A healthy stomach is key to your overall well-being. Here are 7 things you can do to improve your gut health.
1. Limit antibiotics
Nothing has a faster, more dramatic effect on gut flora than antibiotics. Yes, there are times when antibiotic use is necessary, but always ask your doctor whether there is another option. If you need antibiotics, ask for a narrow-spectrum variety, such as penicillin. "Broad-spectrum antibiotics have a greater effect on gut microbiota," says Kozyrskyj.
2. Eat fermented foods and probiotics
It's a good idea to supplement with a probiotic to boost the good micro-organisms in your gut and improve digestion, vitamin absorption and immunity. But eating yogurt isn't enough. Look for yogurts with added probiotics, and eat other fermented, probiotic-rich foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir and miso. It's especially important to consume probiotics after a round of antibiotics. "Everyone should take a probiotic for a month or two after antibiotic use," says Direnfeld. If you have a GI issue, visit a naturopath for more specific solutions.
3. Eat a balanced diet with lots of organic foods
A study in Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that eating organic foods during pregnancy changes the gut flora of the baby for the better. It makes sense that eating organic foods throughout your adult life would be beneficial as well, but if you can't afford to do that, don't worry. Eating a balanced diet that's rich in fruits, veggies and fibre is the best thing you can do for your gut. "Your long-term diet has a much larger impact on gut health than short-term changes," says Knight. Focus on eating a nutritious diet you can sustain for life.
4. Eat more fibre
"If you worry that you're not eating enough fibre, chances are you're not," says Gershon. You need fibre for proper nutrient absorption. "Fibre also absorbs carcinogens, so eating more fibre may reduce your cancer risk," he adds. Eating veggies is one of the best ways to up your fibre count, with celery, carrots and greens topping the list. Fibre can't help flush out bad bacteria from your gut, but it can help prevent overgrowth of bad bacteria.
5. Eat what your ancestors ate
Our bodies appear to like what our parents and their parents ate, meaning they are likely ill-equipped to digest exotic or processed foods that are relatively new to the human diet. A study in Nature found that digestive enzymes can take a long time to develop. For example, the enzyme required to digest marine algae such as nori is found in Japanese gut bacteria but not American. "If we change what we eat, we can educate our gut bacteria to digest the new material," says Mirjam Czjzek, one of the lead authors of the study. "We have no idea what time is needed for this to happen. It might take years, generations or even several generations."
6. Grow up with pets and siblings
A study in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology found that early-life exposure to pets or siblings positively affects your gut flora. Since low gut diversity is linked to allergic disease, it appears that the microbiota richness that comes from living with pets and older siblings may help prevent allergies.
7. Get a good night's sleep
"The gut cleans itself when [you're] sleeping," says Gershon. Getting sufficient rest is essential to having a healthy gut.
Learn more about your gut health, including how to fix common digestive issues.