Your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome—the environment in your gut where healthy probiotic bacteria thrive—is really a window into your overall health.
For example, a healthy microbiome protects you against aging, blood sugar issues, chronic inflammation, heart problems, and weight gain. And on the flip side, a disturbance to your GI microbiome often signals a larger, systemic problem—such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, or Type II diabetes.
So, today, let’s talk about some things you can do to help support the health of this all-important system in your body…
Five ways to protect your gut
1.) Maintain a healthy weight. Many new studies link dysbiosis—which is an imbalance of probiotic bacteria in your gut—to weight gain and greater abdominal fat. There are even some studies where fecal microbial transplants from lean, healthy controls have been shown to help with weight loss. And the results are quite promising.
Fortunately, there’s a simpler way…
You can correct dysbiosis and get control of your weight at the same time by simply adopting a healthy, balanced diet filled with wholesome, satisfying foods. Which brings me to my next point…
2.) Follow a balanced, Mediterranean-type diet. Study after study shows that following a Mediterranean-type diet—rich in fruits, cheeses, full-fat dairy, vegetables, fish, legumes, nuts, olive oil, meats, and alcohol (in moderation)—improves the health of your microbiome.
Specifically, people who follow this kind of diet have more healthy probiotic bacteria and fewer harmful probiotic bacteria. In fact, foods such as yogurts and cheeses directly add more healthy probiotics to your gut. And Mediterranean staples, such as garlic and onions, act as “prebiotic” foods and “feed” the healthy probiotics already in your gut—much better than questionable probiotic supplements.
3.) Be careful about fiber. You probably know that eating fiber helps keep your GI tract running smoothly. And a new study has even found a link between fiber intake and telomere length. (Telomeres are the “caps” at the end of your chromosomes. And research shows the longer your telomeres, the longer your lifespan.)
In that study, each 10-grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed corresponded to greater telomere length and a biological age 4.3 years younger than chronological age.
So, for the average adult eating a typical 2,000-calorie daily diet, that means you should get about 20 grams of fiber per day.
But be careful about the kind of fiber you eat…and forgo the fiber pills and processed meal-replacement bars with added fiber.
Instead, get the right kind of fiber by simply eating fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal. You can also look to add beans and lentils to soups, stews, salads, and Tex-Mex dishes. (As an added bonus, legumes also contain lots of protein.)
4.) Get moving. Like fiber, moderate exercise also keeps your gut healthy.
For one, it immediately helps to increase blood flow toward the GI tract. It also triggers peristalsis (the involuntary wave-like contraction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestines)—helping to keep you regular.
And now, a new study has found that physical activity can directly improve the makeup of your microbiome. Specifically, it can boost the diversity and total number of beneficial probiotic bacteria in your gut. It can also help encourage the development of new, healthy bacteria.
Of course, over-exercising (what I call “excess-ercise”), as I reported again last month, should be avoided at all costs—as it can harm your GI tract, your eyesight, and much more! So, simply aim to get 2.5 hours total per week of light-to-moderate exercise. And remember, even light yardwork, an evening stroll, or housework counts toward your weekly total!
5.) Avoid drugs. As you probably know, many types of drugs slow down your digestion and can contribute to constipation—including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), calcium channel blockers (and other blood pressure drugs), nitrates, narcotics, antacids containing aluminum, and iron supplements (which I always recommend against).
On the flip side, antibiotic drugs often induce diarrhea by completely wiping out the healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut. They’re also associated with many gut health problems—including colon cancer. And their overuse has directly led to the rise of deadly, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”!
In the end, I only ever recommend taking an antibiotic drug to avoid a life-threatening infection, such as pneumonia.
And if you must take one, research by the World Health Organization now suggests you can safely stop taking an antibiotic when you start feeling better…instead of finishing the entire prescription, as was once thought.
For additional ways to keep your GI microbiome healthy, please refer to the June 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Listen to your gut: A balanced microbiome leads to a longer, healthier life”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.
P.S. This weekend, if you’re in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, or passing through, please consider stopping by this local farm co-op. My daughter and her husband host other local sellers where you can buy organic foods, baked goods, homemade face masks, and arts and crafts. Details, directions, and updates are posted here: Cozzi Family Farm. Stay safe and be well.
“Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects.” Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2017;2017:3831972. doi.org/10.1155/2017/3831972