You may not realise it, but your gut health impacts more than just your digestive system. It’s important for your health as a whole, including even your mental state.
A healthy gut involves having a healthy balance of microorganisms in your digestive tract (otherwise known as your gut microbiome), with these bacteria and immune cells helping to fight infectious agents such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. Your gut also communicates with the brain via nerves and hormones, meaning its health impacts your mental wellbeing too, particularly as most of the body’s serotonin is found in the digestive system.
An unhealthy balance of “good” microorganisms means there are fewer to fight infectious agents, which can lead to various health issues. It can also reduce the supply of serotonin, something that can in turn contribute to problems like anxiety, stress and depression.
All of this shows just how important gut health is, which is why we need to do everything possible to boost it. Here are three of the best ways to do so, according to science.
1. Take probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms (typically bacteria) that can promote gut health. Although they don’t tend to permanently colonise the digestive tract, regularly consuming probiotics can change the overall makeup of your microbiome and support your immune system.
A review of scientific studies into probiotics in the Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology (TAG) journal found that they “may restore the composition of the gut microbiome and introduce beneficial functions to gut microbial communities.” The review expanded that this can lead to “amelioration or prevention of gut inflammation and other intestinal or systemic disease phenotypes.”
To take probiotics yourself, you can either try supplements or eat/drink some of many different types of food and drink that contain them. This includes everything from yoghurt and sauerkraut, to water kefir and kombucha. For instance, Brown Cow’s “Original Cream Top” plain yoghurt features five types of live active cultures. For a 100% vegan option, No. 1 Living’s kombucha shots contain over one billion probiotic live cultures.
2. Exercise regularly
Perhaps surprisingly to some, regular exercise can also improve your gut health. Research has found that it can promote the growth of bacteria that produces butyrate, a fatty acid that helps repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation.
In fact, even modest levels of exercise can cause positive changes to your microbiome. One study discovered that women who performed at least three hours of light exercise a week had increased levels of health-promoting microbes like Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, and Akkermansia muciniphila compared to those who didn’t exercise at all.
Consequently, you don’t even need to exert yourself too much to reap the gut benefits of exercise. Anything from walking to swimming can do the trick.
3. Get enough sleep
Like exercise, sleep is important for our general health, and this includes our gut. A lack of sleep can increase stress, which in turn affects the gut and could lead to issues like inflammation, bloating and stomach pains. Sleep-deprived people are also more likely to eat unhealthy food that negatively affects their gut health, as well as suffer from disrupted melatonin levels, which can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
As a result, getting enough sleep is vital to a healthy gut. From sticking to a sleep schedule and creating a restful environment, there are so many ways to improve the amount of shut eye you get.
The relationship between sleep and gut microbiome also works the other way round. According to a study by the University of Tsukuba in Japan, the better intestinal health you have, the more likely you are to catch more zzz’s, owing to the relationship between the gut and the brain.