June 30, 2023
How to Improve Gut Health
In recent years, doctors and scientists have discovered that gut health is important to overall well-being. The gastrointestinal tract is responsible for digestion, metabolism and supporting the immune system. When the gut can’t work properly, you may experience stomach issues, mood changes, or feel less healthy and energetic than usual.
Learning how your gut works and managing your gut health can benefit how you feel overall.
The Benefits of a Good Gut
Your gut, which is sometimes called your gastrointestinal tract, GI tract or digestive tract, consists of your esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. These organs are interconnected, and all the food you eat moves through them. Each organ plays a role in the process of breaking food down into components that your body can use as fuel.
Digestion relies on involuntary muscle movements in the gut and secretions of digestive fluids. In addition, the digestive process requires assistance from the billions of microorganisms that live in the gut. This population of microorganisms is sometimes called the gut microflora or the microbiome.
Changes in gut health can lead to digestive problems and discomfort. The gut also affects other aspects of health. Gut health has been linked to immune system functions, mental health and mood and increased risk of inflammation. Managing gut health can improve your overall health and well-being.
Signs That Your Gut Health Needs Improvement
When you have issues with your gut health, you may notice persistent problems with your digestion. If your gut isn’t working properly, you may have difficulty digesting foods, which can lead to common types of GI discomfort such as:
Bad breath can also be a sign of gut issues. In some cases, gut issues can lead to fatigue, skin irritation, headaches, mood changes, increase in allergy or autoimmune disorder symptoms.
Foods That Affect Gut Health
What you eat can lead to short-term GI symptoms, such as indigestion. Your diet can also have a longer-term effect on your gut health. A diet heavy in red meat, fried foods, highly processed foods, alcohol and caffeine can upset the balance of good microorganisms in your gut. This can lead to persistent symptoms and discomfort. Cutting back on harmful foods may improve symptoms.
Certain types of foods are known to be beneficial to gut health. Foods with probiotic or prebiotic properties can encourage good microorganisms in the gut and improve overall function. Foods that improve gut health include:
·Fermented foods: Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir contain beneficial live bacteria cultures.
·Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients. They also contain plenty of fiber. Increasing your fiber intake can improve digestive function.
·Whole grains: Whole grains are high in fiber, which is good for digestion.
·Polyphenols: Polyphenols are compounds found in beverages like green tea and red wine. They can reduce the number of harmful microorganisms in the gut.
Medications can also affect gut health. Antibiotics kill a wide range of bacteria, including the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. Many people notice unusual GI problems during and after a course of antibiotics. Certain types of chemotherapy are also harmful to gut bacteria and cause symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea.
If you are using antibiotics or other medications, talk to your doctor about how to avoid GI problems while taking necessary medications. Do not stop taking medications without talking to your doctor first.
7 Ways to Improve Gut Health
Age, stress and other health issues can affect your gut health. If you’ve noticed symptoms like indigestion, changes to your bowel movements or fatigue and weight gain, you may benefit from making small changes to your lifestyle. Changing your diet, adding more healthy physical activity and getting more rest can improve gut health.
Gut-health-boosting lifestyle changes can include:
·Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep every night can improve many aspects of your health. Some research shows that microorganisms in the gut follow your body’s sleep-wake rhythms. The time you spend sleeping is time for gut bacteria to produce beneficial proteins.
·Be physically active: Regular physical activity has been linked to a healthier, more diverse microbiome. This allows the gut to break down food more effectively.
·Keep a food diary: If you have been having unexplained digestive problems, try recording what you eat, how much and at what time. Write down the symptoms you have as well. A food diary may reveal a pattern of symptoms that are connected to specific foods.
·Modify your diet: Cutting back on foods that upset your stomach is an easy way to prevent symptoms. You can also make more general changes to your diet, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, avoiding processed foods and cutting back on alcohol.
·Chew your food: Digestion begins in the mouth. The process of breaking food down by chewing it, as well as allowing saliva to soften food, is an important part of digestion. Make sure you thoroughly chew food before you swallow it.
·Drink water: Staying well hydrated is a good habit for general well-being. Drinking water with meals may ease the digestive process and prevent some stomach discomfort.
·Use probiotic supplements: Taking probiotic supplements may help with the balance of microorganisms in your gut. Talk to your doctor about adding supplements to your routine, especially if you take medication regularly. Some supplements may not be appropriate with certain prescription medications.
When to See a Doctor
If you have gastrointestinal symptoms that don’t go away within a few weeks, you should speak to your doctor. You may have a health condition that is causing digestive problems. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms, any medications you are taking, your diet and other lifestyle factors. You may need additional tests such as blood tests or imaging tests such as endoscopy, ultrasound or an MRI.
The doctors at Healthcare Associates of Texas can help you manage your gut health or any other conditions affecting your GI tract. Contact us to make an appointment at any of our locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area.
1.Cleveland Clinic. “What You Should Know About Your Gut Health.” No date. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/gut-health/
2.Zizinia, Sarah. “How to improve your gut health.” April 29, 2022. MD Anderson Cancer Center. https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/how-to-improve-your-gut-health.h00-159538956.html#:~:text=Eating%20a%20plant-based%20diet,changes%20and%20build%20from%20there
3.Patino, Erica. “9 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut — and What You Can Do About It.” June 12, 2023. Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health/signs-of-unhealthy-gut-and-how-to-fix-it/
4.WebMD. “Best and Worst Foods for Gut Health.” April one, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/ss/slideshow-best-worst-foods-for-gut-health
5.Crawford, Serena. “Supporting Your Digestive System: Three Ways to Improve Gut Health.” May 23, 2023. Yale School of Medicine. https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/supporting-your-digestive-system-three-ways-to-improve-gut-health/
6.Berg, Sara. “What doctors wish patients knew about improving gut health.” March 19, 2023. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-improving-gut-health
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