Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, once said that “all disease begins in the gut.” And boy, was he right!
The health of our digestive tract, and the billions of microbes that live inside it, has been linked to not just gut health conditions but also conditions like depression and anxiety, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. More and more often, research is showing that any disruption in the health of the gut — including imbalances like leaky gut or dysbiosis—can affect your health in myriad ways, many of which don’t seem related to digestion at all.
There’s no doubt that caring for your gut health is important to your overall health. But where do you start? Here are some Parsley Health-approved tips for how to improve your gut health today.
1. Eat a diverse diet
According to Christina Wakefield, a certified holistic health coach at Parsley Health, “the more diverse your diet is, the more diverse your gut microbial composition will be.” This means it’s a good idea to avoid eating the same thing every day. And for those of us who like our routine, this can be tough. But as Wakefield explains, different foods feed different types of gut bacteria, helping to cultivate a diverse microbiome. “The greater the diversity of your microbiome, the greater number of various health benefits you will reap, such as a stronger and more resilient immune system,” explains Wakefield. Plus, “Low microbial diversity is associated with many different chronic autoimmune diseases, cardiometabolic conditions, and obesity,” she continues.
Need some inspiration to mix up your routine? Here are the top science-backed foods for gut health that can help shake up your habits in the kitchen while improving your gut health. If you feel like you’re stuck in a food rut, Parsley’s health coaches can help you expand your diet.
2. Only use medications when you need them
Most medications are taken by mouth, which means your gut has to break them down and process them so they can get absorbed into your bloodstream. And unfortunately, some medications can do damage to your microbiome when they’re in the gut. You probably already know this is true for antibiotics—which, while they’re doing the important job of killing bacteria that threaten your health can also wipe out many of the beneficial bacteria living in your gut—but it can also be true for other common medications like steroids, hormonal birth control, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which include over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil.
For this reason (and others!), medications should only be used when they’re absolutely necessary; the good news is that Parsley Health physicians can help you make decisions about medications and always recommend diet and lifestyle changes before turning to pharmaceutical or over-the-counter drugs.
3. Eat more fiber
Fiber is one of the most commonly ignored super ingredients, but it is incredibly important to improving your gut health and overall health (it even protects your lungs). According to Wakefield, “Aim for 30 to 50 grams of fiber intake per day.” You can reach this goal by filling your plates with colorful vegetables, fruit, legumes, and gluten-free whole grains. If you’re still struggling to make it to 30 grams a day, Wakefield recommends adding 2 tablespoons of concentrated fiber— chia seeds, psyllium husk, acacia fiber, or ground flaxseed—to a smoothie.
4. Watch your stress levels
If you’ve ever gotten a stomach ache when you’re stressed, you’ve already experienced the gut-brain connection in action. Scientists have been studying the link between these two systems for years and have found that stress is toxic to the body and the gut is no exception. The good news is that there are plenty of effective ways to mitigate stress. Try 10-minutes of meditation a day, signing up for yoga, going for a walk without your phone, or sign up for Parsley Health’s free 5-day reset and get daily guided meditations.
5. Add a gut health supplement to your routine
Sometimes our bodies need a little extra support, beyond what we can get from diet and lifestyle changes. That’s where supplements come in. And when it comes to improving gut health, the following three supplements really shine.
Probiotics: Probiotics infuse your gut with a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria, which can help rebalance the microbiome and create a gut environment that is more conducive to overall health. You can read more about probiotics, including when and how to take them, here.
Prebiotics: If this is the first time you’re hearing about prebiotics, you’re not alone. Prebiotics are often forgotten but they’re extremely important because they are, essentially, the food that probiotics like to eat. “Probiotics and prebiotics work synergistically together to help bring the microbiome into balance,” explains Wakefield. When you take probiotics and prebiotics together, it also produces a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid. And according to Wakefield, “Butyric acid is essential to our gut health by providing our colon cells with energy and reducing inflammation in the digestive tract (along with many other benefits).”
L-glutamine: L-glutamine is an amino acid found in the body and in certain foods. According to Wakefield, l-glutamine “is the primary fuel source for cells lining the intestinal wall and plays a large role in maintaining the integrity of our intestinal lining and mucosa.” For this reason, it’s often used for supporting gut health and helping repair leaky gut, a gut health condition characterized by increased intestinal permeability. You can take 3 grams of l-glutamine per day between meals to support optimal gut health.
Before starting any new supplements, talk to your health care provider. Parsley Health’s doctors create specific supplement protocols, including types and dosages, for each member based on results of advanced testing.
6. Avoid the worst gut health offenders
Certain foods are known to sabotage gut health, so reducing your intake of these foods is critical for the long-term health of your gut. According to Wakefield, the most common gut health offenders are sugar, processed foods, gluten, alcohol, and pesticide-treated crops. According to her, these foods can decrease the number of beneficial bacteria, allow “bad” bacteria and yeasts to overgrow, damage the gut barrier, and contribute to inflammation and leaky gut. If you want to improve your gut health, avoiding these foods as much as possible is a great place to start.
7. Stay (well) hydrated
Drinking water will benefit your health in almost endless ways, but one of the most important ones is its ability to keep things “moving along” in your digestive tract. So how do you know if you’re drinking enough water? If you’re drinking enough, your pee will be clear or light yellow. If you get headaches, have dry skin and lips, or you frequently get dizzy, you may be dehydrated.
If you want to support optimal gut health, any of these seven tips are a great place to start. Try one, a few, or all of them and you’ll likely see the benefits not just in your gut health but also your mood, energy levels, and overall health.