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These Nutrients Are Key For Diversifying Your Gut Microbiome, Research Finds

Emma Loewe
December 20, 2022
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
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Image by LightFieldStudios / iStock
December 20, 2022

If there's one thing we could all stand to pay a bit more attention to, it's the wonderful world of our gut microbiome—which helps dictate our digestive health, mood, immune response, and much more. Eating a gut-friendly diet is one of the most effective ways to shift your microbiota. And according to a new research review in the Journal of Functional Foods1, if you're looking to balance out your biome, loading up on antioxidant-rich ingredients is key.

Studying the link between antioxidants and gut health.

While a lot of research has been done on how carbohydrates, fibers, and proteins impact the gut microbiome, this review focused exclusively on antioxidants—which are comparatively understudied in the gut space.

For this review, researchers based primarily in Asia and the UK combed through existing research to make a more definitive statement about the impact of antioxidants on the gut microbiome.

Antioxidants, the authors write, essentially "scavenge free radicals" in the body. If we have too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants, it leads to oxidative stress—a condition that is detrimental to our skin, cognition, and—you guessed it—our gut. "Many studies report that prolonged exposure to reactive oxygen species (ROS) can result in microbial dysbiosis2," the study reads, and this dysbiosis (essentially, an imbalance between good bacteria and bad bacteria) can contribute to a whole host of GI issues, as well as chronic fatigue, inflammation, food intolerances, and even diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

This means that increasing your antioxidant intake is a solid strategy for keeping oxidative stress down and gut health up.

How to get increase your antioxidant intake.

The Journal of Functional Foods review goes on to explain how different sources of antioxidants—such as carotenoids, polyphenols, ascorbic acid, and mineral elements such as zinc and selenium—have unique benefits for gut health. This means that it's beneficial to pile a variety of antioxidant-rich foods onto your plate. One easy way to do so is to "eat the rainbow" and opt for a host of colorful ingredients, as color relates to the antioxidant capacity in some fruits and vegetables.

Introducing dietary supplements to your routine is another way to keep your microbiota in tiptop shape. You can opt for a supplement that isolates potent antioxidants like vitamin C and zinc or contains antioxidant-rich ingredients such as turmeric—which has been shown to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from oxidative stress.

The review authors note that it's especially important to prioritize antioxidant-rich ingredients following periods of poor gut health, like after you take antibiotic medication or indulge in lots of delicious (but not so gut-friendly) sweets and highly processed foods.

The takeaway.

Loading up on a variety of antioxidant-rich foods and supplements is key for keeping your gut microbiome strong and diverse, a new review confirms. Time for a rainbow salad, anyone?

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.