In recent years, the topic of gut health has increased in popularity among both medical professionals and the general public. As studies continue, experts are finding a strong connection between gut health and whole-body health.
So what exactly does it mean to have a healthy gut?
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Breaking down gut health
The term “gut health” refers to the complex ecosystem of microorganisms in your digestive system. Each person has a variety of bacteria, viruses and fungi in their digestive tract—and a healthy gut requires having the right balance of these different microorganisms. Recent research has shown connections between the gut and many important areas of our overall health, including immunity, heart health and mental health. Maintaining a healthy gut may help lower the risk of some conditions and diseases, including endocrine disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
How do you know if your gut might need some help?
Think of your gut as the engine that drives your entire body. When something’s not right it can show up in a number of different ways, from an upset stomach to skin irritation. It can be harder for your body to digest certain foods if the balance of microorganisms in your digestive tract is off. Poor gut health can even trigger autoimmune conditions in some people.
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How do you keep a healthy gut?
While nutrition does play a role in gut health, maintaining a healthy digestive tract requires healthy habits that go beyond what we put in our bodies. It also extends to caring for your everyday well-being. Here are three tips to help you feel and stay healthy:
1. Take time to decompress and destress.
Stress can have both mental and physical impacts, including a negative impact on gut health. Remember to take steps to prioritize your mental health and engage in activities that help you feel relaxed and refreshed, whether that be setting aside time to meditate, exercise, spend quality time with loved ones, have a good laugh or treat yourself to a massage.
2. Stay hydrated.
Dehydration can lead to irritation and inflammation in the gut. So remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Studies suggest that—beyond the standard benefits of staying hydrated—this may also lead to better diversity of important bacteria in the gut.
3. Choose fiber over sugar.
Processed foods, high-fat foods and foods that are high in refined sugars can promote growth of damaging bacteria in the gut. Research suggests that foods that are high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and rich in probiotics, such as sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt, have gut-boosting properties.
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Gut health is an important part of feeling good inside and out. By maintaining healthy habits, you can positively impact what’s going inside your gut—and you’ll also reap dividends on your overall well-being.