Why is Gut Health Important & How to Improve itYou’ve probably heard the term “gut health,” before, and moreover, you’ve probably heard that you want to have “good” gut health—but what is “gut health” referring to, and what can you do to make it “good?”

Your gut, also called your gastrointestinal tract, is a long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your anus. In between, there’s your esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach), your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (or colon). Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria—most of which are beneficial! These good bacteria help with everything from digesting food to keeping your immune system strong.

The reason, then, that you want to have 'good' gut health is because a healthy gut is essential for a strong immune system, proper digestion and nutrient absorption, and even mental health. So what can you do to improve your gut health naturally?

Make Some Changes To Your Diet

One of the most effective ways to affect your gut health is by addressing your diet and adding more gut-healthy foods. For instance:

  • Eat more fiber-rich foods. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. However, fiber is an important food for gut bacteria—it’s what they eat! Gut bacteria break down fiber and use it for energy, which helps them grow and thrive. The best way to get more fiber in your diet is to eat a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
  • Eat more fermented foods. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which are live bacteria that can have health benefits when consumed. Probiotics help to restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut, and they may also help to reduce inflammation. Some examples of fermented foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
  • Limit sugar and processed foods. Sugar and processed foods are some of the worst foods for gut health because they feed bad bacteria, which can lead to inflammation. Try to limit these foods as much as possible, or at least balance them out with fiber-rich, probiotic-rich foods.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol can kill both good and bad gut bacteria, and it can also lead to inflammation by damaging the lining of the gut. If you want to improve your gut health, it’s best to limit your alcohol intake
  • Stay hydrated. By drinking plenty of water on a regular basis, you can help to keep things moving through your digestive system and prevent constipation.

Similarly, if you experience symptoms like cramping, bloating, diarrhea, rashes, nausea, fatigue, and acid reflux, you may have a food intolerance or sensitivity that causes difficulty digesting certain foods. This is different from a food allergy, which is an immune reaction to a food that can be life-threatening. If you think you may have a food intolerance or sensitivity, it’s best to speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian for help in identifying the culprit foods and developing a plan to avoid them.

Get Moving

Movement is medicine for many parts of the body, and the gut is no exception. As we move, our intestines naturally contract and move waste through the body. This plays an important role in keeping the digestive system functioning regularly.

On top of this, exercise has been shown to improve your gut bacteria. One study had participants exercise for 30 - 60 minutes three times a week for six weeks, and at the end of this period, researchers found that many of the participants had an increase in the gut bacteria that help produce short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids not only reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, but also obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

However, they also noted that after returning to a sedentary lifestyle for six weeks, these changes reverted. In other words, it’s important to make exercise a regular part of your routine if you want to maintain good gut health.

Take Time to Relax

We know that stress can have a negative impact on many aspects of our health, and this includes our gut health. In fact, you may have heard of something called the “gut-brain connection,” or maybe you’ve described something as “gut-wrenching” before. In fact, we feel lots of emotions in our gut—think of a time when you had “butterflies” in your stomach!

We use these metaphors to describe emotions because the connection between the brain and the gut is very strong. For instance, if you’re eagerly awaiting for your food to come out at a restaurant, your stomach is already producing digestive juices. So when we get stressed out, it’s no wonder we feel it in our gut—and it goes both ways! If you have poor gut health, it might be the result of mental distress, but it can also be the cause of mental distress, as well.

So how can you reduce your stress and improve your gut health?

  • Exercise releases mood-boosting endorphins while reducing stress hormones, like cortisol.
  • Meditation and similar activities like yoga and deep breathing can help you recenter yourself, eliminate jumbled thoughts, and reduce stress.
  • Connecting with others, whether friends or family, can promote feelings of happiness and well-being.
  • Creative hobbies, like painting, coloring, knitting, crocheting, or writing, expressing our creativity can help us to feel calmer and more centered.

There are many other ways to relax and destress, too, and you might have something else in mind already. If so, stick with it! The important thing is to find what works for you and make relaxation a regular part of your routine.

Consult With Your Doctor

Of course, if you’re having gut issues or are otherwise worried about your gut health, it’s best to reach out to your doctor. Your doctor can perform tests and screenings to determine the root cause of your symptoms, and they can work with you to develop an effective treatment plan that addresses your individual needs, including referring you to a specialist, if needed. After all, having good gut health is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health in general. With the right diagnosis and care from a trusted professional, you can take charge of your gut health and enjoy all the benefits that come with it.

At Prima Care, our team of experienced doctors is here to help you with all of your health needs. If you’re concerned about your gut health, or if you’re experiencing any digestive issues, schedule an appointment today. We’ll work with you to develop a plan that’s right for you and help you on your way to better gut health.