Picture this: There you are, doing your best to eat healthy, taking your recommended supplements each day, exercising regularly, and even trying to avoid exposure to toxins...but somehow, some way, despite your best efforts, you just can't shake a low-energy, lackluster feeling that follows you around.
Or, maybe you're showing clearer signs of vitamin or mineral deficiencies, like overly tight muscles or achy joints.
Either way, you work hard to take care of yourself, so where's the missed connection?
This may come as a surprise, but the answer likely lies deep within your gut, specifically with the microbes that live there.
It all starts with a healthy gut.
One of the core services your gut bacteria provide is synthesizing the nutrition from your food. You see, when it comes to nutrient absorption, it's not so much about what you eat but rather how well your body is able to absorb all the essential nutrients from your diet and supplements—meaning that even if you eat an impeccably healthy diet, you could be suffering from malnourishment.
In fact, studies have shown that when fed the exact same diet, mice injected with gut microbes from malnourished children exhibited reduced growth when compared to mice that were given microbes from healthy children. And the mice with the healthy microbes displayed denser bones and more muscle than the malnourished mice.
So, even if you're taking care to live a healthy lifestyle and are consciously eating to nourish your body, if you aren't able to absorb the nutrients from what you consume due to subpar gut health, you won't fully benefit from your empowered food choices—and that can really take a toll on your overall health and well-being (not to mention your wallet!).
Let's look at the six most effective steps you can take to reset your gut and optimize your nutrient absorption so you can make sure you're getting all of the goodness from the foods and supplements in your life:
1. Replenish with probiotics.
Your gut is teeming with trillions of bacteria, most of which work hard on your behalf to support many bodily processes, including your digestion.
These beneficial bacteria—called probiotics—not only break down food into smaller components that your body can absorb, but they produce enzymes that promote digestion and absorption. For example, some probiotics produce lactase that can help lactose-intolerant individuals digest lactose-containing foods.
Miraculously, your gut microbes provide nearly a third of your body's vitamins and chemicals! So, if you want to fortify your body's ability to absorb nutrients, start with getting as many of the good guys into your gut as you can.
Taking a high-quality, time-released probiotic formula that delivers a variety of live organisms deep into your gut should be your first priority for optimizing nutrient absorption. You can also benefit from integrating fermented foods like kimchee and sauerkraut into your diet for a big probiotic and enzyme boost.
2. Support your gut barrier.
Your gut barrier—made up of your intestinal wall and your mighty gut microbes—acts as the divider between your bloodstream and the external environment. The fascinating part is that your gut barrier is "selectively permeable," meaning that its job is to allow nutrients in while keeping toxins, antigens, and bad bacteria out.
However, if your gut barrier doesn't function properly due to a lack of friendly flora, then your body can't adequately absorb nutrients, which can eventually spur allergies and other out-of-whack immune reactions.
You can help your body maximize nutrient absorption and preserve the integrity of your gut barrier by consuming glutamine-rich foods (such as bone broth) to protect the intestinal wall and prebiotic foods to support the inner ecosystem.
Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that exist for the sole purpose of feeding your beneficial gut bacteria so they can provide their life-enhancing benefits, like promoting your immune system and maintaining your body weight, in addition to supporting your gut barrier and improving nutrient absorption.
You can find prebiotic fiber in many plant-based foods or you can try a prebiotic powder supplement for guaranteed support.
3. Bring more awareness to your food choices.
Unfortunately, our modern diets tend to be packed with the opposite of "nutritious": processed foods, sugar, and artificial ingredients that wreak havoc on our gut health by weakening and sometimes even destroying the good bacteria meant to keep us healthy.
Plus, we now know that the foods we eat are so important that they can alter your gut bacteria within just hours of eating.
The good news is that you can get things back on track by reprioritizing whole and plant-based foods brimming with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and prebiotics.
4. Try intermittent fasting.
Researchers are discovering that when you eat can have just as much of an impact on your gut bacteria as what you eat, and that carving out a chunk of nonfeeding time for yourself every day can both increase the diversity of your gut bacteria (this is a good thing!) and stop inflammation—a major contributor to most diseases—in its tracks.
How does it work? Well, daily fasting allows your hardworking gut microbes, and your entire digestive system, to take a break and fully clean out. This time off also gives your friendly flora a chance to reset and focus on tasks other than digestion—like boosting their population.
What's more, fasting can also prevent a leaky gut barrier. In a recent mouse study, daily fasting flipped a genetic switch that strengthened the gut barrier against harmful bacteria, preventing the bad guys from escaping into the bloodstream to trigger an immune and inflammatory response.
If just the word fasting makes you break out in a cold sweat, don't worry! You can easily incorporate intermittent fasting into your day by eating an early dinner and following it up with a late breakfast the next day, aiming for at least 12 eating-restricted hours.
Once you've mastered this, slowly increase the time between dinner and breakfast until you're at about 14 to 16 hours of fasting and 8 to 10 hours of eating every day—your gut will thank you!
5. Avoid microbe depleters and overzealous hygiene habits.
From antibacterial cleaners and toxic products in the home to pesticides and often-used medicines, so many aspects of our modern lifestyles deplete the good bacteria that we need for digestion, compromising our nutrient absorption and overall well-being.
For instance, antibiotics—both as medicine and in the food supply—indiscriminately wipe out both good and bad bacteria and can leave your gut environment ill-equipped to do its job.
Other medications, like birth control, antacids, and NSAIDs, may also be detrimental to the friendly flora working so hard on your behalf to help you digest. And antibacterial products (common in cleaners and personal care products) are designed to wipe out all bacteria, regardless of their "helper" status in and on your body.
You can protect your precious probiotics by avoiding anything that threatens their existence in your gut and in your environment. Steer clear of unnecessary medications, antimicrobial products, and toxic chemicals, and make sure the food and water you eat and drink is from as "clean" a source as possible (i.e., organic, and preservative-, pesticide- and antibiotic-free).
6. Stress less, enjoy more.
Here's an interesting fact for you: The state of our body's nervous system determines how well we digest our food. This means that if you are frequently stuck in "fight or flight" mode, your body is preparing for serious action and many functions that aren't essential to your immediate survival—like digestion—slow down or stop altogether so your body can concentrate on things like increasing your heart rate.
The problem is that being regularly stressed depletes your entire system (including your gut microbes) and directly affects your digestion and how well you can absorb nutrients.
Fortunately, you can consciously activate the calming branch of your nervous system so you can move into "rest and digest" mode, which is associated with the release of all-important digestive enzymes, increased saliva, muscle relaxation, and even healthier gut bacteria—all of which means more nutrient absorption for you.
To encourage your body to spend more time "resting and digesting," make a commitment to engage in anything that makes you feel relaxed and happy, whether it's yoga, meditation, exercising, or laughing.
Prioritizing a gut-healthy lifestyle along with a whole-food, nutrient-rich diet will have you well on your way to enhanced nutrient absorption and feeling like your happy, healthy, vibrant self!