With so much health and well-being advice out there, it can be hard to know whom to trust and where to start. Since the gut plays a central role in many body functions, focusing the attention there is usually a safe bet. As for the tips to follow? We can't stop thinking about these five pieces of advice from functional medicine doctors, gastroenterologists, and registered dietitians:
1. Eat a diverse range of foods.
While many people are quick to eliminate gluten or grains from the diet, fiber-rich foods are actually great for the gut. Unless there's an intolerance objectively identified by a health care provider, gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., MSCI, once told mbg eliminating these food groups can do more harm than good.
"When you narrow the diversity in your diet, you narrow the diversity in the gut microbiome," he explained. "When you broaden the diversity in your diet, you broaden the diversity in your gut microbiome."
Whole grains and more "average" plant-based fiber sources (think onions or tomatoes versus kale or spinach) help feed the microbes in the gut. "These microbes are picky eaters," Bulsiewicz said. "They only like the fiber from specific foods." Meaning, no matter how healthy the food, sticking to a limited diet lowers your chance of having a nourished, healthy microbiome.
2. Take a targeted probiotic supplement.
Just as a nutritious, fiber-rich diet can increase good gut bacteria, so can high-quality probiotic supplements.* When choosing a supplement, though, pay attention to the bacterial strains.
Rather than opting for the highest number of colony-forming units (which family functional medicine doctor Robert Rountree, M.D., calls "the sledgehammer approach"), figure out which strains will meet your body's specific needs.* "More doesn't necessarily equal better," Rountree once said. "They have to be targeted."
There are thousands of known strains of gut bacteria, he explained, and each one serves a different function or functions (i.e., immune support, digestive support, etc.). For example, the strains in mindbodygreen's probiotic+ are backed by clinical research to ease bloating, aid digestion, promote regularity, and more.*
So, while choosing a multistrain probiotic can increase bacterial diversity, do your research or chat with a gastroenterologist to make sure they're the right strains for you.
3. Manage your stress.
"Getting a handle on stress hormones can help keep them from wreaking havoc on the mind and body, including the gastrointestinal system," registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CND, previously told mbg. Meditation, journaling, going for a walk, and practicing gratitude are just a few ways to keep stress under control.
4. Prioritize good-quality sleep.
"Sleepless nights throw off your gut rhythm by adversely affecting the balance of favorable and unfavorable bacteria2 and compromising the gut wall," board-certified internist Vincent Pedre, M.D., writes for mbg. Even people who are sleeping an average of eight hours per night but experiencing sleep fragmentation (aka waking up in the middle of the night), may notice negative effects on the gut.
Creating a sleep routine is just one way to promote a better night's rest. "Regular sleep patterns mean a happier gut, which translates into a better mood and, well, pretty much better life," Pedre said. While you may not go to bed at the exact same time every night, at least try to stop eating, wind down, and get into bed around the same time to regulate the body's circadian rhythm.
5. Foster a healthy relationship with nature.
This one may come as more of a surprise, but fostering a connection with nature is critical for gut health. Board-certified family physician Patrick Hanaway, M.D., leader of the COVID-19 Task Force at the Institute for Functional Medicine, explained during a mindbodygreen podcast episode that the soil our food grows in can help or hurt the gut microbiome.
"Pandemics are a reflection of this unbalanced relationship we have of trying to control nature rather than being in a relationship with it," Hanaway said. Lasting changes to the environment (soil health in particular) may take time, but it's important to pay attention to ways you can eat and live for the betterment of your own health and the planet's.
In the meantime, "You have the ability to upgrade your microbiome wherever you're at," he said. The five pieces of advice listed above are a few ways to do that.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.