Your body is home to trillions of bacteria, most of which reside in your gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria collectively make up what is known as your gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is crucial to good health.
There are specific types of bacterial that are superior to others. When it comes to health, the more diverse your gut microbiota, the better. The more beneficial bacteria you have in your gut, the better off you’ll be.
And your gut bacteria doesn’t just influence your physical health, these bacteria influence your mental health, as well. Multiple studies have shown that the microbes in your gut affect your risk for anxiety or depression1. This link between gut and mental health is known as the gut-brain axis.
The foods you eat, the lifestyle you lead and the toxins you’re exposed to can all greatly impact your gut bacteria…for better or worse (it’s up to you!).
Keep reading for the top 10 evidence-based ways to improve your gut bacteria (and your health). These tips help to increase the good bacteria and decrease the harmful ones, which supports gut health.
- 1. Eat an organic diet
- Eating conventionally grown foods that are high in pesticides and chemicals is detrimental to your gut bacteria and your health. These pesticides and chemicals kill pathogenic bugs on foods, which means they can kill the bugs in your gut too. One of the first steps towards gut health and improving your gut bacteria is to go organic. This helps to eliminate unwanted toxins from your diet and protect your gut.
- Read more about the many health reasons for eating only organic foods.
- 2. Follow a Paleo diet
- The Paleo diet is one of the best diets for gut health. This is because it is rich in essential nutrients from vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, grass fed meats and wild caught seafood. Our Paleo Pyramid is your foundation to good gut health. The foods that make up most of this pyramid are key to not only increasing the number of good bacteria but also to decreasing the bad ones. A Paleo diet is rich in prebiotics (fibers that act as food to help the growth of good bacteria).
- Read more about the health benefits of going Paleo.
- 3. Consume a wide variety of different types of foods
- Variety really is the spice of life. Eating a wide variety of many different types of foods is key to health. There are hundreds of different types of bacterial species residing within your GI tract. They all need different types of nourishment to grow and flourish. Research has shown that the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the healthier you are2. Generally speaking, the more diverse the gut bacteria you have, the more health benefits you will reap. A diet that is rich in multiple different types of foods can lead to a diverse gut microbiome2.
- 4. Eat fermented foods
- Fermented foods are rich in healthy gut microbes, specifically lactobacilli bacterial strains. When you eat more fermented foods, you increase the number of healthy bacteria you have, which pushes the bad, inflammatory bacteria out. Fermented foods can alter the composition and function of your gut microbiota3. Make sure to eat a wide variety of fermented foods. Different fermented foods contain different strains of beneficial bacteria to help improve your gut health. Drink kombucha, eat kimchi and load up sauerkraut regularly.
- Read more about the heart healthy benefits of consuming fermented foods regularly.
- 5. Eat prebiotics
- Prebiotics are one of the most essential components to a healthy gut plan. Prebiotics are defined as foods that promote the growth of good microbes in the gut. They can be thought of as food or fuel for your gut’s beneficial bacteria. Typically, prebiotics are fiber or complex carbohydrates that cannot be fully broken down by the GI tract. They make their way to the colon where the gut microbes digest them and use the food as fuel. Many types of prebiotics exist such as fruits, vegetables, resistant starches, and fibers. Research has found that prebiotics can reduce the risk of various chronic diseases such as heart disease based on their beneficial effects on gut health4.
- Read more about the gut health benefits of prebiotics.
- 6. Follow a leaky gut protocol
- Leaky Gut Syndrome is a widely predominant disorder that is present today. Leaky gut occurs when there is some form of damage to the intestinal lining that results in intestinal permeability. This allows things like harmful bacteria, undigested food particles or toxins to make their way through the damaged lining and into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc in the body. One of the main causes of leaky gut is gut flora imbalance. The gut microbiome is key to regulating the integrity of the intestinal lining. When there is a high level of bad bugs and a low level of good bugs, problems can arise. Probiotics are one of the main treatments for leaky gut because the influx of good bacteria pushes the bad, inflammatory pathogens out.
- Check out our Guide to Leaky Gut Syndrome to discover the signs and symptoms, health risks and natural ways that we treat & heal leaky gut.
- 7. Increase polyphenol intake
- Polyphenols are plant compounds (aka antioxidants) that fight inflammation. Polyphenols can’t always be fully digested by the gut and so they can end up in the colon where they end up benefiting gut microbes. Polyphenols can change the composition of microbes, which can help to lower inflammation and heal leaky gut. This is one of the main mechanisms for how polyphenolic antioxidants can help to prevent chronic disease.
- Our Daily Greens drink is rich in your daily serving of polyphenols, prebiotics and good gut microbes.
- 8. Eliminate sugars and artificial sweeteners
- Research has found that artificial sweeteners can negatively impact your gut microbiota by increasing the number of harmful bacteria you’ve got. Additionally, processed sugars can wreak havoc on your gut and increase the bad bugs, while simultaneously decreasing the good ones. Increased sugar intake can alter the gut microbiome and result in gut flora imbalance and bacterial toxins.
- 9. Reduce toxins in your environment
- Remove toxins out of your home, eliminate toxic household products and ensure you are living in a non-toxic environment. This (along with eating an organic diet, see #1) is one of the best things you can do for your gut health. Toxins kill things. So, if you’re exposing yourself to toxins daily, you’re likely killing all your good bacteria. Toxins can destroy the delicate balance of gut bacteria. Examples of gut-destructive toxins include but are not limited to: antibiotics, pesticides, cleaning products and artificial sweeteners (see #8).
- Eliminate toxins, detoxify your body and use only natural products. Check out our list of safe and natural household products.
- 10. Breastfeed your baby
- During the first few years of an infant’s life their gut microbiota is developing5. There has been a lot of research that has shown that the gut microbiomes of infants who are breast fed versus those who are formula fed are vastly different and account for changes in health outcomes later in life5. It is speculated that the reason breastfeeding is so healthy and linked to a reduction in the incidence of obesity, allergies and chronic disease later in life is due to its effects on gut microbes5. Multiple studies have shown that breastfeeding is correlated with the amount of Bifidobacterium present in the gut, which is indirectly linked to inflammation1. Breast milk can increase IgA (a protein needed for intestinal immunity) and beneficial bacterial species along with decreasing IL-6 (an inflammatory marker)1. Research has shown that infants that are fed formula in their early years end up with a decreased amount of total bacterial species in their gut and an increased risk for chronic disease1.
- We are strong advocates of breastfeeding for health. Read more about the top health benefits of breastfeeding,
- Clapp et al., 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
- Heiman et al., 2016: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837298/
- Marco et al., 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27998788
- Yoo et al., 2016: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808900/
- Toscano et al., 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5661030/