top of page

5 Steps Towards A Healthier Gut

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

When I say ‘healthy gut’, what I am referring to specifically is our gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome is a population of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi) that live throughout the GI tract. A majority of these organisms reside in the colon but we have microorganisms living throughout the entire GI tract from the mouth to the anus. The kind of bacteria and the amount of bacteria we have hugely impacts our health. Research has demonstrated that our gut microbiome influences the formation of a variety of chronic health diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, neurological disorders, and metabolic disorders to name a few. The health of our microbiome is continuously shaped by a multitude of factors, some of which include dietary habits, lifestyle practices, stress, antibiotics use, and environmental toxin exposure.

These are some of the foundational tips I recommend for a healthy gut:

1. Minimize Inflammatory foods (sugar and processed oils)

Unfortunately, these days the standard diet for many Americans includes high consumption of processed refined sugars and carbohydrates and inflammatory industrial seed oils. A very brief list of top offenders includes: fast foods, fried foods, white breads and pastas, baked goods, candy, and sugar sweetened beverages. These foods have been shown to alter the gut microbiome- specifically by creating an environment that allows our bad gut bacteria to grow and thrive leading to less growth of our good healthy bacteria and less bacterial diversity. When our gut becomes overgrown with pathogenic or the wrong kind of bacteria this is when we begin to see gut symptoms (bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea). When consumption of these foods is constant and our gut microbiome is taking a major hit on a day to day basis we end up with low grade chronic inflammation that puts us at increased risk for disease. It is important for us to keep these processed foods to a minimum!

2. Eat enough fiber

Fiber is key for a healthy and happy gut. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our digestive system is unable to breakdown and absorb. Instead, fiber is consumed and moves through the body undigested- it can either be consumed as fuel by our gut bacteria in the intestines or remain intact in the colon and help us bulk stools and remove waste from the body. There are a variety of benefits to both kinds of fiber such as helping with blood sugar balance, slowing digestion, promoting growth of our good healthy bacteria, formation of healthy bulked bowels, and toxin removal. When we talk about gut health and supporting healthy bacteria growth it is is important to consume adequate levels of soluble fiber- the kind our bacteria can eat up (ferment) and use as fuel to re-populate and use to produce wonderful beneficial post-biotics such as short chain fatty acids and butyrate.

Some examples of soluble fiber include:

Resistant starch: legumes, unripe/green bananas, cooked and cooled pasta, potatoes, and rices

Pectins: apples, cranberries, grapefruits, oranges, berries, lemons

Beta-glucans: Oats, mushrooms, seaweed, nutritional yeast

Inulin: Chicory root, dandelion greens, leeks, asparagus, artichokes

Fructooligosaccharides/Oligosaccharides/Oligofructose: Chicory root, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, onion, garlic, yacon, peas, cauliflower, bananas, prunes, peaches, watermelon, apples, agave, beans, honey, etc.

A diet with a variety of foods allows you to nourish different gut microbes- this ensures an abundance of good bacteria and a diverse gut microbiome.

3. Get Enough Sleep

Most of us think when we sleep our body is resting so we can wake up energized for the next day. But outside of restoring energy, so many amazing things happen when we sleep. For example, the body repairs damaged cells (necessary for muscle repair especially if there’s injury), there is an increase in the release of hormones such as growth hormone (needed for luscious long hair and nails) and the hormones that regulate our appetite (essential for blood sugar balance), our immune system is regulated (needed to fight illness), the nerve cells in our brain are rewired (making memories), and our brain and body are detoxing waste and toxins we have come into contact with. Sleep is truly so essential when it comes to allowing our body time to heel and repair. So how does sleep impact the gut? One research study concluded that teens lacking adequate sleep were more likely to make poor food choices-> more sugar! This means more inflammation and negative outcomes for their gut health. Research also concludes that a lack of sleep is associated with increased production in the hormone called ghrelin, which is associated with increased hunger and carb cravings. When we are moody and our decision making is negatively impacted we end up consuming inflammatory foods, overeating, and are less active. All of these things have negative consequences on our gut health. During sleep we are also taking time away from eating. Not only does eating take a lot of energy, but we also produce waste as a result. This longer break between meals allows our intestines to cleanse and detox.

4. Manage Stress

When you are stressed out do you ever find yourself in the bathroom? Or if you are about to give a huge presentation and you notice the week leading up to it you are more bloated, your bowels are off, and you have heartburn? Thats because our gut and brain are connected, and that connection goes both ways. A distressed gut can send signals to the brain and a distressed brain can send signals to the gut. So if you are living in overdrive and stressed out 99% of the time, your gut is going to feel it!

How are they connected exactly? One way is via the Vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system that allows the brain and gut to send signals back and forth. The Vagus nerve is responsible for a variety of essential functions required by the body every day such as controlling our mood, our heart rate, immune response, and digestion. When we are stressed vagus nerve function is inhibited. Weakened vagal tone in combination with stress has been shown to negatively impact our gut by influencing the gut microbiota, increase intestinal permeability, and increasing systemic inflammation.

Ways to stimulate the Vagus Nerve:

Deep-belly breathing: Lie flat on your back, close your eyes and relax. Inhale deeply through your nose. Breath in as much as you possibly can. Pause. Then release. Repeat the exercise. Increase amount of breaths over time.

Gargling: Take a glass of pure water and gargle. Gargle with vigor and push your limits. This technique only works when you gargle outside your comfort zone- meaning hard and for a long duration of time. You might even notice your eyes watering.

Gagging: Lay a tongue depressor on the back of your tongue, then firmly press down. This will initiate the body’s gagging reflex. Do NOT jab at the back of your throat. Do 5 gags to start, building up to 10. Again, eye watering is normal.

Cold exposure: Take a cold plunge into an ice bath or cold shower. Remain in the cold water for 30-60 seconds. Build up exposure time as your cold tolerance increases.

5. Avoid Environmental Toxins

Avoiding toxins these days is really challenging, but worth every effort to help us protect our gut microbiome. Research demonstrates over and over again that toxic chemicals found in our food/agriculture, household products, personal care products, air, and water negatively impact our gut and long term health overall. Things you’ve likely heard of such as BPA, Phthalates, and heavy metals are everywhere and not only are they linked to a variety of chronic diseases they also inhibit our good bacteria from working optimally and alter our microbiota balance.

Let’s discuss just a couple of the environmental toxins we should avoid:

BPA’s (Bisphenol A): an industrial chemical used to manufacture plastics. It is added to many commercial products such as plastic food containers, baby bottles, water bottles, personal care products, and more. BPA can leach out into your food, drinks, and personal care products and end up in the body creating a variety of health consequences. One research study concluded that BPA exposure unregulated levels of Methanobrevibacter in the gut microbiome of males. Methanobrevibacter is shown to increase caloric intake and weight gain. You can conclude that BPA exposure may lead to weight gain as a result of its impact on the gut microbiota.

Phthalates: Phthalates are also found in plastics and used as stabilizers- found in vinyl flooring, clothing, personal care and household products, children’s toys, and medical equipment. A variety of studies have demonstrated phthalate exposure alters gut microbiota and may contribute to altered immune responses to vaccinations and development of autoimmune diseases.

Heavy Metals: naturally occurring elements found in nature. As heavy metals accumulate they can become very toxic to the body. In mice, lead exposure has been show to reduce diversity of gut microbiota and alter the metabolism of many vital pathways we use of a daily basis such as vitamin E, bile acid, and nitrogen metabolism. Arsenic has also demonstrated microbiota alterations associated with changes in the metabolism of fats, vitamin E, bile acids, oxidative stress, and detoxification. One study conducted in an adult human population reported that arsenic exposure altered the gut microbiome leading to an overproduction of Citrobacter. Some species of Citrobacter have been tied to various health problems such as urinary tract infections, inflamed gastrointestinal tracts, and respiratory diseases.

…And this is just a couple of them!

Easy swaps to decrease your toxic burden:

  1. Swap out all plastics for glass. No more plastic food storage containers, water bottles, baby bottles, or plastic bags to hold your foods and beverages in.

  2. Swap out toxin cleaning products for clean ones.

  3. Swap your personal care products specifically your creams and lotions, shampoo and conditioner, and makeup!

  4. Filter your water with a reverse osmosis filter!

  5. Clean your air! Use a HEPA air filter to remove toxins from the air your are inhaling in your home

The EWG has a website to help you find non-toxic options!

*I know this can be overwhelming. Take it one step at a time. If you are concerned about the current state of your gut health, consider working with a functional medicine practitioner such as myself to help you evaluate where to start!


doi: 10.3390/nu13010196.

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page