5 Tips for a Good Gut Feeling!

Follow these hacks to maintain good gut health and feel great!

Feb 18, 2020

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The saying goes, “We are what we eat”. Like an expensive car, your digestive system functions at its best on premium fuel. And when your gut is in good health, you’ll even experience health benefits in other systems of the body, too. In fact, a 2013 study on gut bacteria published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that having a wide variety of good bacteria in the gut has multiple health benefits like boosting your immune system, combating obesity, and improving symptoms of depression.

So, what are we talking about when we mean “gut health” in the first place? Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Everyone has a unique collection of trillions of bacteria in their gut (weird, right?). But healthy individuals tend to have certain combinations of bacteria species. So, getting that right balance of gut bacteria—through eating probiotic-rich foods such as miso and yogurt—could help you be your best self too.

For instance, your gut contains 90 percent of your body’s receptors of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps balance moods. Studies have found that cultures where people eat a diet that promotes gut health, like in Japan or in the Mediterranean region, have a 25 to 35 percent lower risk of depression.

Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann of the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital explains, "This is a new frontier of medicine, and many are looking at the gut microbiota as an additional organ system. It's most important to the health of our gastrointestinal system but may have even more far-reaching effects on our well-being."

So, maintaining good gut health not only helps digest food. Organisms in the gut affect other systems in the body, too, from our heart and joints to our moods! Follow these tips to maintain good gut health and feel your best.

1. Eat the right “gut” foods 

Chances are you’ve come across the word “probiotics” by now. These days, entire aisles in a drug store contain different powders, pills, and foods labeled as probiotics. Surveys have found that nearly four million Americans take probiotic supplements for improved gut health, making this an industry generating at least $40 billion each year!

But which kinds of foods improve gut health? You’ll want to eat foods that promote bacteria diversity in the gut.

Probiotic foods promoting healthy gut flora include kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread, and certain cheeses. Keep in mind that not all fermented foods contain probiotics. Some fermented foods, like beer or wine, go through steps that remove the probiotics and make them inactive. Be sure to check and look for the label “live and active cultures”. 

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2. Exercise regularly

A 2016 study reported in The Scientist found that physical activity shifts the composition of bacteria in the intestines, upping its diversity. Doctors suggest a minimum of 75 minutes of weekly aerobic activity or 30 minutes of regular exercise every day, even if that means low-impact training like going for a walk or stretching. 

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3. Get enough sleep

Irregular sleep patterns can have a negative impact on gut flora, according to research. So make sure to get at least seven hours of shut eye each night. 

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4. Avoid stress

It might seem strange that stress would affect something like the bacteria in your gut. But studies on mammals reported in BMC Microbiology indicate that exposure to too much stress does affect gut health. So find ways to manage stress levels and maintain gut health with regular exercise, daily meditation, relaxation and even volunteering.

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5. Take a holistic approach to health 

Traditional medical approaches often treated each health system as separate entities. If you have a heart condition, you go to a cardiologist. When you have vision problems, you visit the eye doctor. 

Modern approaches to medicine have started to take a more holistic approach, treating our bodies as one interconnected system. Gut health is a prime example. Surprising new research shows how gut health doesn’t just affect our digestion. It impacts other areas of health, too, from heart conditions to arthritis. It’s suggested that your “gut feeling” may actually be signals from your “second brain” or the “enteric nervous system” hidden in the walls of your digestive system.

Gut health, just like with any medical system, involves a complex number of factors, from genetics to diet and lifestyle. There’s no one-fits-all approach. But following certain healthy routines will benefit your gut in the long run. Of course, when in doubt, consult with a doctor and continue to learn more about how to optimize your gut health and feel great.

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ALLISON MICHELLE DIENSTMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Working from her laptop as a freelance writer, Allison lives as a digital nomad, exploring the world while sharing positivity and laughter. She is a lover of language, travel, music, and creativity with a degree in Chinese language and literature.