H for Health
10 Gut Microbiome Hacks to Optimize Our Health
Numerous studies have shown that various modifiable lifestyle factors influence the gut microbiome. In this article, we will explore what we can do to optimize our gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome refers to the collection of microorganisms living in our digestive tract. These microorganisms play a vital role in maintaining good health. They assist in regulating our immune system, protect against diseases, aid in digesting our meals, and produce essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that our body cannot generate on its own.
In a large-scale multinational study, researchers discovered that over 40% of people worldwide suffer from functional gastrointestinal disorders, including constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, dyspepsia, and diarrhea. Many of us experience these gut problems, and while such symptoms may be normal from time to time, if they frequently occur, they should be taken seriously. In such cases, it may be necessary to see a doctor. However, in many instances, these issues can be managed personally. The gut is highly adaptable, and even minor changes that we make can yield significant results, saving us from chronic health problems later in life.
Table of Content
Here follow 10 Gut Microbiome Hacks:
Hack #1 Our Diet
Our diet is one of the main factors influencing the makeup of our gut microbiome. The microbes in the gut thrive on fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans.
A high-fiber diet helps maintain a diverse community of microorganisms in our gut. Increasing our fiber intake can alter the type of microorganisms in our gut within a few weeks. Fiber is exclusively found in plants and is absent in animal products. A typical Western diet doesn’t provide much for our beneficial gut bacteria to feed on, which results in an imbalance in our gut. Harmful bacteria in our gut are nourished by meat (including seafood), junk food, fast food, as well as dairy and eggs. We should strive to incorporate as many plants as possible into every meal. We should aim to consume at least 30 different, colorful plants per week to ensure we are ingesting a wide range of phytonutrients that support our gut health. The more plants, the merrier.
It’s important to gradually transition to a high-fiber diet. Our body needs time to adjust to all of these wonderful plants. Too much fiber too quickly can be overwhelming and may increase gas production and bloating. Individuals who suffer from chronic diseases should consult a doctor before making significant diet changes.
Hack #2 Fermented Foods
Include fermented foods in our diet as they increase microbiome diversity and improve immune responses. Pickled vegetables, sauerkraut and kimchi are simple additions to our salads and easy gut-friendly garnishes for other meals. Sourdough bread, tempeh, and miso are great fermented additions to our diet as well. And a beverage like a sparkling kombucha may also improve our gut health.
Hack #3 Organic and non-GMO foods
Choose organic and non-GMO foods in our diet whenever possible, as they are either pesticide-free or contain much lower levels of pesticide residues compared to non-organic foods. Pesticides are chemical compounds designed to kill rodents, insects, and plants. Recent research has shown that chronic exposure to dietary pesticides can affect the microorganisms in our gut, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial bacteria.
Hack #4 Ultra-processed Foods
Ultra-processed foods such as savory snacks, sausages, bacon, other reconstituted meat products, industrial bread, pre-packaged meals, sauces, breakfast cereals, and soft drinks are highly palatable, possess a long shelf-life, and are relatively cheap and convenient. However, these foods typically exhibit a poor nutritional profile, characterized by a high salt content and an abundance of food additives including preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. Studies show that processed and animal-derived foods are consistently associated with a higher prevalence of harmful bacteria. These bacteria produce endotoxins, which increase inflammation and damage the gut. Therefore, we should aim to eliminate ultra-processed foods from our diet as much as possible and replace them with whole, unprocessed plant-based foods.
Hack #5 Antibiotics
It’s advisable to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are not selective; they also reduce or eliminate resident bacteria that are crucial for our gut health. Even a short course of antibiotics can have lasting effects on the gut microbiome.
Hack #6 Alcohol
Alcohol consumption alters the composition of our gut microbiome. It increases gut permeability and may be associated with escalated gastrointestinal inflammation, which can generate body-wide inflammation. Therefore, reducing or avoiding alcohol can benefit our gut microbiome.
Hack #7 Stress
Studies have shown that our gut is particularly vulnerable to the effects of chronic stress, which can cause detrimental changes in our gut microbiome. Try incorporating stress management strategies into our daily life, such as taking breaks, meditating, practicing yoga, and spending more time in nature.
Hack #8 Social Relationships
Research indicates that strong social relationships correlate with improved gut health. By cultivating our social connections, we can live a happier and healthier life for both ourselves and our gut.
Hack #9 Exercise
Exercise increases the levels of the body’s endocannabinoids and enhances microbiome diversity, thereby promoting beneficial gut bacteria. In return, our gut microbiome produces more compounds that reduce inflammation in our body and increase the uptake of healthy compounds from our food.
Hack #10 Circadian Rhythm
Our gut operates on a circadian rhythm, just like we all do. Poor-quality sleep and disrupted circadian rhythms are associated with an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut, resulting in lower levels of the beneficial species. Therefore, we should aim to get 7-9 hours of restful sleep per night.
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