It's true that active cultures are good for you. However, improving your gut health goes beyond snacking on Greek yogurt. Exercise, sleep, mindfulness, meditation, and other lifestyle habits have just as much impact on your health as dietary choices.
As research unfolds about the gut-brain axis, we see further evidence of the relationship between mental health and the health of the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome reflects the community of little critters living in the gastrointestinal tract (a.k.a. the gut). This community is important in maintaining an environment in the gut that supports the production of neurotransmitters, serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters are essential for regulating mood, behavior, and stress response.
On the other hand, our mental health and habits affect the function of the gut. For example, when we are sleep deprived or live in a stressful environment, the gut microbiome can suffer. Below are 10 examples of how healthy lifestyle habits affect the population and balance of the gut microbiome.
10 Simple Lifestyle Recommendations to Support Gut Health:
- Meditate 10 minutes each day to relax the mind and body. Stress is harmful to the gut microbiome and mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce stress and support gut health. (9)
- Sleep in a room that is 64°–69° F (17.8°–20.6° C) to support sleep quality. Sleep loss can negatively affect the ratios of gut bacteria and cause other health problems. (1)
- Avoid using anti-inflammatory drugs and/or opioids (when possible). Overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs and/or opioids can have a negative effect on the health of the gut microbiome. (11)
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and focus on nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources. Carbohydrates from vegetables are beneficial to the health and diversity of the gut microbiome. (3)
- Aim to avoid or reduce alcohol consumption to less than 2 alcoholic beverages per week for the next 8 weeks. High alcohol intake can have negative effects on the diversity of the gut microbiome. (2)
- Increase water and fluid intake depending on thirst and exercise to support digestion and avoid dehydration. (10)
- Reduce consumption of caffeine-containing products and limit caffeine consumption to 1–2 cups before noon. Coffee consumption can be beneficial to the microbiome, but excessive consumption can cause dehydration, irregular digestion, and sleep disturbances. (12,5)
- Focus on including a variety of protein-dense foods. Protein from whole-food sources is best, but it can be beneficial to include a supplemental protein shake, as needed, to meet protein goals. Protein is made up of amino acids and amino acids are used by the gut bacteria to produce important metabolites, like indole-3-propionic acid, that can support health and wellness. (4)
- Incorporating either professional massage or self-massage weekly can stimulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, the production that helps to support gut-brain connection. (6, 8)
- Spending at least 10 minutes in direct sunlight daily can benefit vitamin production, which helps to support the function of the gut microbiome. For individuals living in an area with minimal sun exposure, consider talking to your doctor about vitamin D3 supplementation. (7)
Small lifestyle changes can make a big impact on the health and diversity of the gut microbiome. The health of the gut is linked to many aspects of your overall wellness, including cognitive health, the immune system, digestion, disease prevention, sleep health, and so much more. Adding just one of these lifestyle habits can support your overall health and the population of your gut microbiome.
- Anderson, Jason R., et al. “A Preliminary Examination of Gut Microbiota, Sleep, and Cognitive Flexibility in Healthy Older Adults.” Sleep Medicine, Elsevier, 2 Aug. 2017, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1389945717303179.
- Bode, Christiane, and J Christian Bode. “Effect of Alcohol Consumption on the Gut.” Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, Baillière Tindall, 20 June 2003, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1521691803000349.
- Dominianni, Christine, et al. “Sex, Body Mass Index, and Dietary Fiber Intake Influence the Human Gut Microbiome.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, Oct. 2017, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124599.
- E., Natalie, and Benjamin P. “Microbial Fermentation of Dietary Protein: An Important Factor in Diet–Microbe–Host Interaction.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 13 Jan. 2019, https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2607/7/1/19/htm.
- Felman, Adam. “Caffeine: Effects, Risks, and Cautions.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 7 Nov. 2019, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/271707.php.
- Field, Tiffany, et al. “Cortisol Decreases and Serotonin and Dopamine Increase Following Massage Therapy.” The International Journal of Neuroscience, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2005, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16162447.
- Jones, et al. “Vitamin D and Allergic Disease: Sunlight at the End of the Tunnel?” MDPI, Molecular Diversity Preservation International, 28 Dec. 2011, https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/4/1/13.
- Kim, D Y, and M Camilleri. “Serotonin: A Mediator of the Brain-Gut Connection.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2000, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11051338.
- Kuo, Braden, et al. “Genomic and Clinical Effects Associated with a Relaxation Response Mind-Body Intervention in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 30 Apr. 2015, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0123861.
- Ritz, Patrick, and Gilles Berrut. “The Importance of Good Hydration for Day‐to‐Day Health.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 28 June 2008, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2005.tb00155.x.
- Rogers, M.A.M., and D.M. Aronoff. “The Influence of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs on the Gut Microbiome.” Clinical Microbiology and Infection, Elsevier, 16 Oct. 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1198743X15009027.
- Sandoiu, Ana. “Coffee Drinkers Have Healthier Gut Microbiotas.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 13 Oct. 2019, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326845.php.
About the Author
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rachel Stuck has a background in culinary arts and nutrition counseling. Rachel takes a positive approach to nutrition: she avoids recommending restrictive diets and instead focuses on helping people choose foods that promote health and well-being. She is passionate about empowering and assisting Ixcela members as they develop their unique, gut-healthy lifestyles.
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