Can you heal your gut? Many easy steps can be taken to improve digestion, absorption, and to help your whole body in the process. A huge key to healing your gut is to improve the type and amount of bacteria that live in your digestive tract. This blog will describe was to keep you and your healthy bacteria happy.
The research has exploded in this area, and all signs point to the idea that your gut is the window to almost all health.
A healthy bacterial content, also known as a microbiome, virtually creates most of the immunity in your body and signals to all tissues in the body to convey messages.
This means that the microbiome is playing a role in heart health, cancer risk, brain health, diabetes, and more.
Each individual’s gut bacteria is more like a fingerprint than a generic commonality between people, so it’s not as straightforward as it might seem. I get asked all the time, “What probiotic should I take?”
People want a quick solution to a complex system of gut immunity dictated by bacteria in the gut. We can glean a lot from the huge body of research on gut bacteria, so the steps below are legitimate ways you can likely enhance your gut health and overall health.
The Human Microbiome Project has found that thousands of different types of bacteria may inhabit the gut of human populations collectively. A huge variation exists between and among people.
Despite this complexity, many bacteria types have common functions in the metabolic effects on the body and the signalling to various systems.
Because of these commonalities, some of the same techniques for enhancing your microbiome will work for most people. However, keep in mind; not every kind of bacteria is friendly in every circumstance.
10 Steps to Heal Your Gut
You can start one-by-one or do all of these at once for maximum impact for your digestive health. Keep in mind, we are all a bit different, so sometimes when one doesn’t help, try several other tips included here.
Step 1. Immerse yourself in nature and be outside daily.
Imagine, if you will, that bacteria in our digestive tracts help to detoxify the body, making us less likely to get colon cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression and more.
A serene outdoor walk with fresh air, sunshine and exposure to countless microbes just may be what the doctor ordered.
Even the air we breathe indoors (or outdoors) and around us affects our bacterial diversity to a large extent (3).
Natural environments also de-stress the body, allowing for more healthy bacteria to thrive.
Step 2. Eat a diverse variety of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
Our gut bacteria need a diverse source of fiber-rich foods to help keep them healthy and thriving (4).
We now have the capability to measure the types and amounts of bacteria in the gut through DNA testing; it is clear that the variety of fresh produce n the diet contribute to gut health and diversity of gut bacteria.
It isn’t as simple as adding fiber either; the polyphenols (a micronutrient) in whole plant foods also positively influence the health of gut bacteria (5).
Conversely, 10 days of fast food could ravage gut health: Take this example. (6)
A student at the University of Aberystwyth underwent an experiment where he subsisted on McDonalds food for ten days.
Over this time frame of 10 days, he lost an astounding 40% of his gut bacteria. I am going to assume that heavily processed foods from anywhere devastate the gut potentially.
Step 3: Include sprouted, fermented grains and certain whole grains,nuts and/or legumes
Preferably, choose organic grains and legumes; these crops can be sprayed heavily with Round-Up herbicide at harvest time (7) , which changes gut bacteria, if they are not organic.
Here I speak of choosing whole grains but with a disclaimer; if you are sensitive to gluten, wheat, barley and rye may contribute to dysbiosis or bacterial imbalance (8). This can be true of any sensitivity for that matter.
Both soaking and especially fermenting grains and legumes make them more nutritious and easy to digest. Methods to ferment and soak grains are beyond the scope of this blog, but details can be found here: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2010/05/traditional-preparation-methods-improve.html
Step 4: Dig in the dirt:
Could gardening and exposure to soil makes us happy? Several research studies point to yes. Garden soil is teeming with its own ecosystem of bacteria; yet it is likely that different regions and exposures of soils to different treatments vastly affect the quality of the soil organisms.
The bacteria in soil may make us in a better mood, even when the bacteria is isolated away from the soil as studied by Dr.Brien and colleagues (9).
The bacteria in this particular study was Mycobacterium vaccae, and it was a killed variety. To learn more about soil bacteria and mood, click here: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/antidepressant-microbes-soil.htm
Step 5: Breastfeed and give natural childbirth if possible.
Pay it forward to the next generation if possible. Infant’s guts are inoculated through the birthing process, and then further enriched with gut bacteria by breast milk and contact with skin during breastfeeding.
The breastfeeding itself contributes almost a third of the total bacteria in the gut of breastfed babies(10).
Step 7: Judiciously use chemicals; both in foods and otherwise.
Food additives, including carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, are known to affect gut bacteria (11) .
Additionally, skin care products, household cleaning products, and environmental chemicals are grossly understudied as little to no regulation is involved in their use or approval.
Yet what we do know is that many are not good for your gut bacteria (12). When given a choice, always use natural cleaners and skin products, as well as toothpastes.
Step 8: Eat fermented foods and drinks daily.
Fermented (probiotic) foods have been used for at least 9000 years to help preserve and increase the nutritional qualities of foods. Industrialization has dramatically reduced the intake of fermentation, but a recent grassroots effort to re-explore these in our food supply is with good reason. Fermented foods may have countless health benefits (13).
As with anything, fermentation takes a bit of knowledge and skill, so research this before taking it on at home. Some foods that you can readily buy with fermentation/probiotic effects are: fresh sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, unsweetened yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, fermented cheeses like gouda, cheddar, swiss, blue cheese, gorgonzola kombucha to name a few. For a more extensive list of fermented food ideas, click here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fermented_foods
Step 9: Take a probiotic supplement.
On the shelf you will find hundreds upon hundreds of different types of probiotics, so it takes a little investigating to learn about each kind.
Click here for individual bacteria strains and researched benefits. This is a partial list.
Many supplement companies have their own variety of probiotics, and one may suit you better.
As a general rule, choose probiotics with at least 10-20 billion CFUs with multiple strains for a more broad benefit.
I don’t worry as much about refrigeration. As demonstrated above, even dead bacteria may help the body’s immune system.
Vast amounts of research are starting to be dedicated to probiotics as antibiotics begin to lose their effectiveness due to resistance and overuse.
Some research is even finding that probiotics are helpful in treating nasty gut infections (14). As with anything that has benefit, there also are some small risks. Ask your doctor about probiotics if you have a compromised immune system.
Step 10: Eat raw produce.
As it turns out, the “probiotic” from the soil hitch-hikes on to the vegetables and snap. You got probiotic.
We would be hard-pressed to say that all soil is safe for this, and certainly their is an infinite possibility of the type and amount of bacteria you might get. Some people cringe at the thought of this.
No pressure, but just know this is another avenue, which I would argue could be easy.
I’ve never been a patient type of person so this suits me quite well. Even when I was a small child, I would grab a carrot out of the ground and haphazardly scrape off the soil, then eat it. The same goes for the peas and fresh berries hanging close to the ground.
The path of least resistance is a good path at times.
Bonus tip: Have a furry friend.
If they weren’t delightful enough on their own, pets make you healthier.
This may be in part because they keep the body supplied with a steady source of bacteria (15).
You don’t have to ask me twice. I will always have a furry friend by my side.
I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in bringing you real information about health and holistic wellness.
1. Klepeis NE, Nelson WC, Ott WR, Robinson JP, Tsang AM, Switzer P, et al. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2001;11:231–52.
2. AMAGupta VK, Paul S, Dutta C. Geography, Ethnicity or Subsistence-Specific Variations in Human Microbiome Composition and Diversity. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2017;8:1162. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2017.01162.
3. Kembel SW, Meadow JF, O’Connor TK, Mhuireach G, Northcutt D, Kline J, Moriyama M, Brown GZ, Bohannan BJM, Green JL. 2014. Architectural design drives the biogeography of indoor bacterial communities. PLoS One 9:e87093. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087093.
Tun H et al. Exposure to household furry pets influences the gut microbiota of infants at 3–4 months following various birth scenarios. Microbiome20175:40 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x
10. Pia S. Pannaraj, Fan Li, Chiara Cerini, Jeffrey M. Bender, Shangxin Yang, Adrienne Rollie, Helty Adisetiyo, Sara Zabih, Pamela J. Lincez, Kyle Bittinger, Aubrey Bailey, Frederic D. Bushman, John W. Sleasman, Grace M. Aldrovandi. Association Between Breast Milk Bacterial Communities and Establishment and Development of the Infant Gut Microbiome. JAMA Pediatrics, 2017; DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.0378
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling root causes of illness.