The human body, in particular the gut, contains trillions of coexisting microorganisms, both helpful and harmful. These microbes—including bacteria, fungi, and other microbial cells—make up the microbiome which plays multiple roles within the body: supporting the immune system, aiding in digestion, and even promoting positive mental health.
In order to keep the microbiome happy and healthy, it’s vital to maintain high levels of good gut bacteria, which can be done in several ways.
Probiotics are good bacteria that occur naturally within the body, balancing out the bad to keep the body working as it should. It's possible to boost probiotic levels in two ways—through diet and with supplements.
Probiotic foods are usually labeled as fermented or containing live cultures; typical sources include yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi. Dietary supplements containing Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium are also a good way to boost probiotic intake and come as capsules, liquids, and powders.
Prebiotics are compounds that survive in the digestive tract long enough to be broken down, fermented, and used as food by probiotics in the gut. Prebiotic foods contain high levels of pectin, inulin, or resistant starch. Pectin-rich foods include apples, carrots, and tomatoes, inulin-rich foods include leeks, onions, and asparagus, and resistant starches are in oats, beans, and legumes.
Prebiotic intake should be increased slowly as these foods can create bloating and gas. It’s better not to eat prebiotic foods late at night as they can disrupt the body’s internal clock. People with irritable bowel syndrome may find prebiotics especially difficult to digest, so may need to avoid them. Prebiotic supplements are also an option.
A 2019 study found that eating a varied diet helps support a stable and diverse microbiome. Each fruit and vegetable contains a unique blend of beneficial compounds, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals, that interact with and impact the microbiome in different ways.
This is especially true for prebiotic foods. Not all the microbes in the gut feed on the same kind of prebiotics, so different foods benefit the microbiome differently. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables maximizes the benefits.
Fiber is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system and helps promote good bacteria in the gut. A recent study showed that an increase in fiber can positively alter the composition of the microbiome, improving overall health.
The daily recommended dietary fiber intake is between 25g and 35g, but most people only consume around 12g to 18g. Plant-based foods are an excellent source of fiber; try to eat more whole grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts.
Over recent years, it has become more and more apparent that the modern Western diet—low fiber, high sugar, and high fat—has a detrimental effect on health. In relation to the microbiome, high levels of sugar have been shown to increase levels of bad bacteria in the gut and decrease the good bacteria, leading to inflammation and reduced function.
Highly processed foods lack many of the vital nutrients the body needs, including the fiber and probiotics that support a healthy gut. To maintain healthy levels of good bacteria, minimize your consumption of heavily processed foods and eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables and grains.
Research shows that antibiotics can have a devastating effect on the microbiome, including changes in its activity, reduced variety of microorganisms, and the development of antibiotic-resistant organisms. This is because when you take an antibiotic, it does not discriminate between good and bad bacteria: it kills it all.
Increased usage of antibiotics over recent years has led to an increase in the number of gastrointestinal and immunological conditions, especially when used to treat children. Probiotics supplements may be beneficial in helping restore the microbiome after taking antibiotics, which are an unavoidable life-saving medication in some cases.
It’s well known that adequate sleep is vital for overall health. Long-term sleep deprivation is linked to heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. Research demonstrates a two-way relationship between the microbiome and sleep patterns.
Studies suggest that poor sleep leads to a less diverse microbiome, and conversely, imbalances in the microbiome can cause sleep disturbances. Most adults should aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Tips for better sleep include reducing the use of electronic devices before bed and establishing a regular nighttime routine.
Regular, moderate exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, strong muscles and bones, and good mental health. What’s more, recent studies suggest that exercise can have a positive impact on the number and diversity of good bacteria in the gut.
Many people find that when they start to exercise more, they are inspired to improve their diet as well, thus receiving double the benefits. Adults should aim for around 30 minutes of moderate activity every day.
There is an undeniable connection between the brain and the gut. This is called the gut-brain axis and scientists are only recently starting to understand how this relationship works.
Research suggests that depression has a direct impact on the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Maintaining good mental health is key to physical health and in particular, a healthy microbiome. Tips for positive mental health include spending time in nature, engaging in regular exercise, and taking time to connect with others.
Drinking enough water is crucial for maintaining the body’s systems and has an impact on cognitive function, digestion, and the regulation of blood pressure and temperature. Recent research established a link between drinking water and gut bacteria, suggesting that increased levels of hydration may lead to a healthier microbiome.
The type of water consumed also has an impact, with untreated well water being the most beneficial. Advice varies regarding the recommended daily water intake for adults, but the average seems to be around four to six cups in addition to hydration through food.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.