Quick Tips for a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Why microbial diversity is key, and how to foster it
It’s no secret that the gut microbiome is a big topic. From the scientific community to wellness advocates, everybody’s talking about the effects that a healthy gut can have on our overall well-being.
The human body is an incredible machine, and your gut is a complex system.You could spend a lifetime trying to understand that complexity (and indeed, some scientists dedicate their lives to it!), but what are the key takeaways for everyday life?
When it comes to improving gut health, the key is microbial diversity. This is the variety of microbes that make up your gut microbiome. To simplify, we generally want our gut microbiome to have more diversity. There are a number of ways to do that.
Here are a few quick tips to improving or boosting a healthy microbiome:
- Diversify the range of food you eat.
- Add more fiber to your diet.
- Get more movement into your day.
- Try to limit stress.
- Think twice before trying prebiotics, probiotics, and/or postbiotics.
Diversify the range of food you eat
We’ve previously discussed how modern foods don’t always help us to live a healthy lifestyle. This is also true for the microbes that live in your gut.
The different microbial species that populate your microbiome require energy to do their metabolic work. But each gets energy from different types of food. Having a diverse range of food – a variety of complex carbohydrates, dietary fibers, and resistant starches – will feed a greater diversity of microbes, resulting in a healthier and more robust gut microbiome.
When you primarily eat foods high in simple sugars or fats (which tend to be over-represented on the shelves of our grocery stores), you reduce microbial diversity in the gut, which can do harm to your microbiome and cause metabolic disorders (citation). By keeping these types of food in moderation and replacing them with more gut-friendly foods, you set your gut flora up for success.
Add more fiber to your diet
One important dietary component that can strengthen your gut is fiber. Fiber is critical food for microbes And, frankly, most of us don’t get enough fiber in our normal diet.
But not all fiber is created equal.
There are many different types of fiber, some rarer than others. You can find different types of fiber in many fruits, vegetables, and fiber supplements. And your best bet is to eat a diversity of fibers to feed a diverse microbiome.
In our previous post about maintaining a healthy microbiome, we assembled a chart of various dietary fibers and resistant starches you can obtain from common foods.
What’s most important about this chart is that it shows you a range of what’s available. Once again, getting a diverse mix of these foods in your diet will help to ensure that you are feeding a vibrant and productive microbiome.
It’s also important to maximize the amount of fiber you get from whole foods and limit the amount of fiber you get from supplements and fiber-fortified foods. Fiber supplements and fiber-fortified foods often contain mass-produced, low-quality fibers that have relatively limited benefit. In addition, they deliver fiber as a single large bolus, from which your microbiome is not equipped to get maximal benefit. While some fiber supplementation can be helpful, the goal should be to get most of your fiber from foods like the ones listed in the chart above.
Get more movement into your day
Exercise isn’t just about building up your muscles or losing weight.
As mentioned, the human body is a machine. That machine functions best when it’s in motion. A sedentary lifestyle can have negative effects on any number of body parts, including the processes that affect our metabolic health (citation). Exercise fosters metabolic activity. Perhaps surprisingly, when your body’s own metabolic activity improves, your microbiome improves as well. Exercise causes our microbiota to become more diverse, more numerous, and more resilient (citation).
Whether exercise looks like a gym routine or a daily walk with your dog, moving your body (even just 20 minutes every day) directly fosters a good microbiome, and a healthier body and mind overall.
Try to limit stress
Stress can also negatively impact the health of your microbiome.
Stress generates chemical signals that run all throughout your body, causing disruption and dysregulation, even in your gut (citation). You’ve probably experienced bouts of anxiety or stress that led to physical sensations like a headache or faster heart rate. Your gut microbiota are also aware of environmental stressors, and they react accordingly.
So take the time to give yourself a break. Get enough sleep. And take care of yourself when you face anxiety, depression, or other stressors. Your microbiome will thank you.
Think twice before trying prebiotics, probiotics, and/or postbiotics
Many people decide to add a supplement to their daily routine in order to boost gut health. When you do, be mindful. Though they sound alike, there are key differences between prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics that should influence how you use them.
These three types of “-biotics” serve different functions and it can also be hard to gauge their effectiveness to you as an individual. All of our guts are different, so different probiotics may not be right for all of us. Most prebiotics, on the other hand, are different forms of fiber, and we already discussed above that a diversity of fiber is important to microbiome diversity.
If you are considering probiotics, think too about what job you’re asking them to do. It’s important to note that most probiotics on the market (e.g. Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, etc.) are just repurposed leftovers of the food and dairy industry, and not specifically targeted for human health. If it’s gut health you’re after, consider whether a small amount of prebiotics might be more effective. Think twice, do your research, and remember that the goal is microbial diversity.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more tailored job to be done beyond gut health, consider an engineered probiotic. Engineered probiotics are created to perform specific beneficial functions. You’ve probably heard about ZBiotics Pre-Alcohol Probiotic, but the technology behind bioengineered probiotics can be utilized to solve a number of common problems in the future.
The journey to a healthy gut doesn't have to be complicated. By diversifying your diet, incorporating more fiber, staying active, and reducing stress, you create a strong foundation for gut health.
Remember, the goal is microbial diversity. A more diverse microbial ecosystem is a healthier and more resilient ecosystem. They may be small, but the microbes in our gut play an outsized role in our overall health. Embrace a few simple strategies for your gut, and let the powerful connection between your gut and overall well-being do the rest.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice.