Our gut health is integral to our overall health and immunity. But in the course of daily life, the health of our gut microbiome can really take a beating! Gut health is affected by almost everything, including stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, and alcohol consumption, just to name a few. An unhealthy gut can cause a host of problems, from food intolerances to anxiety, depression, and autoimmune issues.  It’s crucial to make a concerted effort to maintain and improve the health of your gut microbiome, because it really is one of the most important ways to recover your health and boost your immunity.

If you’re looking to learn more about the importance of gut health and some ways that you can improve this important body system, here are 5 easy lifestyle changes that we recommend.

Incorporate Bone Broth into Your Diet

Adding bone broth to your diet is one of the best things you can do to improve the health of your gut. Bone broth is a great source of collagen, which is a protein that provides the building blocks for other proteins in the body, such as connective tissue, ligaments, skin and bones. The gut is made up of the same amino acids present in collagen, so when the collagen is consumed, it stimulates cell growth and healing of the intestinal lining. They help to build a strong intestinal wall, which aids in healing and sealing the gut, keeping nutrients and beneficial bacteria in to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

Animal products are one of the best sources for collagen, but because the digestive system has to work harder to digest meat (not to mention that some of the best sources of collagen are the least appetizing parts of the animal), bone broth is an especially efficient way to obtain these vital nutrients. Its liquid form is easily digestible by the body, not to mention delicious and nourishing.

Bone broth is easily made at home if you have the time and inclination – otherwise, we recommend obtaining bone broth from a reputable company that focuses on small batch production and uses high quality ingredients (we discuss the importance of the quality of your bone broth ingredients in this blog post.) Two companies that we highly recommend are The Osso Good Co. and Flavor Chef – both companies focus on quality over quantity, and are the next best thing to making bone broth yourself.

Eat More Fermented Foods

Sure, you can take a probiotic, but we prefer the healing power of food whenever possible. When you nourish your body with real foods, you can be certain of the quality of the ingredients – the same can’t always be said for supplements. Incorporating fermented foods into your diet is an easy way to obtain probiotic bacteria without the use of a supplement.

Some popular fermented foods are:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha

If you follow a paleo diet or have a dairy sensitivity, you’ll want to stay away from kefir and yogurt, though some people with dairy sensitivity find they are able to digest these foods since they are rich in probiotic bacteria and digestive enzymes.

Not only to fermented foods introduce good bacteria into your gut, but the acidic byproducts of the fermentation process lower the pH of your gut, making it difficult for “bad” bacteria to survive.

Stay Away from Sugar and Processed Foods

This should go without saying if you want to enjoy optimal health, but especially when it comes to the health of your gut, sugar and processed foods are a no-no. Both types of food (and we use that term loosely, as neither contribute any nutritional function to the body) contribute to inflammation in the body, which causes an imbalance of gut bacteria. In additional to annihilating your gut health, inflammation has been thought to contribute to a host of chronic health problems.

Avoid Taking Antibiotics Unnecessarily

While antibiotics can be a lifesaving necessity in certain cases, misuse and overuse of antibiotics are all too common. In addition to causing antibiotic resistance – both in humans and in the germs that the antibiotics are meant to destroy, antibiotic overuse can have devastating effects on the gut microbiome.

Antibiotics are meant to destroy illness-causing bacteria, but an unintended side effect is that they also destroy the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Used responsibly, and in conjunction with a lifestyle that allows the gut microbiome to be replenished after the occasional use of antibiotics, this may not present an issue. But the majority of people in our society already struggle to maintain optimal gut health, and antibiotic overuse is widespread. In a study conducted by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, a group of 12 healthy men were given high doses of antibiotics for 4 days – resulting in an almost complete eradication of gut bacteria.  While most of the gut bacteria eventually repopulated over a 6 month period, 9 strains of beneficial bacteria were still missing, and some “non-desirable” bacteria had colonized in the gut as well.  

For the health of your gut, and to maintain optimal overall health, keep antibiotic use to a minimum and use only when truly necessary – and make sure to follow the gut-healing recommendations here to help your beneficial gut bacteria repopulate after a course of antibiotics.

Stress Less and Sleep More

Chronic stress can cause poor gut health, as can lack of sleep – one scientific study concluded that after only 2 nights of poor sleep, 9 previously healthy subjects had a substantial decrease of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Another study showed that there was a correlation between higher levels of beneficial gut bacteria, higher sleep quality, and cognitive health.

Stress can also lead to an increase in “bad bacteria” in the gut, causing a host of digestive and other health problems. Interestingly, many of the recommendations we make here to promote gut health, are also recommended as ways to decrease stress and improve sleep. Coincidence? We think not!