How to improve gut health naturally

At any given moment, there are trillions of bacteria living in your gut. Known as a ‘microbiome,’ this culture of microscopic organisms is essential to gut health, playing a role in everything from the digestion of food to the regulation of metabolism. What’s more, research suggests the condition of your microbiome can also impact your mood and your ability to fend of illness.

Although the market is saturated with expensive probiotics that can give your microbiome a boost, it turns out you can actually change your internal ecosystem simply by adapting your lifestyle.

“The gut microbiota is very dynamic, so if you start taking up healthy food habits, it will respond and will modify very quickly – even within 48 hours,” says assistant professor Corinne Maurice. But to improve gut health in the long-term, you need to stick to those healthy habits, because the benefits can disappear just as quickly. Here’s expert advice on how to improve gut health naturally.

Foster gut health by diversifying your diet

Maurice explains that most people who are sick with a gut-related disease – or even other conditions, like diabetes and allergies – have one thing in common: a lack of variety in their microbial populations. It’s clear that a healthy gut is a diversely-populated gut, and one of the best ways to build a diverse bacterial community is to eat a wide range of healthy foods.

Eat yoghurt and kefir for a healthy gut

Consuming cultured dairy products, such as yoghurt and kefir, introduces healthy bacteria into your gut. Those bacteria may not take up permanent residence there, but they can have positive effects even while passing through. A 2011 study found that, when a strain of bacteria that’s common to yoghurt was ingested by mice, it regulated their moods. This has led scientists to believe the bacteria could have the potential to treat depression in humans, too.

Don’t give up cheese in the name of gut health

Could cheese be good for gut health? It seems increasingly likely. A study conducted by the American Chemical Society found that people who ate cheese had higher levels of a certain by-product of gut bacteria that’s been associated with a reduction in cholesterol.  There’s a caveat, however: Maurice says it’s mostly unpasteurised cheeses that have those good-for-you microbes.

Be diligent about your dental health

It might seem strange to mention oral hygiene when discussing how to improve gut health, but it’s all connected. Multiple studies, including one conducted by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have found that harmful forms of bacteria that grow in the mouth often make their way into the gut or even the bloodstream. Regular brushing can keep those potentially harmful microbes in check-and your gut bacteria in balance.

Cook whole grains

Whole grains, like quinoa, barley and oats, have dietary fibre that can’t be broken down by your intestines. That means they reach your colon intact, where they become food for the microbes and can help boost their populations. “When we give these [whole grains] to animals or humans, we note an increase in microbial diversity,” says Maurice.

Snack on nuts

Like grains, nuts are also packed with fibre. In a 2016 study published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, researchers found that mice that were fed walnuts experienced changes in their gut microbes and developed fewer instances of colon cancer.

Spice things up

Cooking with spices like garlic, ginger and turmeric, doesn’t only make your meals delicious; it can also curb the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut. “These spices actually contain very powerful antibacterial chemicals,” says Maurice. “But they’re not bad for your good bacteria; they’re bad for your bad bacteria.”

Indulge in dark chocolate

Dark chocolate contains fibre and plant-based molecules called polyphenols. Since both of these compounds are difficult for the intestines to digest, they can travel deep into your gut where they’re fermented and metabolised by microbes. This process in turn releases health-promoting anti-inflammatory chemicals.

Sip some polyphenols

A 2013 study from the journal Food Research International found that drinking black tea and red wine could improve the bacterial composition in the gut. That’s because, like chocolate, wine and tea contain microbe-feeding polyphenols.

Don’t give up on antibiotics

Ever heard that taking antibiotics can throw your microbiome out of whack? It’s true to an extent, as antibiotics have a habit of destroying the microbes in your gut indiscriminately; but, as Maurice notes, there’s no other therapeutic alternative at the moment. Instead of avoiding antibiotics altogether (or failing to take the full dose as prescribed by your doctor), she recommends counteracting the effects on your gut by eating a diverse diet or even taking a probiotic temporarily.