Your gut (including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum is home to about 100 trillion bacteria. These bacteria, along with viruses, archaea, and fungi, are called your gut microbiome.
Gut dysbiosis, which is essentially damage your gut microbiome, causes a loss of diversity and results in a deficit of helpful gut bugs, and an overgrowth of inflammatory microbes. As a result, the tight junctions holding the colon wall together become compromised and there is an increase in intestinal permeability – also known as “leaky gut”.
Acid reflux (GERD), stomach ulcers, chronic constipation, and/or chronic diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, hemorrhoids, Crohn’s Disease, and inflammatory bowel conditions are just some of the disorders that can result in gut dysbiosis and leaky gut, and/or aggravate it.
But because the gut microbiome plays a large part in your immune health, metabolism, hormone health and balance, cognition, gene expression, and your overall health, disruption of the environment in your gut can also lead to many disorders and diseases with symptoms that manifest elsewhere in the body and mind and don’t necessarily exhibit gut-related symptoms.
Some of the symptoms of a microbiome imbalance, and leaky gut include
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, or bloating
- Nutritional deficiencies (trouble absorbing nutrients)
- Weight gain
- Brain fog (confusion, difficulty focusing and concentrating)
- Skin problems, such as acne, rashes, or eczema
- Joint pain
- General inflammation
The health of your microbiome can be negatively affected by exposure to chemicals, pesticides, other toxins, smoking, etc. All of which should be minimized as much as possible – preferably eliminated.
But there is a handful of possibly less obvious, yet possibly easier to manage, things to be mindful of also. Here are some things you can do to help reset your gut microbiome, ready?
Eat plenty of high-fiber foods
Probably the MOST important thing you can do for your gut microbiome is to make sure you are getting plenty of fiber.
Soluble fiber feeds the good gut bugs of your microbiome. Don’t starve your good gut bugs! Feed them plenty of fiber!
Limit or eliminate saturated fats
Saturated fats compromise your gut microbiome big time, due in part to the inflammation that it causes (to your entire body) but also because a diet high in saturated fatty acids leads to an increased proportion of intestinal Firmicutes and decreased intestinal flora diversity.
Limit or eliminate saturated Refined flours
When we refine grains we strip them of their fiber, throwing out the healthiest part of that grain (good gut bug food!) and leaving us with empty calories that elevate our blood sugar levels.
Limit or eliminate refined sugars
Refined sugars spike inflammation and kill the good bacteria in your gut. Plain and simple. Don’t eat them if you can avoid them, or at least limit them as much as you can.
Diversify your diet
As I said up top, you have trillions of bacteria that make up your microbiome and within those trillions, there are thousands of species. Each species has its own dietary requirements. So if you are mostly eating a few select foods regularly, you are only feeding a few select species. It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods. It’s not as tricky as it sounds either. When you eat salad, mix it up. Some days use spinach as your greens, other days Romain, dandelion greens, tatsoi, arugula etc. Challenge yourself to try at least one new vegetable/fruit/grain a week!
Eat fermented foods
Most cultures (if not all) in the world have some form of fermented foods on their traditional menus, from German Sauerkraut to Mexican Escabeche, Japanese Miso, Korean Kimchi, Ethiopian Injera, to even our very own highly celebrated and widely appreciated Sourdough Bread. And there’s more… soooooo much more. You’ve probably heard that fermented foods are great for our guts and our microbiome because they are (or at least contain) probiotics. And they are! And we love natural whole-food sources of probiotics! Why? Because they’re amazing and they have all kinds of great health benefits like improved digestion, boosted immunity and even improving certain mental health conditions and all kinds of other great stuff that happens when we take good care of our gut bugs.
My tip to you is just to be mindful of what other ingredients are in your fermented foods. For example, Kombucha, which I LOVE, that there can contain quite a lot of sugar (and even trace amounts of alcohol). So don’t go crazy and start drinking it by the gallon… like somebody I know… but won’t name… because it’s mean… and I don’t want to be mean to my brother… Some fermented foods also have a lot of salt in them, like pickles, which I could eat for days without coming up for air, so that’s another thing to be mindful of.
One of my absolute favourites is Kimchi, and it’s not nearly as hard or scary to make as I thought it was going to be. I have
Some great ways to optimize digestion are to stay well hydrated, but not drink water for 30 minutes before and 1 hour after eating, try digestive bitters before a meal, make sure you chew your food thoroughly before swallowing, avoid eating foods that interfere with digestion – such as low fiber foods that are high in saturated fats and refined sugars and grains/flours – eat mindfully (don’t wolf your food down on the go – or shovel it in your mouth in front of the television, while you’re driving, etc), and stop eating at least 3 hours before going to bed.
Try some soothing herbs
While they won’t cure dysbiosis of the gut, certain herbs, like chamomile, marshmallow, licorice, peppermint, and ginger, for example, offer support and soothing and have healing properties. And some herbs can also act as prebiotics for our microbiome. You can find an extensive list of some of our favourite herbs that support gut health and healthy digestion [here…]
First of all, dehydration is one of the most common reasons for constipation, and constipation creates all kinds of chaos for your whole digestive system, including your microbiome. Secondly, staying hydrated doesn’t just mean water in the belly, it means keeping all of your cells hydrated, which improves the function and health of every part of you, including your microbiome.
Try and get 11/2-2 liters of water in a day. I highly recommend drinking 1 or 2 glasses first thing in the morning, before your coffee, tea, or breakfast.
If you are one of those people who doesn’t love water, try throwing some berries, sliced lemon, fruit or cucumber in your water for a bit of flavour. Experiment a little, just don’t add any of those water flavouring products that are full of sugar, artificial sweeteners colors, or other chemicals.
Move your body
More and more research is showing that exercise increases the good gut microbiota in your body. It also helps optimize digestion, which in turn supports your gut microbiome, so move it! It doesn’t have to be hours of CrossFit training or running 20K every morning before work. A gentle walk, stretching, yoga, a bike ride… it all counts!
Get adequate quality sleep
Studies have shown that good quality sleep helps to support the gut microbiome, and in turn, a healthy balanced gut microbiome contributes to quality sleep. So it’s a win/win. Practice good sleep hygiene by following a bedtime routine, including a regular bedtime and wake time throughout the week when possible, turn off your electronics and screens at least 1-2 hours before bed, avoid large meals close to bedtime, and make sure that your bedroom is dark and set to a comfortable temperature so you are neither too hot nor too cold to sleep deeply.
Limit and manage stress
Not only do stress and depression often lead to the consumption of “comfort foods” that are harmful to our gut bacteria, but they can alter or reshape the gut bacteria’s composition through stress hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations.
Stress increases cortisol which has a profound impact on the gastrointestinal microbiota and can cause extreme harm to and even deplete your beneficial bacteria.
It’s really important to find ways, whether it’s through therapy, coaching, mindfulness exercises, breathing techniques, yoga & meditation, or exercise, to manage your stress levels.
For more information on gut health, and the gut-brain connection, check out the Sweet Vegan Spills The Tea Podcast – Season One Episode Three – “Is your food feeding you or your anxiety?” [here] or anywhere you get your podcasts. Also available on Youtube.