14 Great Tips to Restore Gut Flora in 7 Days

Each of us has approximately 100 trillion microbes in our guts. Our gut flora, also known as our gut microbiome, is a living community of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and other microbes.

Until recently, most people thought of bacteria—or "germs"—as enemies that needed to be eradicated, but as scientists learn more about our gut flora, we're gradually realizing how critical it is to protect it.

We know that our microbiome helps us stay healthy by producing vitamins and fighting infections. It may even aid in the activation of drugs (Source: NCBI). Anything that upsets the microbiome balance in our gut has the potential to cause disease.

Unfortunately for our gut bugs, modern life is brutal. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, and they don't share our fondness for processed foods. Add to that our fear of dirt and our sanitized, sedentary indoor lives, and you have a very different environment than the one in which our microbiomes co-evolved with us.

What was the end result? A scarcity of variety. That means that while we all have roughly the same total number of microbes in our guts, many of us have fewer species of them. That is not ideal because each species has different properties and functions related to different aspects of human health.

Is it possible to reinstate gut balance?                        

14 simple steps to restoring healthy gut flora

A fiber-rich, nutrient-dense diet is the most effective way to restore gut harmony.

The good news is that you can start changing your gut flora right away with your next meal. According to research, our gut bacteria are very responsive to what we eat, and communities begin to shift almost immediately after we change our diets (Source: NCBI).

However, scientists have discovered that when the gut is significantly damaged by repeated courses of antibiotics, some bacterial communities disappear and are unlikely to return.

It's difficult to tell if you've restored your microbiome because it's nearly impossible to define what a healthy one looks like. People's gut flora varies greatly across the globe and throughout our lives. Babies' guts, for example, are typically dominated by bifidobacteria (Source: NCBI). until they begin to eat solid foods When compared to an adult microbiome, this lack of diversity is exactly what they require to get the most out of their specific diet: milk!

One thing that research has repeatedly confirmed is the importance of diversity. The more bacteria families you have in your gut, the healthier you are likely to be.

There are stool tests that can provide insight into your digestive system. These reveal the presence of certain parasites, yeasts, and levels of inflammation, as well as the levels of specific families of bacteria, thought by scientists to help or harm your health.

So, while you can’t ‘restore' your gut microbiome, you can definitely improve it. Here's how to do it:

1. Fill your plate with polyphenol-rich foods.

Polyphenols are plant-based compounds that are not completely absorbed in the small intestine. That is, they become food for the microbes in our colon (Source: NCBI), who convert them into substances with prebiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-microbial properties.

2. Keep a standard sleeping schedule.    

The last five years of microbiome research have revealed that our gut's microbial residents have their own sleep cycle. According to one study, people with jet lag had higher numbers of bacteria associated with obesity and metabolic disease in their gut flora (Source: NCBI). Other studies have discovered that a diverse gut microbiome promotes better sleep.

3. Completely eradicate the standard Western diet.

The evidence for the detrimental effect of a processed, high-sugar, low-fiber modern diet on our health is growing. According to one recent study, our modern diets are “an evolutionarily unique selection ground for microbes that can promote diverse forms of inflammatory disease” (Source: NCBI). This means that the bad bacteria in our guts appear to enjoy our poor diets, while the important good bacteria are less enthusiastic.

4. Get some exercise, but don't overdo it.

Over the last decade, science has moved at a breakneck pace. We now understand that exercise has a direct effect on our gut bacteria, which improves our tissue metabolism, cardiorespiratory fitness, and insulin resistance. However, our bodies perceive too much heavy exercise as a threat, which triggers the stress response, reducing the diversity of our gut flora.

5. Increase your fiber intake twofold.

Fiber isn't really food for us because, unlike horses, elephants, and cows, we can't extract nutrients from it. Our gut flora, on the other hand, thrives on it. The evidence supporting the benefits of a high-fiber diet is overwhelming. According to one study, a low-fiber diet can cause a significant decrease in the diversity of our gut flora, increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome and obesity-related disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, liver disease, and colorectal cancer.

6. Eliminate all added sugars from your diet.

Sugar acts as rocket fuel for your microbiome. That sounds like a good thing, but it appears to encourage specific families of bacteria to "take over," crowding out others and tipping a healthy gut into dysbiosis. In one study, mice fed high-sugar diets lost gut microbial diversity and developed leakier guts, with tight junctions in their gut walls opening wider due to inflammation caused by high sugar intake.

7. Initiate fermenting      

For thousands of years, humans have fermented their food and beverages. Immunoglobulins, antibacterial peptides, antimicrobial proteins, oligosaccharides, lipids, and short amino acid sequences are all activated during the fermentation process (depending on the particular food). These appear to have antioxidant, antihypertensive, antimicrobial, and other bioactive effects when combined.

8. Have fun with your pet.

Most of us have been told that after playing with our pets, we should wash our hands. However, it appears that having a pet—and sharing their germs—could be beneficial to our microbiomes, lowering the risk of allergies and obesity.

9. Get your hands dirty

Growing up in microbe-rich environments, such as on a farm, has been shown in studies to protect children from chronic disease as they get older.

10. Get rid of your artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners aren't good for you. Some studies have concluded that they are not harmful, but a recent study discovered that they cause glucose intolerance in certain groups of people by altering the gut microbiome.

11. Quit cleaning so much (yes, really)

Bacterial aversion is big business. We're given an endless supply of antibacterial cleaning products to saturate ourselves and our homes with. While it is not advisable to eat your dinner from a filthy kitchen floor, it is also not necessary to disinfect your hands or work surface every five minutes.

12. Make your life easier.

Isn't it amazing how emotion can influence the living things in our bodies? When we are stressed, our bodies produce a cocktail of hormones that prepare us to fight, flee, or freeze, which has an impact on our microbiome. Stress is useful for fleeing lions, but it is detrimental to our gut flora in the long run.

13. Day fast

It may seem strange that we can help our gut flora by not eating and thus starving them, but one study in mice discovered that fasting was associated with increases in gut mucus (a good thing), numbers of goblet cells (the cells that produce mucus), and length of villi (the finger-like structures on the lining of your gut that help absorbs nutrients). Fasting is likely to have a similar effect in humans.

14. Determine whether you have any infections or imbalances and treat them.

Worms, parasites, and single-celled pathogens can all infect our intestines. They can cause no symptoms at times, but they can also cause a lot of trouble at other times. For example, a protozoon known as Giardia has been found to have a significant impact on our gut flora (Source: NCBI). More information on parasitic infection can be found here.

SIBO is a bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine (where bacteria levels should be very low), which can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your large intestine. If you believe you have SIBO, you can learn more about the symptoms, testing, and treatment options here.

7-day plan to begin restoring gut health 

The keyword here is ‘begin.'

As previously stated, gut bacteria respond quickly to dietary changes, but total gut flora restoration is a) difficult to define and b) even more difficult to prove.         

Ideally, we should all have the microbiomes of our ancestors' hunter-gatherer societies. That is most likely impossible in the Western world. But don't give up! With a few changes, we can begin to restore healthy bacteria in our guts.

The Day 1

 Begin fermenting. Sourdough bread is easier to make than you think, and sauerkraut (traditional German pickled cabbage) provides the benefits of a cruciferous vegetable as well as fiber and polyphenols. Many people claim that fermenting their own food is therapeutic, so restoring gut bacteria may be a good way to unwind as well!

Day 2  

Roast a large number of vegetables, store them in the fridge and consume them over the next few days. Maximum fiber and polyphenol impact with the least amount of effort. Cook cauliflower, broccoli, red onion, and beets in olive oil.

Day 3

Grow your own vegetables or herbs. OK, you won't be able to eat them for a while, but just getting our hands in the dirt is good for our guts.

We know that contact with soil is beneficial to our skin microbiome (yes, your skin has a microbiome) (Source: NCBI). We also know that contact with the earth and soil was a major factor in the evolution of our ancestors' gut microbiomes, and research has shown that people who live traditional rural lives have more diverse gut flora as a result.

Day 4

Replace any white, refined grains in your diet with whole, brown grains. Brown rice, whole grain bread, and pasta contain far more fiber than white rice, bread, and pasta. If you soak your brown rice for 24 hours before cooking it, it will be easier to digest and the nutrients will be more available (Source: NCBI).

Try naturally gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, or amaranth. The importance of variety in gut health cannot be overstated. If you can find it and tolerate gluten, brown or rye sourdough bread is great for your gut because the slow fermentation process uses probiotic bacteria instead of yeast to make the bread rise.

Day 5

 Go outside and enjoy nature. We've already learned that stress is bad for your gut bacteria, and one of the simplest and most effective ways to de-stress is to simply go outside. A recent study discovered that visitors to a natural environment reported significantly lower levels of stress — as well as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol — than their counterparts who visited a more urbanized outdoor setting.

Day 6

Consider taking a probiotic supplement. While fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and traditionally-made pickles are probiotic foods (good bacteria are used in the fermentation process), probiotics are also available as supplements in the form of pills, powders, and liquids. Some of them have been thoroughly researched and have a large body of evidence to back up their positive effects.

Probiotic supplements have been shown to ‘remodel' the gut after antibiotic treatment (Source: NCBI), and ‘Mutaflor,' which contains a beneficial strain of E. coli bacteria, has put people with Ulcerative Colitis into remission.

Day 7

Prebiotics are worth a shot. Prebiotics are not to be confused with probiotics, though they do enjoy each other's company. They are available in both food and supplement form.

Prebiotics are food for bacteria because they pass through our small intestines without being digested and end up as food for bacteria in our large intestine. In the case of prebiotic foods, some parts of the food will be digestible: for example, a banana contains simple sugars that we can digest as well as oligosaccharides that we cannot digest (but our bacteria can).

Prebiotic supplements are typically far more effective than prebiotic foods. Returning to the banana, it contains 0.21 grams of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), while most supplement manufacturers recommend a starting dose of 5 grams per day. Although studies have found it to help diversify the microbiome (Source: NCBI), lower cholesterol (Source: NCBI), and alleviate constipation (Source: NCBI), if you have IBS, use FOS with caution as it can exacerbate diarrhea and gas.

Takeaways

While we don't know if we can completely restore our gut flora—or even what that would entail (what point in our lives or ancestral past are we aiming to restore it to?—we can certainly help it along.

We already know that when we change our diet, our gut flora changes. So far, research has indicated that it can occur quickly.

If you want to restore your microbiome, your best bet is to feed it high-fiber whole foods, establish a good sleep routine, get out in nature, and simplify your day-to-day life. Prebiotic and probiotic supplements could also be beneficial.

 

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