You're likely already doing a lot for your health, whether that comes down to watching what you eat, taking supplements, skin brushing, going gluten-free, or something else entirely, and that's amazing! But did you know that one of the easiest, most effective things you can do for your overall health is taking care of your gut?
It's All About the Bacteria
There's a reason why scientists consider the gut microbiome (that's the ecosystem of bacteria that lives in your gastrointestinal tract) to be just as important as the other vital organs in your body––it plays such a critical role in so many different areas of your health that it's frankly astonishing that it’s just now getting the attention it deserves.1
For instance, did you know that the healthier the bacteria in your gut are, the better your mood is likely to be? The same goes for your immunity, your sleep, your skin, and the balance of yeast in your body, just to name a few of the many things your microbiome affects.2,3,4,5,6
Since your gut microbiome is connected to the well-being of so many other parts of your body, if it's off, then chances are something else is going to be out of whack too. Even very healthy people can do things that put their gut off balance without knowing it, and anyway, our modern Western lifestyle is definitely less than ideal for supporting gut health. Things like exposure to chemicals in water, getting antibiotics into your system through food or medications, eating processed foods, or just getting stressed out can do a number on your bacteria.
Here's the Good News:
With a few conscious everyday changes, you can get your gut microbiome back to its optimal state. Let me guess: you've probably already got a lot of ideas running through your head, but just in case you're looking for extra inspiration, we have a few really doable––and actually fun––things you can do to support your gut health on a daily basis.
Small Changes, Huge Effects
1. Get a water bottle or cup that you love, and use it!
OK, you already know that drinking lots of water is good for you. But we also know that it can be hard to make sure you're getting all the water you should ideally have in a day, especially when you're on the go. So if you regularly find yourself staring down that fourth or fifth cup of water, silently hoping that it will drink itself, try coming at things from a different angle.
Instead of thinking of drinking lots of water as something you "have to" do for your health, make it into something you enjoy. One really fun way to do this is by getting some kind of container––whether that's a water bottle, a really beautiful cup, or even a glass decanter––that you love, something that's going to make you smile every time you use it.
It's certainly much more fun than just chugging from the same old cup, and it sets you up for success from a psychological standpoint. The pleasure you get by using the container is seen as a reward by your brain, triggering a release of dopamine, which makes you more likely to want to keep doing the action that leads to that reward: in this case, drinking out of the container.7 You end up drinking more water, your gut microbiome is happy, and it then supports other parts of your body, in particular your ability to absorb nutrients properly. Win, win, and win.
2. Switch up your exercise routine.
Movement makes you feel better, supports your health in all kinds of ways, and, you guessed it, is great for your microbiome. So the minimum here is to keep doing whatever kind of movement you've already got going on in your life.
But if you really want to shake things up, then try changing out your normal type of exercise for something else, even just for a couple of days. It's not only good to give your body different types of challenges, but doing so also stimulates your brain, which keeps you from getting bored with your routine and having one of those moments where you take "just one day" off that ends up being three or four. Plus, who knows, you might find your new favorite workout!
3. Get your Om on.
By which we mean, do what you can to remove stressors from your day and increase the time you spend relaxing. Just like you, your beneficial bacteria don't enjoy being stressed, and long-term stress can deplete their numbers.8
One fantastic place to start is spending less time with your devices––screen time is linked to some less-than-amazing things for your well-being. If you're looking for a way to fill the time, consider getting a little more sleep every night. So many of us are chronically under-rested, and this is connected with some pretty unpleasant physical changes. If you'd rather add things than take them away, then consider incorporating a short meditation or gratitude practice into your day, since both are good for your stress levels, and by extension, your gut.
4. Spend time with animals.
Whether your heart melts for kittens or you're a fan of man's best friend, the more time you can spend with animals the better. Research has shown that they're good for your health in all kinds of ways, including supporting a healthy blood pressure level and maintaining mental well-being, plus, being around pets helps diversify your microbiome.
Spending any kind of time with animals, whether you're pet sitting, hanging out at the dog park, or volunteering at a shelter is a good start, but do what you can to have your animal interactions outside. This will most likely be more fun for the both of you, and it means that you'll be exposed to even more strains of good-for-you bacteria.9
5. Experiment with your food.
A lot of health articles will tell you that you need to follow some super-strict eating pattern or take a ton of supplements to have a healthy diet, but we're realists, and we know that it's just not sustainable to cut out every single less-than-ideal food from your life. So instead of trying to eat perfectly, try adding in more gut-friendly foods to your diet.
Like any change to your health, it's not going to happen overnight, but the more you eat in a way that supports your gut, the better you're likely to feel. Before you know it, you might actually end up craving some of the gut-friendly foods you never thought about before! And of course, once you really start to notice a difference in the way you feel, you probably won't even think twice about the less healthy foods that once stocked your cupboards, because you know just how bad you feel when your bacterial balance is thrown off by sugar, gluten, or junk food.
6. Fertilize your gut.
While we're on the subject of food, did you know that the foods you eat can actually act similarly to fertilizer for your gut microbiota? Some types of foods are considered to be "prebiotics," meaning that they contain components that encourage the growth of gut bacteria.
Try getting a little more asparagus, apples, jicama, pumpkin seeds, or honey in your daily diet; they're all potent prebiotics, and really easy to sneak into lots of meals that you're probably already making. If you want to make things really simple, you also have the option of taking a prebiotic powder. This organic food-based blend contains prebiotic fibers that are indigestible to you, but make your gut bacteria sing.
7. Hit the bacterial reset button.
Your gut bacteria will naturally work towards balance, given half a chance, so if you incorporate just a few of these suggestions, you're already doing a great job for your health. In this day and age though, a high-quality probiotic formula is crucial for optimal gut health. An effective daily probiotic supplement can help restore the ideal balance of your microbiome, and by extension, the strongest functioning of many other parts of your body.
While we have probiotics that are specifically designed to support different needs, it's often a good idea to start with a solid all-arounder, like PRO-15, which has 15 diverse strains of bacteria your gut will love, and comes in a unique time-released capsule so as many of those bacteria as possible make it into your intestinal tract, where they're needed most.
Bottom line: you're already doing great things to feel your best each day. But if you want to truly take things to the next level, you've got to get your gut in the game. And with these very doable suggestions, you'll be well on your way to better gut health before you know it.
1. Baquero F., Nombela C. (2012). The Microbiome as a Human Organ. Clinical Microbiology and Infection 18(Suppl 4:2-4) doi: 10.1111/j.1469-0691.2012.03916.x.
2. Schmidt, K., Cowen, P. J., Harmer, C. J., Tzortzis, G., Errington, S., & Burnet, P. W. (2014). Prebiotic Intake Reduces the Waking Cortisol Response and Alters Emotional Bias in Healthy Volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 232(10), 1793-1801.
3. Round, J.L. and Mazmanian, S.K. (2009) The Gut Microbiome Shapes Intestinal Immune Responses During Health and Disease. Nature Reviews Immunology 9(5). doi: 10.1038/nri2515
4. Bravo, J. A., Forsythe, P., Chew, M. V., Escaravage, E., Savignac, H. M., Dinan, T. G., . . . Cryan, J. F. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus Strain Regulates Emotional Behavior and Central GABA Receptor Expression in a Mouse via the Vagus Nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(38), 16050-16055.
5. Bowe, W.P., Logan, A.C. (2011). Acne Vulgaris, Probiotics and the Gut-Brain-Skin Axis - Back to the Future? Gut Pathogens, 3(1). doi:10.1186/1757-4749-3-1
6. Cribby, S., Taylor, M., & Reid, G. (2008). Vaginal Microbiota and the Use of Probiotics. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases, 2008(1-9). doi: 10.1155/2008/256490
7. Hyman, S.E., Malenka, R.C., and Nestler, E.J. (2006) Neural Mechanisms of Addiction: The Role of Reward-Related Learning and Memory. Annual Review of Neuroscience 29(565-598). doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.29.051605.113009
8. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Galley, J. D., Hufnagle, A. R., Allen, R. G., & Lyte, M. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(3), 397-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023
9. Azad, M.B. Konya, T., Maughan, H., Guttman, D.S., Field, C.J. . . . Kozyrskyj, A.L. (2013) Infant Gut Microbiota and the Hygiene Hypothesis of Allergic Disease: Impact of Household Pets and Siblings on Microbiota Composition and Diversity. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology 9(15) doi: 10.1186/1710-1492-9-15
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.