8 Ways to Improve Gut Health That Aren’t Probiotics

Gut health

Updated Jan 17, 2020 @ 5:12 pm

Beth Lipton is a writer and certified health coach. She is a contributing editor at Clean Plates.

Gut health—it’s all over the news, and with good reason. Immunity, metabolism, mood, longevity—we now know that all of it is tied to our microbiome, and there’s still so much more to learn.

In reading the New York Times bestseller Genius Foods (in an effort to read about one of our other favorite topics, brain health), we found this handy list of ways to boost your gut health other than with diet and supplements. Though eating well and taking probiotics are important, it turns out there are some fixes to your environment and lifestyle that can have an impact, too.

Before we dive into that, a bit about the titular genius foods (which include such healthy all-stars as avocados, blueberries, extra-virgin olive oil, eggs, dark leafy greens, wild-caught salmon and more). Not only are they delicious and important for overall wellness, they also can help boost your memory, cognitive function, and mood, fight degeneration and even burn fat.

Writing the book was a labor of love for author Max Lugavere, who had a deeply personal reason for doing it. “About 7 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative condition that left me desperate for answers. I was heartbroken that the drugs that were prescribed to her had no disease modifying effect, and I wondered if her diet and lifestyle through the years may have contributed to her decline,” Lugavere tells Clean Plates. “Because I had worked for 6 years as a journalist, I had the skillset to investigate further. What I uncovered shocked me: That dementia often begins in the brain decades before the first symptom, and that for a significant number of cases, it may be a preventable condition. So I wanted to write the book that I wish my mom had decades ago, and the one that would help to save the brains of those who are cognitively healthy today.”

Though we associate cognitive decline with older people, “I wrote the book for people of all ages, genders, fitness levels, and genes,” Lugavere notes. And people with all kinds of eating styles. “People tend to identify with their eating habits almost as if it’s their religion. Dietary dogma is everywhere, and especially on the internet where the factions of low carb, low fat, keto, Paleo, and vegan worlds tend to stay within their filter bubbles and toss out information that doesn’t fit their worldview. In my book I just try to arm the reader with information, a sense of the knowns and unknowns, and teach them ultimately to be able to think critically for themselves.”

Along with the genius foods for your brain, here are some non-food ways to improve your all-important gut health.

  • Avoid antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Use only when absolutely necessary, such as when visiting areas of high pathogen exposure risk, like hospitals.
  • Embrace nature. Spend more time outdoors, in parks, camping, or hiking.
  • Consume filtered water. The use of chlorine to eliminate outbreaks of waterborne pathogens in developing nations is 
a great thing, but many first-world water supplies tend to be over-treated with chlorine.
  • Shower less. Or use soap more sparingly, perhaps only every other shower. The resulting increase in mating scent molecules called pheromones may even help your dating life. Shampoo once or twice a week at most—there’s no reason to shampoo every day.
  • Buy organic produce whenever possible. Organic produce will be richer in antioxidant polyphenols, which support butyrate-producing bacteria as well as a healthy mucosa.
  • Avoid taking broad-spectrum antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Antibiotics can save lives when appropriate—this is an undeniable truth. However, 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are completely unnecessary according to recent research, and they can devastate the microbial ecosystem. This can make room for opportunistic pathogens like C. difficile to take over instead.
  • Adopt a pet. There are millions of homeless animals in shelters all around the United States that would be happy to help you increase your microbial diversity. Women who have a dog in their homes when pregnant are less likely to have children with allergies, and kids who grow up with dogs are 15 percent less likely to develop asthma. Living with a dog is one of the top ways to increase the microbial diversity of the home and in the gut.
  • Slow down. Digestion takes place when you are relaxed, hence the term “rest and digest.” Eating on the go can set off a cascade of stress response mechanisms in the body that compromise digestion, not only impairing your absorption of nutrients but affecting your bacterial friends’ access to them as well.

From the book Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life by Max Lugavere with Paul Grewal, MD. Copyright © 2018 by Max Lugavere. Published on March 03, 2018 by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

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