Your gut (gastrointestinal tract) is part of your body’s digestive system and contains trillions of microorganisms that play a role in digestion
A healthy gut contains a balance of both beneficial and harmful bacteria
Your gut might need support if the balance is thrown off by the depletion of beneficial bacteria
Some lifestyle indicators that your gut needs support include high levels of stress, disrupted sleep, recent ingestion of antibiotics, a diet high in processed food and low in fiber, and unexpected changes to digestion
The best ways to support gut health are by making simple diet and lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep, getting exercise, managing stress, eating more dietary fiber, fermented foods, and possibly probiotic supplements
What is Gut Health?
The human “gut” is the gastrointestinal tract (also called the digestive tract) that runs from the mouth through the body to the rear and is part of the body’s digestive system. It’s the job of our esophagus, stomach, and intestines to help break down the food we eat into a form that can either be used by the body or more easily pass through the body.
But did you know that your gut houses approximately 100 trillion microorganisms (mostly bacteria but also yeasts, viruses, and more)? That’s almost 10 times more than the number of cells within the body. These gut microorganisms are part of the gut microbiome and there are both beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. While gut microbes have different functions, these organisms all play some role in digestion. But even more than supporting our digestive health, a well-balanced, healthy gut can help support other body functions, like the immune system, and even our overall health. How? A diverse population of good bacteria can benefit our health by minimizing the impact of bad bacteria .
So how do we support our gut? Your overall gut health goes beyond the food you eat. While a well-balanced diet that includes fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats is important, many of your lifestyle choices also play a role in having a healthy microbiome that is well-balanced.
Sometimes our body sends us a signal, such as an unexpected physical symptom, when a body function or system needs support. Our digestive system is one such system. If you are experiencing new or unusual digestion-related symptoms, it is best to first check with your healthcare provider so that they can help determine your health needs. However, some general lifestyle indicators might mean you need to pay attention to your gut health:
You’re not getting enough sleep. Our busy, on-the-go lifestyles may negatively impact our sleep patterns, from jet lag, shift work, too-early mornings, too-late evenings, and disrupted sleep due to any number of disturbances. Recent studies suggest that disruptions in our circadian rhythm due to shifts in our sleep-wake cycles may impact the balance of our gut microbiota and its function . If you are experiencing disrupted sleep, then you might want to consider your gut health.
You’re experiencing higher levels of stress than usual. Another side effect of modern society is the rise in stress that many of us may experience from time to time. Stress may cause physical reactions in the body, one of which is a disruption in our digestion. Conversely, physical reactions from an imbalanced gut can impact our mood, and thus further impact how we handle stress .
Your diet is filled with processed, sugary foods. Highly processed food, which usually contains saturated fat and added sugars consisting of either refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, can change the balance of microbiota in the gut. The good news is that our gut flora responds to dietary changes, but more on that later! 
You’ve recently taken antibiotics. Antibiotics are helpful in that they combat pathogens and harmful bacteria that create infections but unfortunately, they may also deplete healthy gut bacteria in the process .
You’ve experienced unexpected weight gain or loss. Any changes in your weight not due to diet or exercise changes might indicate a gut flora imbalance, since that may affect metabolism . If you are noticing unexpected weight changes, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Your digestion seems off. If you are experiencing more gas or bloating than normal, a newly developed food intolerance, or any other digestive changes, then it might indicate an imbalance in your gut microbiome. When your gut is imbalanced, it might have more difficulty processing food. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any abnormal digestive symptoms.
Now on to the good news. There are a few changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to help support a healthy gut.
Eat more fiber. Foods that are high in dietary fiber may have a positive effect on your microbiome. High fiber foods include legumes (beans and peas), most vegetables, nuts, fruits (especially apples), and whole grains. Some foods containing dietary fiber are also called prebiotic foods, meaning they may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut due to certain ingredients, such as prebiotic fibers, that cannot be easily digested so are instead metabolized by the beneficial bacteria in our gut. You can think of prebiotic fiber as the “food” needed by the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic foods include artichoke, bananas, and whole-grain wheat cereal .
Eat more fermented food. What is a fermented food? Fermentation is the process in which live microorganisms are added to food to break down certain components into other products . An example is yogurt, which is created by adding bacteria (usually Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) to milk to ferment lactose into lactic acid, giving yogurt its creamy texture and tangy taste . Some fermented foods are considered probiotic foods as the final product still contains live microorganisms. Not all fermented foods have live probiotics, however, as processes that require heat will kill bacteria (pasteurization). Examples of fermented foods include kefir (yogurt drink), sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh, pickles, and kimchi. To ensure that the fermented food you are eating contains probiotics, look for labeling that says it contains live or active cultures .
Eat less processed foods. The opposite of eating more fiber is eating highly processed food. Processed foods are not whole fruits and vegetables, but instead, they contain a combination of ingredients that were processed into a new food, such as pastries, crackers, packaged snacks, fast food, and many more. Processed foods are low in dietary fiber and high in sugar and fat. These foods can negatively impact your gut flora. But as we said before, our gut reacts to dietary changes, so by limiting processed foods and increasing dietary fiber, you can aim for a healthier gut .
Get some exercise. Moderate exercise might have a positive effect on your gut as well as your overall health. Recent studies suggest that exercise can enhance the diversity of your gut microbiota, including beneficial bacteria . More importantly, even light exercise can help boost your mood and overall wellbeing, so it’s time to get moving!
Take steps to manage stress. As we said earlier, stress can negatively impact your health. Here are some helpful ideas to help positively influence your mood: take long walks outdoors, practice meditation and/or yoga, get a massage, limit your alcohol intake, read or watch something that makes you laugh, and make time for friends and family. If you need support in managing occasional stress, you might consider a stress support supplement that contains ingredients to help reduce stress, such as Ashwagandha and L-Theanine.†
Prioritize your sleep. We probably all know sleep is important, and that getting between 7 to 9 hours a night is ideal. While we sleep, lots of processes are happening in the body, including metabolic processes. Disrupting our natural sleep-wake cycles can in turn disrupt these processes . Some tips to get a good night sleep include limiting screen time before bedtime, creating a dark and quiet sleeping environment, and keeping to a regular sleeping schedule. If you feel you need sleep support, you can talk with your healthcare provider about considering a short-term sleep supplement with Melatonin as a drug-free way to support your rest.†
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help benefit your overall health, as our bodies need water to function. Water may also be a way to support your digestion as it helps keep things flowing through your system. Aim for around 8 glasses a day if you can, although what’s most important is that you are drinking some water versus no water.
Consider a probiotic supplement. Probiotics (live microorganisms) can be ingested directly by taking a dietary supplement. Probiotics may positively impact your digestion, yet studies are ongoing to determine how probiotics impact the gut microbiome. Consult with your healthcare provider before taking a probiotic supplement and stay connected with our Nature Made® blog for future posts.†
Your gut contains trillions of microorganisms that play a role in digesting the food you eat. You might need to support your gut if you are experiencing stress or disrupted sleep, or if you have a diet high in processed foods and low in whole foods and dietary fiber. Prioritizing good gut health will help support your overall health, and you can help support your gut by making some simple diet and lifestyle changes.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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Amy has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles and is a credentialed English teacher, though she left the classroom to write full time. She especially enjoys creating educational content about health, wellness, and nutrition. Her happy place is in the kitchen, and when not writing, you can find her trying out “kid-friendly recipes” and “healthy desserts for chocolate lovers” from her Pinterest board.
As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.
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