The first part of the gastrointestinal (GI) health discussion explained the composition of the human GI tract and the many roles it plays in our health. This second part will discuss what you can do to improve your GI health.
Having a healthy gut microbiome is important not only for digestive health, but also for the prevention of several common health conditions such as autoimmune diseases, immune related conditions, allergies, skin conditions and certain types of cancers.1 Along with the composition of the microbiome, the integrity of the GI mucosal lining is important for proper gut function.2 Many of the same factors that influence the gut microbiome (discussed in part one) also impact the mucosal lining. Processed food, environmental toxins, certain medications, alcohol, etc. can contribute to inflammation of the GI mucosal lining and lead to compromised function and eventually symptoms.2
Dietary patterns is arguably the most important factor contributing to GI health. The standard american diet, consisting of processed and prepared food that is low in fiber and nutrients and rich in simple sugars promotes the growth of unfavorable bacteria.3 In turn, a diet consisting of a variety of quality proteins, fats and carbohydrates promotes a healthy microbiome.
Here are some general dietary tips to help promote a healthy GI environment:
Consume fermented milk products and other fermented foods 3: Sugars and carbohydrates from food become bacteria in the process of fermentation, therefore these foods are natural probiotics.
Examples: kefir, yogurt (plain), kombucha, sauerkraut, miso
Increase fiber intake: Fiber is utilized by bacteria in the GI tract as energy and helps move waste and toxins through the GI tract.4
Examples: fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts/seeds, whole grains, supplemental form
Balance fat consumption with more omega-3 fatty acids and less trans fat 5: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and improve the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Balancing the ratio of healthy to unhealthy fats also favors the growth of healthy bacteria and reduction of bad bacteria.5
Examples: Salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, supplemental form
Consume quality sources of protein: Consumption of quality protein is associated with greater amounts of beneficial bacteria strains, decreased pathogenic bacteria strains, and increased short chain fatty acids.4
Examples: legumes, nuts/seeds, organic raised animal protein
Probiotics and Prebiotics:
The use of high quality probiotics are helpful for restoring and maintaining microflora balance in the GI tract and strengthening the intestinal barrier.6
Things to consider when choosing probiotics:
Various strains of bacteria are beneficial for certain conditions, which should be taken into account when selecting a probiotic.
Bacteria are sensitive to heat, moisture, light, and oxygen, therefore, probiotics should be in a dark colored, air-tight container and be refrigerated at the time of purchase to ensure the potency and effectiveness of the bacterial strains.6
Probiotics in capsule or powder form should continue to be stored in the refrigerator and should not be taken with hot beverages.
You can read more about probiotics in Kim's blog post, Probiotics: What You Need to Know.
Prebiotics, also called resistant starches are non-digestible carbohydrates that stimulate growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.7 Think of prebiotics as food for the good bacteria.
Prebiotics can be consumed by choosing:
unripe green bananas
These prebiotics are resistant to absorption in the upper GI tract, therefore increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the colon.2,7 The benefits of consuming prebiotic foods regularly include improved bowel and immune function, increased metabolic health and greater nutrient bioavailability.3 Prebiotics can also be taken in supplemental form.
Other tips to maintain a healthy gut:
Consume a whole-foods based diet
Avoid the use of NSAIDs, which damage the GI mucosal lining 2
Control stress levels
Limit consumption of alcohol
Reduce exposure to environmental toxins
About the Author: Megan Kraeger earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in April 2017. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Community Health with a concentration in Administration from SUNY Cortland.
Megan is passionate in educating individuals about nutrition and holistic wellness. She is currently earning clinical hours toward the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross's Supervision.
1. Lord RS, Bralley JA. Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine. Duluth, Georgia: Genova Diagnostics; 2012.
2. Liska DJ, Lukaczer D. Gut dysfunction and chronic disease: The benefits of applying the 4R GI Restoration Program. Advanced Nutrition Publications. 2001. 1-8
3. Conlon MA, Bird AR. The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Nutrients. 2015;7(1):17-44.
4. Singh RK, Chang H-W, Yan D, et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. Journal of Translational Medicine. 2017;15:73.
5. Costantini L, Molinari R, Farinon B, Merendino N. Impact of omega-3 fatty acids on the gut microbiota. Int.J. Mol Sci. 2017;18:2645.
6. Roundtree R. Proven therapeutic benefits of high quality probiotics. Advanced Nutrition Publications. 2002. 1-6.
7. Brownawell AM, Caers W, Gibson GR, et al. Prebiotics and the health benefits of fiber: Current regulatory status, future research, and goals. J Nutr. 2012; 142: 962–974.