That’s because your gut contains your microbiome. The microbiome, located in your gastrointestinal tract, consists of trillions of microbes that outnumber our cells roughly 10 to one—and they play a key role in how well your immune system, digestion and brain all function.
People with low levels of good bacteria (the microbes that help fight disease) in their microbiome are likely to suffer from conditions that have been linked to poor gut health, like autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and inflammatory bowel disease, which can lead to colorectal cancer.
Research continues to show that our gut and central nervous system can communicate through the autonomic nervous system—meaning that what you eat can directly affect your mood. The study also found that diets with high levels of refined carbohydrates and saturated fatty acids can cause sadness, depression and even withdrawn behavior. In April, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology published a study showing that changes to your microbiome’s composition due to a poor diet and a lack of exercise can lead to metabolic diseases and obesity.
The wonderful news is that your gut health is something you definitely have control over.
Here are a few tips to improve your gut health, which will boost your immunity, digestion and overall health:
1.) Take Probiotics, especially with Antibiotics
Antibiotics were created to kill bad bacteria in your system, but antibiotics can’t distinguish between harmful and useful bacteria. In other words, they wipe out everything, even the good bacteria that you really need. This throws off the balance of your microbiome, which does your immune system no favors. When prescribed an antibiotic by your doctor, ask if they are absolutely necessary to healing what ails you. If your doctor says yes, ask for the shortest supply possible and take a probiotic with the antibiotic. I recommend a probiotic that includes a blend of bifidobacterium and lactobacilli.
2.) Ax the Acid-Blockers
If you’re on acid-blocking medication, you’ve probably changed the balance of the bacteria in your microbiome. A study published in the Microbiome journal found that acid-reducing medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), disrupt gut health and the microbiome at large by reducing acid output and the growth of certain good microbes. Unless you have a chronic problem like Barrett’s esophagus, you should talk to your doctor about getting off these medications, and consider adding herbs that help with indigestion, like aloe vera, marshmallow root and deglycerized licorice (DGL), to your diet.
3.) Make Fiber your Friend
Eating foods high in fiber is one of the best things you can do for yourself, because most fibrous foods are prebiotics, as this study published in the Nutrients open access journal mentions. Prebiotics feed and support the growth of good bacteria. They cannot be digested, meaning they pass through your stomach and reach your intestines in an unaltered form, which is extremely good for your digestive health. Artichokes, asparagus, chicory, garlic, leeks, oats, onions, and soybeans are all natural prebiotics, and at least a few of them should be on your grocery list.
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This article originally appeared in a slightly revised form on Fox News, where I’m a regular contributor.