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How To Improve Gut Health: 7 Habits | Be Prepared

gut health

Your gut is so much more than the way you convert food into energy. It is linked to many areas of your health including mental health and weight loss. An ideal gut microbiome is made up of a diverse range of bacteria that, along with other digestive aids, help to break down your food into the vital nutrients you need and encourage the production of the hormones needed to maintain a healthy body. Improving your gut health can be the first step to improving other areas of your health too. 

A poor gut microbiome is common in the modern diet which is full of ultra-processed, quick convenience foods – and it isn’t hard to see why when you are working long stressful hours and you just want to eat something. A combination of stress, sleep issues, and a poor diet can soon see you with tummy issues that lead to something more serious. Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), metabolic diseases and other conditions linked to your digestive system can be made much worse when you don’t stop to think about whether this is good for your gut.  

A healthy gut may see you with more energy, improved moods, and better immunity, and leave you feeling healthier overall. Gut health may also play a part in weight management with one study finding significant differences in the gut bacteria of lean and obese individuals, including twins (1). 

Here are 7 habits to help improve your gut health: 

Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can play a huge part in improving your gut health, and while it is understandable that you may not achieve them all at once, it is certainly worth taking each of our tips one step at a time. Here are 7 habits you can start implementing to improve your gut health. 

Give your Diet a Heath Check 

As with most things related to health, you may want to first look at what you are eating and putting in your body. Afterall, a good gut requires the right kind of foods to work properly and if you feed it foods that it’s not particularly good at processing then it’s going to leave you feeling not particularly good too. Depending on your current diet, you might only have to make a few effective tweaks, or you might be looking at a complete overhaul. If it’s the latter, take it a few steps at a time – small sustainable changes will quickly turn into habits compared to giant leaps.  

The first food you need to be looking at when it comes to your gut health is fibre. Fibre isn’t digested by the gut, so it helps to keep everything pushing through smoothly. It also feeds the good bacteria that live there. If you don’t have enough fibre, then other foods you eat take too long to pass through your digestive system. This can lead to conditions such as excessive bloating, lethargy, IBS, IBD, and even colorectal cancer. Good sources of fibre include many fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as rice and pasta, beans, and pulses. Fermented foods are also a fantastic source of fibre, and help feed the good bacteria. If you can, try adding foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut to your day. 

Secondly, look at the amount of ultra-processed foods and particularly those high in refined/added sugars. Ultra-processed foods tend to contain lots of preservatives, flavour modifiers, and ingredients that your gut doesn’t necessarily break down. They also contain high amounts of sugar, and while your body requires energy, too much in the form of refined sugar can cause an overgrowth of bacteria which can leave you with digestive issues such as SIBO. 

Some foods such as dairy and gluten can also cause inflammation, which in turn has a negative effect on the gut – especially conditions such as coeliac disease. This does not mean you should be cutting out these foods; however, if you think you may be intolerant or sensitive to any foods then you should talk to your doctor and try to avoid them to reduce the risk of inflammation. Alcohol can also be included within foods to limit, as your body uses a lot of energy and resources trying to process and remove it from your system. However, there is some evidence that small amounts of red wine may be beneficial due to the polyphenols (antioxidants) which may help the good bacteria (2). 

Improve your Sleep Routine

The importance of a good sleep routine can never be emphasised enough – especially when it comes to improving your gut health. Your gut is responsible for producing many neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which help with mood and sleep. Sleep gives your gut the chance to take a break so it can ensure there is the proper balance of bacteria in the gut, and that it is functioning properly.  

Your digestion and gut never stop working, even when you are asleep; however, sleep is when repair and maintenance happen. It is also a time when you are not eating food, giving the body (including the gut) time to check all systems are working as expected. A disruption in sleep, even a couple of nights (3) can alter the most healthy of gut microbiomes.  

You can improve your sleep by: 

  • Getting into a sleep routine based on 7-8 hours each night, for example, 10pm-6am 
  • Stop using your devices an hour before bed 
  • Keeping your bedroom dark and cool (around 18°C)
  • Limit caffeine in the afternoon (4)
  • Take a melatonin supplement (talk to GP first)
  • Replace mattress, pillows, and covers if they are no longer comfortable 

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Hydrate your Gut

Water is needed for every cell in your body and it is particularly important when it comes to your gut. It is essential for digestion as it helps to get things started after a meal and is also involved in moving things along, and clearing out waste. As waste food travels along your digestive system, your gut bacteria feed off of the waste products and any water your body needs, is absorbed. However, if you are dehydrated then there is very little water available, which can result in constipation, slow digestion, and bloating. It may also lead to acid reflux or stomach ulcers. 

It can be difficult to keep on top of your water intake but you need to remember that water is also found in tea, coffee, milk, fruit juice, and fruits and vegetables. It is recommended that you drink around 6-8 glasses of water but this varies from person to person and the time of year – you need more water during the hot months. Keeping a water bottle on you is an easy way to keep on top of your water intake, as is a habit tracker which can remind you to drink water if you haven’t logged any recently. 

Take Gut Health Supplements

We all need a little help sometimes and that can include giving a boost to your gut through supplements. Digestion starts before you’ve even put your food in your mouth, with enzymes being released into your saliva at the very thought or smell of your impending meal. A multitude of enzymes, acids and bacteria in your digestive system then continues the process to extract the nutrients your body needs. However, for some, these stages are impaired or completely missing which is where gut and digestion supplements can help. 

Obviously, the best thing for gut health is to feed it the right food but years of dieting, poor food choices, and health implications means that supplementation might be needed. There are a range of prebiotics, probiotics and digestion aids that helps feed your existing bacteria, increase the levels of good bacteria in your gut and help with the general digestion of your food.  

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Keep your Stress Low

Your gut and brain are linked, so when you’re stressed, your gut knows about it. You might find you experience this through loss or increase of appetite, nausea, bloating and excess gas. It is also possible that stressful experiences can contribute to digestive conditions such as IBS, IBD, GERD and Crohn’s disease. In today’s overwhelming, nonstop society, it is almost impossible to not feel stressed at some point so the key is to try to reduce and manage it. 

There are several activities you can try such as yoga, journaling, meditation, a massage, and getting a good night’s sleep to help reduce your stress. As previously mentioned, look at what you are currently eating too as a diet rich in foods that are high in salt, fat and refined sugar can lead to energy crashes with your body craving more. Instead, incorporate foods which may help improve your mental health such as fermented foods (kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut) and foods high in fibre (5). You could also look at herbal remedies such as teas, oils, and sprays using camomile, lavender, and lemon balm, which are known for their calming effects.  

Top up your Vitamin D 

Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is mainly linked with bone health with it being necessary for calcium absorption and maintaining phosphorous blood levels. However, research is starting to link it with other areas of health. With evidence showing decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, better prognosis for breast cancer patients, and improved mental health conditions such as depression (6), vitamin D also places a role in maintaining a healthy balanced gut microbiome and has a positive influence on digestive disorders. It is also thought that it might play a part in restoring good bacteria. 

Those with digestion issues may be at risk from low levels of vitamin D with their gut struggling to absorb it. Therefore, it is important to supplement it there. While it is possible for the body to synthesise vitamin D, during the colder, darker months (October-April) it is much harder. So, it is recommended that everyone takes a 10mg supplement. There are also several foods rich in vitamin D such as eggs, mushrooms, oily fish, liver, and fortified foods. 

Include Some Daily Exercise

To help improve your gut health we’re not talking about a couple of hours really pushing it at the gym, but a moderate amount of daily exercise can really help keep things ticking over well. Exercise is known to help with digestion, which is why a brisk walk after meals has been shown to help improve conditions such as type-2 diabetes and is recommended for weight loss.  

Trying to include around 30 minutes of exercise, including some strength or weight-bearing activities can help to rebuild you on the inside as well as the outside. Exercise is also known to relieve stress, improve mental health, and help you sleep better – all aspects linked to improving your gut health as we have mentioned. 

Talk To Your Doctor

Before you make any big changes to your lifestyle, or if you feel that you might have any issues with your digestive or gut health, then speak to your doctor. Myvitamins do not make any medical or health-related claims that should be followed above the advice of a medical professional. 

Take Home Message

Your gut health is so important as it has an array of links to all areas of the body, so taking care of it is important for overall health. This can be achieved easily with a few lifestyle changes. To improve your gut health, take a look at your diet – ensure it is well-balanced with plenty of fibre-rich foods and limit any foods that might cause you issues. If you can, try and include some fermented foods into your diet as these can help promote good bacteria. Drinking water is vital to keep everything moving as well as being needed in every cell in your body. A good night’s sleep gives your gut time to ensure everything is working properly to repair and maintain. Try including some exercise in your day to help your gut and try to reduce and manage your stress to make huge improvements. If you need a little help then look into some high-quality gut health supplements as well as vitamin D. You do not need to make all these changes in one go, it will make it impossible. Instead, pick one or two and turn them into maintained habits before introducing another. Each one of these will help improve your gut health, so you can’t go wrong with which one you get started with – though diet might be the most effective, to begin with. 

FAQs

Why is gut health important?

Your gut is linked to many different areas of the body and a poor microbiome can cause issues beyond your digestive system. Poor diet and gut health are linked to many digestive issues including IBD, IBS, and even cancers. In addition, it can also have an impact on your mental health with poor gut health being linked to depression.  

How can I improve gut health?

Simple diet and lifestyle changes can go a long way to helping to improve your gut health. A healthy balanced diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; as well as, fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut, and water. Reducing foods that your gut struggles to process such as convenience foods, ultra-processed, high in added sugar, and reducing alcohol consumption. Ensuring you reduce your stress which can be done through meditation, yoga, or exercise. Improving your sleep routine by setting a sleep period, removing devices an hour before bed, sleeping at the correct temperature, and replacing your mattress when it is no longer comfortable. You can also consider taking gut supplements to assist with your digestion and bacteria growth. 

What supplements can I take to support gut health?

There is a range of supplements to help improve your gut health, ranging from enzymes and other digestive aids to prebiotics and probiotics. These supplements can help break down the food you are eating if your body is struggling to do this or they can increase, feed, and grow the good bacteria within your gut.  

If you’re looking at taking supplements to support gut health then you might want to consider inulin, vitamin D, digestive enzymes, and bromelain, as well as probiotics with bacteria such as lactobacillus in them. 

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Chermaine Samphire

Chermaine Samphire

Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr)

Chermaine is a registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) who holds a BSc in Nutrition and Public Health, a PgCert in Public Health and is studying towards her PGCE in Food Technology. Chermaine has been working as a freelance writer for the last seven years, covering a variety of subjects with nutrition being her passion. Her main areas of interest are improving health through small lifestyle changes and childhood nutrition, especially school meals.