How to Improve Your Gut Health in 6 Easy Steps

How to Improve Your Gut Health in 6 Easy Steps


They don’t call it the “second brain” for nothing. The gut microbiome, which consists of no less than 100 trillion bacteria, affects everything from skin health and sex drive to energy levels and hormone balance. How, exactly? The gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS), and while its main purpose is to regulate digestion, it also has a strong connection to the brain, and thus, a major impact on your mental well-being. “If your gut health is out of whack, your microbes send signals that negatively influence your mood,” explains Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutritious Life.

From understanding the signs of poor digestion to giving your microbiome the good bacteria it craves to stay balanced, experts weigh in on how to take a holistic approach to improve your gut health.

Sleep More, Stress Less

While a no-brainer for allover health, getting adequate sleep and controlling stress play a pivotal part in keeping your gut in check. “The stress hormone epinephrine allows gut bacteria to proliferate,” explains Christine Frissora, MD, an associate professor of clinical medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. “The gut bacteria then bind to the intestinal wall and cause inflammation.” What’s more is that sleep loss can disrupt the regulation of the brain’s flow of epinephrine, thus causing an increased concentration of gut bacteria. To ease into an earlier bedtime, turning in 15 minutes sooner each night will help to gradually arrive at a goal bedtime that ensures the suggested seven or eight hours; and to quell anxiety and keep stress levels low, techniques like a brief morning meditation or a short walk during the workday are small changes that yield big results.

Add Probiotics to Your Diet

Probiotics are live “good” bacteria and yeasts that keep your digestive system balanced and your body functioning properly. There are probiotic-rich foods, from cultured veggies, like sauerkraut or kimchi, to fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha. And then there are foods that are high in fiber (think: bananas, oats, and flaxseeds), which are considered prebiotic and feed the good bacteria. “Different fibers feed different bacteria, so it’s important to get these prebiotics from multiple sources and from a variety of foods,” advises Glassman.

Because the American diet is often infiltrated by processed foods that have lost their natural bacteria, probiotic supplements, like those on offer from RMS Beauty or The Nue Co., are also rising in popularity. “Food sources are a better way to deliver bugs to the belly,” explains Glassman. “But you can think of adding a supplement to your daily routine as a bit of an ‘insurance’ policy to make sure you’re balancing the bacteria in your everyday, no matter what.”

Try a Gut-Resetting Cleanse

If you want to upend your diet in one fell swoop but find yourself in need of professional help, a targeted meal-delivery plan may be the answer: Sakara’s latest organic offering, an intensive five-day Level II: Detox cleanse, is intentionally designed to “reset the gut,” say cofounders Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBoise, who firmly believe the stomach is the “center of health.” Teaming plant-based meals, kefirs, smoothies, broths, and supplements, like the gastrointestinal-health-boosting G.I. Rebuild + Repair, with the help of Yale-trained MD and herbalist Aviva Romm, it delivers beneficial bacteria to the gut’s lining and prevents leaky gut, a condition in which pathogenic bacteria permeate the intestinal walls and cause food particles and toxic waste to enter the bloodstream, which causes inflammation. The total-body benefits—more energy, better sleep, stress reduction, and brain clarity—are not to be underestimated.

Drink More Water and Decaffeinated Tea

“Our bodies need water for skin health, immunity, and energy, but also to push things along through digestion,” explains Glassman. “So while we need the bacteria for gut health, we also need the fluids to keep everything moving as it should.” Eight glasses of water per day is a solid rule of thumb, and you can also hydrate with decaffeinated teas, such as digestion-supporting ginger and soothing chamomile, says Dr. Frissora.

Exercise Regularly—But Especially When You’re Bloated

According to a recent study conducted by researchers in Italy, exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbial species and enrich microflora diversity in the gut, improving overall health and preventing disease in the long run. Not to mention, it will make you feel better day to day: “Exercise promotes motility or movement of the gut,” says Renee Williams, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. “I would actually challenge anyone who feels bloated to jump on a treadmill or elliptical machine for 30 minutes. You may be surprised at how much better you feel afterward.” If bloating, indigestion, or nausea are becoming a chronic issue, she suggests following up with a primary care doctor for evaluation. “I usually tell patients that they are the best judges of what is going with their [gut] health.”

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