Your digestive health is a team effort. Within your gastrointestinal (GI) tract live 300 to 500 different species of bacteria comprising nearly two million genes between them. Alongside various fungi, viruses and protozoa, these bacteria make up your GI tract’s microbiota – approximately 100 trillion individual microorganisms total, any of which can possess genes that are required for healthy digestion.
“Microbial hitchhikers” may sound horrible to you, but a robust gut microbiota is in fact natural and crucial to your GI health. Your genome alone is not sufficient to produce the several thousand metabolites which are essential to your digestive system’s ability to break down non-digestible dietary fibers and produce certain fatty acids.
Your gut microbiota has a far-reaching impact on your overall health. Additionally, your metabolism, immune system, and even your mood are all at least partly affected by the microorganisms living in your digestive system. And while the composition of every individual’s gut biome is as unique as their own DNA itself, anyone can become more susceptible to disease if their microbiota has too many or too few of a certain type of microorganism.
For example, if your gut biome converts too much fiber into fatty acid, the resultant fat deposits in your liver may put you at greater risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Likewise, people living with insufficient commensal gut bacteria are at higher risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The delicate interplay between the trillions of microorganisms living in your GI tract is not yet fully understood by scientists. That said, we are certain of several safe and effective ways to improve your gut health!
Eat a Healthier Diet
The symbiotes in your GI tract perform best when they are fed a healthy diet. Processed foods and foods that are high in sugar – especially high-fructose corn syrup – can both reduce the number of good bacteria living in your gut. Your unique microbiota subsists best on:
Fiber-rich foods: Beans, bran, whole grains, fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables
Probiotic foods: Yogurt, buttermilk, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha (kimchi, natto, and tempeh are also recommended probiotic foods, but you are forgiven for not going out of your way to finding these Asian delectables in the Midwest grocery stores)
Prebiotic foods: Bananas, garlic, onions, asparagus, and leeks
Probiotic supplements pose a wide range of health benefits including keeping pathogenic microorganisms in check, facilitating digestion and absorption of nutrients, and boosting the function of the immune system.
Don’t overlook the value of fiber! Roughage like beans, whole grains, and broccoli helps your gut microbes to ward off a broad range of diseases. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 25 grams daily for women (or 21 grams for women over 50 years old) and 38 grams daily for men (or 30 grams for men over the age of 50).
Finally, drink at least half a gallon of water every day. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. In addition to having high caloric content, alcohol is detrimental to several of the good microbes living in your gut. Caffeine is not as bad for your gut health as you may fear, however! Studies have shown that drinking coffee and tea promotes the growth of healthy bacteria cultures, which may, in turn, reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome as well as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
Eat Smaller Meals
The flora in your GI tract can only achieve so much in a limited amount of time. While the science supporting the benefits of small meals is still incomplete, there is sound evidence that microbiota is more effective when they receive smaller amounts of nutrients to digest more frequently. (Think smaller meals spaced three to four hours apart.) Furthermore, thoroughly chewing your food can help your microbiota to perform their job more effectively!
Get Regular Exercise
People who exercise regularly benefit from an increase in the gut microbes which produce short-chain fatty acids. These metabolites, which are created via the bacterial fermentation of fiber and starch, are critical to neuro-immuno-endocrine regulation. In simpler terms, exercise helps your gut biome produce materials that may decrease your risk of developing inflammatory diseases, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Reduce Your Level of Stress
Physical, mental, and emotional stress all impact your intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients. Furthermore, stress can weaken your intestinal barrier and permit your gut microbes to enter other areas of your body. Your immune system makes short work of such benign intruders, although the constant inflammatory response needed to deal with them can cause chronic mild symptoms and potentially put you at higher risk of contracting a disease.
There are many healthy ways to reduce stress and promote a more robust gut biome, including yoga (or light stretching), meditation, massage, journaling, enjoying a favorite hobby, and even taking a hot bath. You know what relaxes you better than anyone else. Whether that’s scrapbooking, baking, fishing, or hunting, seek out the activities which bring you the most joy!
Good gut health is key to good overall health. If you would like help adopting a lifestyle that will increase your comfort while reducing your chance of developing several chronic illnesses, then we welcome you to contact Fargo Spine in Fargo, ND for functional wellness and nutritional coaching today!