The gut microbiome, or the trillions of bacteria in the intestines, play an important role in health. Of the hundreds of species of gut bacteria, some are beneficial while others contribute to disease. Your diet and lifestyle can affect the types and amounts of bacteria in your gut and can have wide-ranging impacts on your health.
How Your Gut Bacteria Can Affect Your Health
An unhealthy gut can contribute to numerous health problems. If your intestinal bacteria are out of balance, you may experience indigestion, unintentional weight gain or loss, insomnia, chronic fatigue, skin conditions such as eczema and autoimmune diseases. An unhealthy gut microbiome can also cause sugar cravings, which can make the problem worse.
Dietary Changes That Can Improve Your Gut Health
Eating a diverse diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes can contribute to a diverse microbiome. Numerous types of fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain probiotics, which include fiber and complex carbohydrates that gut bacteria break down and use for fuel. They can encourage the growth of beneficial microbes in the gut and may reduce the risk of developing some chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and other live organisms that can change the composition of the microbiome and support metabolism. They may have a positive impact on the gut microbiome in people with some diseases, but they may have less of an impact on healthy people.
Fermented foods such as plain yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, contain probiotics. In the fermentation process, yeast or bacteria convert sugars in food to organic acids or alcohol. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria.
Polyphenols are plant compounds that are digested by bacteria in the colon. They can reduce inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and oxidative stress. Fruits, vegetables, red wine, cocoa and dark chocolate are all good sources of polyphenols.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners can have a negative impact on bacteria in the intestines. Limit your consumption of sugary and processed foods.
Ways to Embrace a Healthier Lifestyle
You can also make lifestyle changes to improve your gut health. Reducing stress levels and getting enough sleep each night may be helpful. Eating slowly and staying hydrated can also be beneficial.
Smoking can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome and may increase the risk of developing intestinal problems and other conditions, including lung cancer. If you smoke, work on quitting.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you’re concerned about your health, speak with your doctor about your symptoms and whether an imbalance of bacteria in your gut may play a role. Your doctor can give you advice on changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle or other treatments that may help.