While it might not be the most glamorous of topics, your gut health is worthy of your full attention—at least from time to time. The bacteria that lives there helps with proper digestion. But it also plays important roles you might not always think of when you contemplate the gut. It’s time to talk microbiome!
Your Gut Influences Everything
That might seem like an overstatement, but it really isn’t. The good bacteria in your gut not only digests food. It also destroys harmful bacteria and helps to control your entire immune system. Also, we tend to think of digestion as taking apart solid foods, but the good bacteria in your gut microbiome also breaks down the nutrients your body needs to glean from what you’ve consumed. Combined, these two roles result in your gut microbiome being a leader for every single system in your body.
As an article by Northwestern Medicine put it, “The link between microbiome and its role in disease continues to be researched. Yet, studies have shown its impact on both physiological health and even mental health. A healthy microbiome can reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”
When you aren’t getting the nutrients you need, your physical and mental health can suffer. If your immune system isn’t working well, many illnesses and even serious diseases can take hold. The gut also makes “an important contribution to human metabolism by contributing enzymes that are not encoded by the human genome,” meaning that it can dictate one’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.
In summary, if your gut microbiome is out of balance, it could cause innumerable problems.
How Do You Know If Your Gut Microbiome Is Healthy?
Generally, this is one of those situations where if something is out of whack, you’re going to know! An unbalanced gut microbiome is likely to cause chronic issues and discomfort, so any time something is not working as it should in your mind or body, it’s worth considering a gut issue.
That being said, there are a few signs that your gut is healthy. Here are five things to consider, which gastroenterologists generally agree can help you determine your gut microbiome’s balance:
1. Your bowel movements are regular.
There are two rules of thumb when it comes to what is “regular.” First, the frequency of bowel movements can vary a lot between individuals, but generally it should stay between three bowel movements per day and three per week. If you are going more or less than this, it is worth discussing with your doctor. Also, if your schedule changes a lot or abruptly, or you are repeatedly being woken up in the middle of the night because you need to go, definitely start a conversation with a medical pro.
2. The stool you pass adheres to healthy standards.
Those guidelines include a smooth texture, a sausage shape that passes either as a single, large stool or in a few smaller pieces, and stool that sinks into the toilet bowl. Yes, we know this is a slightly unpleasant topic, but knowing what is and isn’t typical is crucial to your health!
3. Your gut transit time is in check.
Although it can vary between different people, food you eat is generally digested in 28 hours. If you see any signs of this happening much faster or taking much longer than that, it could be an indicator that you are suffering from food intolerance and similar challenges.
4. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable to go.
Again, sorry to talk about bowel movements so much, but if you are straining or experiencing pain when going, you want to talk to your doctor. This could be a sign of chronic constipation or something like irritable bowel syndrome.
5. You aren’t frequently bloated.
Of course, there are times when we all experience bloating. For some, the week of menstruation brings it on. Others bloat every time they eat certain foods. The latter can indicate food intolerances, but that doesn’t always mean you have to cut it out entirely (moderation is key, as they say!). The core factor here is frequency. If you feel like you’re often bloated, start tracking it. If it’s happening many days in a month, give your doctor a call.
Of course, touching base with a gastroenterologist is never a bad thing. Everyone past a certain age should undergo regular colonoscopies—why not build the relationship based on that or, if you’re on the younger side, in anticipation of it?
If you feel that all these points are in check, congratulations! You most certainly have a healthy gut. If you have a concern or two among them, don’t panic. You may very well still have a balanced microbiome, but it’s always good to investigate any of these issues with the help of your doctor.
Tips to Support a Healthy Gut Microbiome
The above being said, there are certain lifestyle factors everyone and anyone can take to heart if they want to support a flourishing gut microbiome. Let’s talk about them!
You know how when you’re anxious or nervous about something, it can cause you to feel “butterflies,” or nausea. In the same way, excessive stress is communicated to your gut. As an article published on the National Library of Medicine states, “The brain and the gut have a lively ongoing dialog through the gut-brain axis. The autonomic and circulatory systems carry distress signals to the gut. Additionally, a new bone marrowmediated pathway was recently discovered, highlighting the role that immune cells play as messengers that convey psychological stress to the gut. The heightened inflammation that frequently accompanies stress and depression triggers blooms of pathogenic bacteria that encourage dysbiosis and a leaky gut.”
The short summary: stress is directly linked to the balance—or lack thereof—of your microbiome.
If you feel chronically stressed but aren’t sure how to mitigate it, consider the treasure trove of tips the CDC has shared here.
Yes, sleep also influences your gut microbiome! It’s important to understand that this can become a vicious cycle. You don’t get enough sleep, so your gut bacteria becomes unbalanced, which in turn messes with your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Avoid this by prioritizing good sleep.
While you can find advice on supporting sound sleep in abundance, we do have a tip we’re biased toward: try out MindYourMind! With a blend of naturally soothing ingredients, our melatonin-free supplement relaxes the mind and body, helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, and reduces mental clutter. It will help your gut microbiome by supporting less stress and more sleep—win, win!
Stay Hydrated and Eat Slowly
Both of these tips will help you support a healthy gut microbiome, but they’re also great for portion control and general wellness. In particular, drinking enough water is linked to all sorts of benefits.
Take a Prebiotic or Probiotic
Or, take both! You’ve likely heard about these trending supplements, but they’re becoming popular for a reason. Prebiotics help to feed into beneficial bacteria, so they’ll continue to thrive in your gut microbiome. Meanwhile, probiotics are actual live good bacteria, introduced into your system.
Our PlantYourDay protein powder features both! One important note though: you should discuss taking prebiotics and/or probiotics with your doctor if you have any type of severe illness or a weakened immune system.
Change Your Diet
This is one of the best ways to support your gut microbiome over time. Of course, you might already incorporate many of these foods into your nutritional approach, but it’s worth taking an audit. So, what can you eat to support your microbiome? Here is a summary of the ideal:
Reduce the amount of processed, sugary, and high-fat foods.
Eat foods that are high in fiber, such as broccoli, berries, grains, avocado, apples, and others. Pro tip: popcorn is a high-fiber snack if you need something to munch on.
Enjoy more fermented foods, which are high in probiotics.
Regularly consume garlic. It has been proven to increase the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria.
Prioritize collagen-rich foods, like citrus, broccoli, meat, eggs, and nuts. Collagen was found to benefit the gut microbiome in certain studies. Of course, you could take this a step further by making our Collagen+ a part of your routine.
By implementing these lifestyle habits, you can benefit your gut microbiome while generally improving your health.
We hope this guide helps you gain greater bacterial balance!