined sugars, does not create a healthy environment for our good bacteria to thrive.
In addition, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, antibiotic use, or overconsumption of medication destroys your gut health.
Benefits of Healthy Microbiome
You have come so far learning about gut health that I am sure you can already see the benefits of a healthy microbiome. In a nutshell, your mental and physical health will be in excellent shape if you look after your gut health.
First of all, your digestive system will work perfectly. So, if you suffer from IBS, leaky gut, or another intestine condition, you may benefit from improving your microbiome.
As mentioned previously, your gut contains immune cells which help to protect you from getting ill. A strong immune system is vital not only to fight the daily stress and overwhelm, the common cold, or fatigue, but it is crucial in keeping you from developing an illness with possible serious consequences.
There are many health benefits of physical activity, but if you are not being as active as you would like to be, maybe knowing that your gut can benefit from exercising can do the trick.
Research shows that those who exercise regularly have a different microbiome from those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Active people have more butyrate and butyrate-producing bacteria. They also have higher levels of health-promoting bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia.
Ways to Improve Your Gut Bacteria
You may be recognizing how important your gut health is and be asking yourself how you can improve your gut health. It is a very good question!
First, you want to create a diverse environment. It means you want to have as many different species of good bacteria as possible. The more different types of good bacteria you have, the more health benefits you get.
Here are a few ways to do that.
Eat a Diverse Range of Foods
Your bacteria need food to thrive. You have trillions of bacteria inside you, so it is no wonder they like to eat different things. Your best way of improving your gut health is by diversifying your diet.
It means eating something new each day and experimenting with different flavours, textures, and colours. Unfortunately, the standard western diet contains mostly sugar and fats, and your good bacteria can't live on that.
You also want to make sure that you consume polyphenols. Polyphenols are micronutrients found in vegetables such as grapes or olives, fruit, coffee, cocoa or dark chocolate, green tea, and red wine.
I love experimenting with different plants, spices, herbs, and other products so I deliver enough variety to my microbiome. As mentioned before, when I find myself reaching for something sweet, I know I overdid sugar (this includes naturally occurring sugar and simple carbohydrates).
And the way to change it? Eat more plants!
Increase Your Intake of Plants
There are many health benefits of following a plant-based diet, and one of them, is the improvement in your gut health. Different plants deliver different properties and help good bacteria to thrive.
Remember eating different foods will give you different types of intestinal bacteria. You want to reduce the consumption of products that deliver bacteria that may cause harm or promote the growth of the ‘bad’ bacteria.
When you follow a plant-based diet, or when you consume more vegetables and plant-based food, you eat a higher amount of fibre. Your body can’t digest fibre, but certain types of bacteria can. Some great sources of dietary fibre are legumes, whole grains, nuts, and fruit.
Consume Probiotics and Prebiotics
Currently, I’m obsessed with kombucha! I’m sure you have seen the obsession too, and if you are not hooked yet, you got to try! Kombucha is a fermented tea, and it is a probiotic. Other sources of probiotic are sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt.
You may notice that probiotics are fermented foods. They are beneficial to your gut because they contain live cultures. Only specific foods can be probiotics, so always read labels to make sure that the product contains bacteria.
Another type of food that your gut loves is prebiotics. The difference between the two is that prebiotics don’t contain live cultures. Instead, prebiotics promote the growth of good bacteria.
Prebiotics are fibre or complex carbohydrates and are used for fuel by certain species of bacteria.
Sources of prebiotics are vegetables, fruit, whole grains, or even resistant starch. Some high-fibre foods are broccoli, green peas, artichokes, beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, bananas, apples, or raspberries.
Promote Healthy Lifestyle
Healing your gut is done not only through diet but also through making shifts in your lifestyle. You already read about the benefits of physical activity on your gut, so staying active must be your priority.
Learn to lower your stress levels either by managing your stress through meditation or various breathing techniques. The best way to manage stress is to look after yourself and practice self-care. And part of it needs to be getting good quality sleep and being physically active.
How to Improve Your Gut Health
Although the study of gut health is still in its infancy, you can notice the importance of a healthy gut in your own body now. If you experience discomfort, bloating, gas, constipation, or even fatigue, you know your microbiome isn’t happy.
But it doesn’t stop there, if your gut-brain axis is disturbed, you experience hormonal imbalance, which can affect any aspect of your life.
Your microbiome is destroyed through poor quality food, not enough consumption of plants and plant-based products, and overconsumption of alcohol, antibiotic, or cigarette smoking. This is why the best way to improve your gut health is through food. Eat plenty of vegetables, products high in fibre, and probiotics and prebiotics.
Practice a healthy lifestyle by being physically active, promoting quality sleep, and reducing stress. And your gut will reward you with mental and physical energy.
So, how’s your gut health?
Ready to get started with a plant-based diet? Get your copy of my e-book The Wholehearted Diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.