Your gut microbiome is made up of a diverse group of bacteria that play a key role in nutrient absorption, protection against foreign pathogens, and immune health. Some studies even show that gut bacteria can impact on your body weight. In fact, people who are overweight or obese have a gut microbiome composition that differs from leaner folks. That isn’t surprising when you consider that probiotic bacteria affect nutrient absorption.
The composition of your gut microbiome may also affect your metabolic health by impacting insulin sensitivity. This, in turn, affects the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity.
There’s also growing evidence that your gut, or “second brain” as it’s sometimes called, affects mood. If the composition of your microbiome is off, you may feel down or experience brain fog. So, your gut microbiome can influence your mental and physical health. Although research into the gut microbiome is in its infancy, there’s support for the idea that having a diverse microbiome is conducive to overall health and well-being.
Avoid Antibiotics When You Can
Antibiotics are the enemy of a healthy gut microbiome. Sometimes you need them, but even a single course of antibiotics can alter the gut microbiome for up to a year. Some experts question whether the gut microbiome ever fully returns to normal after an antibiotic prescription. The problem with antibiotics is they destroy healthy gut bacteria along with the pathogen they target.
Prescriptions aren’t the only way you get antibiotics. The meat industry gives healthy animals antibiotics to lower their risk of infection and to encourage them to grow larger. So, eating factory-farmed red meat is another way you could take in trace quantities of antibiotics.
At the very least, don’t take antibiotics for viral infections. They aren’t effective and they damage your gut microbiome and foster antibiotic resistance. Too often, people request antibiotics for viral infections and some physicians comply just to please the patient. Always question why you’re taking one.
Consume More Prebiotics and Probiotics
Another way to boost your nurture a healthy gut microbiome is to eat more fermented foods rich in natural probiotics. Examples are fresh sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, kimchi, and yogurt with active cultures. You can buy these items at a healthy food market or make them yourself. It only takes a few spoonfuls a day to get health benefits. It’s not clear what the ideal microbiome looks like but greater diversity appears to be better. By eating fermented foods, you seed your gut with a variety of gut-friendly bacteria.
Don’t forget to feed the bacteria that make up your gut microbiome! Prebiotics are a non-digestible type of fiber that bacteria love to dine on. When you eat prebiotic-rich foods, you support your gut microbiome. Foods rich in prebiotics include onions, garlic, artichokes, leafy green, whole grains, and bananas. By adding more of these foods to your diet, you provide an environment that helps friendly gut bacteria survive.
Cut Back on Sugar and Ultra-Processed foods
There’s more than one reason to cut back on processed foods and foods high in sugar. Research suggests that the typical Western diet high in sugar, fat, and refined carbohydrates negatively affects the gut microbiome. Plus, ultra-processed foods are low in fiber, and the bacteria that make up your gut microbiome feed on this substance. Artificial sweeteners may not be better. Some research suggests that synthetic, non-calorie sweeteners negatively alter the gut microbiome too.
Avoid NSAID, like Ibuprofen
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID), like ibuprofen, are popular for relieving minor aches and pains and lowering fever. However, research shows that people who use NSAID have gut microbiomes that differ from non-users. Plus, NSAID are damaging to the lining of the gut too.
When researchers looked at 41 categories of medications, 18 had a significant impact on the gut microbiome. So, it’s not just antibiotics and NSAID that disrupt the gut and its bacterial citizens. Other medications are too.
Get a Little Dirty
Experts now say there are drawbacks to living in a sterile society where people are less likely to spend time outdoors. According to researchers at UC Davis, overusing sanitizers and disinfectants contributes to a lack of microbiome diversity. In contrast, spending more time in nature, having pets, and activities like gardening foster more diverse gut bacteria. Having a dog, cat, or another animal is beneficial too. Research shows children who grow up in a home with pets are less likely to have asthma and allergies.
Cut Back on Alcohol
To keep your microbiome healthy, don’t overdo the alcohol. One study found that drinking large amounts of alcohol at one time can damage the gut lining and lead to a leaky gut. This disruption releases bacteria and their toxins from the gut into the bloodstream, triggering a rise in inflammatory markers. Other studies in animals and humans show using alcohol regularly disrupts the intestinal lining and alters the gut microbiome.
Alcohol has no nutritional value, is high in calories, and is addictive for some people. It also places added stress on your liver, as your liver has to break it down. So, drinking alcohol has other health risks too. Why not enjoy green tea instead?
The Bottom Line
A healthy microbiome is important for mental and physical wellness. Now you know some ways to boost the health of your microbiome. Take care of your gut bacteria and they’ll serve you well. They have many roles to play in keeping you healthy.
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