When we hear the word “bacteria” we think of gross germs that we try to avoid by washing our hands after touching things like doorknobs and handrails. Especially today, where our awareness for germs and bacteria is much higher after seeing the prevalence of COVID-19.
In reality, though, not all bacterias are the same, and not all are harmful. There are bad bacteria that cause diseases like pneumonia, strep throat, and food poisoning, but there are also beneficial bacteria like those found in the lining of our stomachs and cultured/fermented foods like yogurt. The key is to help promote the growth of the good bacteria and get rid of the bad bacteria.
In today’s Wellness Wednesday, we will talk about gut bacteria, how to promote good bacteria in the gut, and the connection between a healthy gut and mental health.
What Is the Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is simply the collection of bacteria (microscopic organisms, referred to in short as “microbes”) that live in your intestines. The majority of these microbes are located in the large intestine in a “pocket” called the cecum. Together, these microbes form the “microbiome” and function as an additional organ in our bodies that plays an essential role in maintaining our health.
How to Heal My Gut Microbiome
But, what if you have bad bacteria messing up the good? How do you fix the problem without destroying the gut microbiome? Here are a few techniques you can use to improve your gut microflora:
1. Make Sure to Get Enough Sleep at Night
Like all parts of the body, the stomach is dependent on our overall health, and getting enough sleep is one of the essential practices for maintaining a healthy body. While there is no “universal” optimal sleep amount and you will have to find the best amount of sleep for your body, there are some general guidelines for the recommended hours of sleep for different age groups.
2. Lower stress levels
Studies have shown that another important factor in maintaining good gut health is reducing your overall stress levels. This is an especially difficult time for many of us, and it is no surprise that many of our stress levels have gone up, but working to reduce stress through short meditation sessions, yoga, walking, spending time with loved ones, and so on, will greatly help you improve your overall health which will help stabilize your gut health as well.
4. Eat your food slowly
Taking the time to chew your food thoroughly can help to promote the full digestion and absorption of the nutrients in what you are eating. This can help to remove digestive discomfort, as it makes it easier for the bacteria to digest your food properly.
5. Take a prebiotic or a probiotic
Pre- and probiotics can be taken in capsule forms as a supplement, or you can simply consume foods that contain them, such as yogurt. Both prebiotics and probiotics help your gut grow and maintain the good bacteria that keep it healthy and functioning properly.
6. Try changing your diet
The best foods for your gut microbiome are those that are high in fiber or fermented.
- High-fiber foods — legumes, oats, berries, beans, asparagus, and leeks — are all good sources of prebiotics that help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Fermented foods — yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and tempeh — are all rich in probiotics that are beneficial for your intestines’ microbiomes.
But more importantly, to maintain a healthy gut, make sure that you are eating a diverse range of foods. Try making sure that all of your daily meals are full of veggies, legumes, fruits, and whole grains to promote the growth of good bacteria and make sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs.
If you are still experiencing problems with your gut health, consider trying out a more plant-based diet. While this is not saying that we need to swear off meat for good, plant-based diets are high in foods that are fermented or high-fiber and therefore are more beneficial to your gut health.
7. Check for food intolerances
If after you’ve done all of these things and you’re still having issues with maintaining your gut health, consider that you may have an intolerance to something that you are eating, and try testing for food intolerances.
There are many ways to do this, but the easiest way is to simply cut whatever food item(s) you are suspicious of out of your diet for a month or so and keep a food journal to note the differences you see.
Now, you may be thinking that we’ve only covered how to increase the number of good bacteria and we haven’t said anything about how to get rid of the bad bacteria in the gut. However, getting rid of the bad bacteria is actually the easy part.
When we do things to improve our gut health, good bacteria are able to multiply extremely quickly and fight off bad bacteria. Once all of the bad bacteria have been eliminated, there is no space for it to come back because all of the space is taken up by the good bacteria that we want to be there.
The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health Connection
Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy gut is directly related to decreased severity of anxiety and depression. Current studies explore the link between gut health and anxiety and depression and how probiotics reduce depression scores.
While more research is needed to fully understand this connection, it is a good idea for us to take care of ourselves, our stomachs included, so that we can live the most successful and pleasant lives possible.