How to Improve Gut Health Naturally

Posted on April 18, 2024

Woman Doing Yoga

Gut health, the proper functioning of the digestive tract, has consistently captured major attention among health and nutrition researchers. From its effect on nutrient absorption and immunity to neurotransmitter production and even psychological conditions, it increasingly seems the gut affects almost every aspect of health. We'll discuss how to improve gut health naturally. Along the way, we'll explore:

  • The best vitamins for gut health
  • Signs of bad gut health
  • How diet and lifestyle affect gut health
  • The prevalence of leaky gut syndrome and steps you can take to reverse it

Understanding the Gut Microbiome

Our gastrointestinal tract houses an enormous amount (trillions) of friendly bacteria, collectively known as the "gut microbiome." The exact makeup of these bacteria (including organisms called archaea and eukarya) is incredibly unique to each individual, being the sum total of one's:

  • Long- and short-term dietary choices
  • Balance between harmful and beneficial bacteria
  • Ethnicity
  • Environment
  • Age

Even more interestingly, certain bacterial byproducts can themselves encourage further bacterial growth, creating a veritable feedback loop of beneficial gut conditions. There are also variations in the small and large intestinal microbiota, which have their own microbiota requirements to digest food and perform a variety of other functions.

Much More Than Gut Health

Why is gut health significant? Modern science is only just beginning to appreciate how complex gut health is and that "microbiota diversity" is enormously important.

Yet what we know with certainty is that the above-listed factors are extremely useful for those learning how to improve gut health naturally. That's because gut dysbiosis, the imbalance between harmful and beneficial bacteria, can cause or exacerbate a host of conditions. These include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Malnutrition and poor energy production
  • Obesity
  • Neurological disorders
  • Cancers
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky gut syndrome, aka intestinal permeability

Compounding Symptoms

These and other gut conditions can then cascade into an unfortunate series of confusing and worsening health symptoms. With leaky gut syndrome, for example, the gut lining becomes permeable and allows undigested food particles into the bloodstream. This can then lead to food insensitivities and autoimmune conditions (including type 1 diabetes), which themselves lead to other diseases.

This cascade of events has even sparked robust debate among researchers that many such diseases are essentially just symptoms of dysregulated gut health. Whatever the case, could it be that the silver lining is that all signs point to healing the gut lining for mitigating and preventing these conditions?

Dietary Factors Influencing Gut Health

Being such an innately broad topic, with conception-altering discoveries almost by the day, there are many different schools of thought related to improving gut health. Further, each individual's microbiota is enormously unique. Thus, it's important to resist the urge to find one-size-fits-all solutions. That said, there are some generally helpful nutritional approaches to restore, optimize, and improve gut health for the majority of people.

To Fiber or Not to Fiber?

For those with good gut health already, fiber-rich foods can dramatically increase gut microbiome diversity. Foods rich in both fiber and nutrients are ideal, such as:

  • A wide variety of vegetables and fruits
  • Whole grains (although certain kinds can irritate the intestine)
  • Seeds, nuts, and legumes, although some have "anti-nutrients" that are harmful to the gut (though they can be deactivated through sprouting)

We'll discuss some of these caveats further on. For now, understand that most people not undergoing serious gut dysregulation probably won't notice issues by simply eating a wide variety of whole and nutritious plant foods.

In fact, fiber is an important resource for friendly bacteria, as it produces beneficial microbial metabolites. For several reasons, high dietary fiber intake is directly associated with greater microbiome diversity, as well as reduced inflammation.

That said, high-fiber diets can be problematic for those already experiencing gut issues. Contrary to popular opinion, fiber-rich diets can even contribute to constipation in some people.

Creating a Microbiome-Friendly Environment

One way to improve gut health naturally is to create a microbiome-friendly environment that fosters the growth of beneficial bacteria while reducing the preconditions for harmful ones. This can be done by making simple adjustments to your lifestyle and diet.

Reducing or Eliminating Sugar

One of the main causes of gut dysbiosis is increasing the preconditions for harmful bacteria in the GI tract. Sugar of any kind is one of the primary food sources for negative bacteria, which can lead to numerous aspects of bad gut health:

  • Reduced microbiome diversity
  • Poor mucosal lining
  • Increased gut permeability, along with a higher risk of chronic autoimmunity
  • Greater intestinal inflammation

These and other concerns underscore the importance of reducing your sugar intake. A poor microbiome, constantly processing high carbohydrate levels, also contributes to insulin resistance.

To mitigate both health risks, many find relief with the ketogenic diet, which eliminates as many sources of added sugars as possible and limits carbohydrates to anywhere from 20–50 grams per day, regardless of the "recommended dietary allowance" (RDA) of around 275 for most adults.

Reducing Gut Inflammation and Irritants

Sugar isn't the only culprit to poor gut health. Gut irritants also include inflammatory compounds, including:

Those with long-term gut inflammation or outright leaky gut syndrome may have developed particular food insensitivies, including chronic food allergies. While beyond the scope of this guide, certain signs of bad gut health (e.g., hives, swelling, foggy-headedness) may be indicative of certain food sensitivities.

Repairing the Gut Lining

Some people experiencing more debilitating gut issues have achieved success with the GAPS diet. Short for "Gut and Psychology Syndrome," GAPS is a modern version of the "specific carbohydrate" diet from the 1920s. Both take a strict "elimination diet" approach to removing common irritants to compromised gut lining, particularly:

  • High-starchy fruits and vegetables
  • Grains
  • Dairy

GAPS is heavy on bone broth, probiotic-rich foods, and nutrient-dense, low-carb vegetables. After some time, dieters may gradually add other foods and assess the effects on their newly stabilized gut health.

While GAPS has attracted controversy due to the gravity of its claims, they're not without foundation. A multi-study review in the late 2010s, for example, showed "compelling" evidence that probiotics can alleviate depressive symptoms.

Feeding Your Friendly Neighborhood Microbiome!

You can improve gut health naturally by nurturing the delicate balance of bacteria and microorganisms residing in your digestive system.  

Laird Superfood Prebiotic Daily Greens Product Display with Cool Green Tiles

Paring It All Down

While it may all sound enormously complicated, practically speaking, we can distill everything just discussed into a simple and powerful one-two combo for improving gut flora:

  1. Reduce the preconditions for harmful gut bacteria, intestinal permeability, and other GI conditions
  2. Nourish your friendly bacteria using nutrient-dense, probiotic-rich foods

Astonishingly, the gut is something of its own self-regulating organism. By increasing probiotics, you'll directly introduce healthy bacteria into your gut, eventually crowding out harmful bacteria.

What Are Probiotics?

Together, "pro-" and "biotic" mean life promoting. Probiotic foods contain beneficial live microorganisms that establish themselves in a host's GI tract. It may sound a bit sci-fi, but the microbiome really does function as its own self-regulating system, and it even produces psychoactive substances. In unhealthy states, the gut microbiota can also produce alcohol, literally intoxicating the host.

For these reasons and more, it's no surprise researchers have embarked on new frontiers into human health, based on what they've "gut-brain axis" and its influence on mood, cognition, and behavior.

Obviously, results may vary among individuals. Yet almost anyone would do well to deliberately support their microbiome by consuming more probiotic-rich foods. Good sources of probiotics consist largely of fermented foods, including:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Raw dairy, though you must find it from a safe source
  • High-quality probiotic supplements and probiotic-fortified foods

What Are Prebiotics?

Like probiotics, prebiotics directly promote the proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria. Yet prebiotics are not themselves living microorganisms but rather precursors to them. You could think of prebiotics as the nutrients healthy gut bacteria depend on. Some of the best vitamins for gut health thus feed the gut biome itself, in addition to (or even instead of) overall bodily tissue.

There are various prebiotic compounds, including inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Foods particularly rich in prebiotics include:

  • Chicory
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Onion, garlic, and leeks
  • Dandelions
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Oats, barley, and wheat bran
  • Flaxseeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Many varieties of seaweed

While not themselves prebiotics, certain types of fibers have "prebiotic effects" on the gut biome. That especially includes soluble fiber (i.e., dissolvable), which has the added benefit of slowing and/or reducing carbohydrate load (hence the difference between "carbs vs net carbs").

Variety: The Spice of Your Gut Life!

It's essential to understand that your microbiota thrives on variety. Be sure to rotate your intake of probiotic foods and supplements to promote a more diverse microbiota.

That's exactly the approach Laird took when formulating our Prebiotic Daily Greens blend. The result of years spent refining our approach to gut health, Laird's Prebiotic Daily Greens combines three important sources of gut-health promoting nutrition:

  1. Prebiotic fiber, sourced from a variety of whole foods
  2. Food-sourced adaptogens, such as reishi, shiitake, and Rhodiola
  3. A nutrient-dense blend of vegetable and fruit powders

...and perhaps best of all: absolutely no artificial ingredients!

Woman Holding Laird Superfood Prebiotic Daily Greens Drink in Glass

Further Steps You Can Take to Optimize Gut Health

Gut Health Nutrition

Given the right preconditions, your biome can largely take care of itself. Of course, you'd also do well to support the environment it all depends on.

Vitamins and Minerals for Gut Health

Certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can also improve gut health. To truly bulletproof your GI tract, consider optimizing your levels of the following nutrients and compounds, shown to support greater digestive health in general:

Enzymatic Action

Enzymes are extremely important, as your body requires them to break down various foods that might not otherwise be easily digestible. In fact, a lack of dietary enzymes forces your body to use its own valuable resources. Good sources of enzymes include:

  • Papaya (including the seeds, which are good for the lower intenstine in particular)
  • Pineapple
  • Mangos
  • Sprouts
  • Certain raw vegetables
  • Raw honey
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Kefir
  • Ginger

Cooking and Food Preparation

Cooking many foods more lightly preserves their enzymatic content. Given the choice, opt for steaming rather than boiling, as the latter wastes important nutrients and enzymes.

Anti-Inflammatory Compounds

Anti-inflammatory foods are also enormously helpful. Foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds and beneficial to the gut include fatty fish, turmeric, and ginger. You can also take white willow bark, the natural source of most processed OTC aspirins (yet it's best to allow the inflammation cycle to run its course immediately after exercise or an acute injury).

As you can see, many of the foods listed in this guide are beneficial to gut health in multiple ways — proving yet again that a holistic, whole foods-based approach to nutrition is the right way to go!

Improve Gut Health Naturally Through Lifestyle

Good digestive health, like health overall, is about much more than food and nutrition. Take an "eat to live" philosophy to heart (not the reverse), and take your health to the next level by leading a more vibrant lifestyle every day.

Exercise Like Your Life Depends on It!

Humankind evolved from born athletes, so it's no surprise that an active life is necessary for ideal health and happiness. Exercise improves gastrointestinal health in a variety of ways, including:

  • Improved gut motility
  • Greater blood flow
  • Elimination of toxins
  • Higher concentration of mitochondria, leading to higher energy production
  • Improved sleep (when the gut performs the majority of its housecleaning functions)

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (i.e., not eating for 12–16 hours) is also very beneficial and directly improves gut microflora. A common way to weave intermittent fasting into your lifestyle is with the "2MAD" (two meals a day) or "OMAD" (one meal a day) approach to meal timing, as common in ketogenic circles.

Consistent, short-duration fasts not only alleviate stress on the digestive tract but support increased growth hormone, energy levels, and myriad other health benefits that are simply impossible to achieve otherwise.

Good Hydration

Be sure to maintain proper hydration throughout the day, which is essential to maintaining proper blood viscosity, neurological functioning, and many other important functions. This means more than just increasing clean water intake, as hydration (literally, delivering hydrogen to cells) also depends on proper electrolytic balance.

Laird's signature HYDRATE and Coconut Water Hydration solutions include a comprehensive range of electrolytes and trace minerals. It's a one-stop, simplified approach to improving water absorption, proper cell signaling, and a range of other important factors, especially for those leading active lives.

Stress Reduction

No matter what, take care to unwind. Unwelcome or excess stress (i.e., an "acute threat to homeostasis") carries profound negative impacts on gastrointestinal health and overall well-being. At the same time, exercise is stressful, so it's important to make a distinction between:

  1. Distress, generally considered unwelcome or harmful
  2. Eustress, where the root "eu-" means "good" or "beneficial"

Get the placebo effect on your side, and try to reframe negative stressors in a way that convincingly induces a beneficial frame of mind. For instance, traffic jams could become reminders to ingrain deep breathing habits more deeply.

Counterintuitively, take a "mildly active" approach to bringing your nervous system into homeostasis by controlling cortisol and following natural biological rhythms. A healthy body receives a "jolt" of cortisol in the morning, which is an excellent time to schedule hard exercise. The deeper your sleep, the earlier you can wake up feeling fully restored and ready for more.

At sundown, it's important to "mop up" extraneous cortisol through techniques such as:

  • Deep relaxation
  • Reducing external stimuli
  • Practicing good "sleep hygiene"
  • Taking herbs shown to reduce cortisol, such as holy basil (aka, tulsi) and other adaptogens

Regulating Blood Sugar Through Diet

In addition to directly supporting gut health, taking a concerted approach to blood sugar management is very beneficial. Gut health and blood sugar work hand in hand. Reducing your insulin load will further enhance digestive function, not to mention overall health.

Hippocrates Was Right

In countless ways, researchers are just now rediscovering what the "father of modern medicine" long advocated: health begins in the gut. Aided by recent advances in nutrition science, we can bolster this timeless wisdom and enhance the body's powerful self-healing mechanisms by supporting our gut microbiome and eliminating the causes of gastrointestinal disease.

Laird Superfoods is committed to furthering natural health with our Prebiotic Daily Greens blend. It's just one important component of our extensive line of delicious and nutritious snacks, drink mixes, and supplements to help you improve gut health and your overall well-being from the inside out!

1 comment

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing

Recent Posts

See all Wellness Hub