How to Improve Gut Health and Why It’s Important

Fact Checked by Dr. Victoria Niklas, MD, MA
an image of a heart over the gut
READ TIME: 18 MINUTES —

“Gut health” is definitely becoming quite a trending topic lately. A buzzword, if you will. 

However, it’s still unclear to most why gut health is such a big deal and what to do about it.  It can admittedly be a bit confusing especially with lots of new terminology and information floating around.

After all, very few of us have had doctors in our lives who really understood and preached the importance of gut health to us. That’s because there wasn’t much of a scientific or medical understanding of the “gut microbiome” until the last decade or so. But more recently scientists and medical professionals have been uncovering just how impactful gut health is on your overall health.  

I believe we are in the midst of an awakening given everything we now know about gut health and how to harness its power for your benefit.

I created Muniq to educate you on the importance of gut health and to transform your health through your gut microbiome.

We are passionate about “democratizing gut health” by making it more accessible to everyone. That’s why I’ve compiled the following ultimate guide to improving your gut microbiome.  

In this article, you’ll get a practical overview of just about everything you need to know about the microbiome and how to harness its power to improve your health, including:

  1. What Is The Gut Microbiome?
  2. Why Should I Improve My Gut Health?
  3. Good Bacteria vs. Bad Bacteria
  4. The Most Effective Ways to Improve Gut Health
  5. What a Healthy Microbiome Looks Like

What Is The Gut Microbiome? 

So, what exactly is the gut microbiome? At a high level, it is a massive collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that live inside your large intestine (aka colon, or as I like to simply call it, your gut). There are literally over 100 trillion of these microscopic bacteria living and working together inside your gut – almost three times as many cells that are in the human body (1)!

This ecosystem is so complex and important to your health that many scientists are now suggesting that the gut microbiome should be considered an organ in its own right.

The microbiome regulates your immune system and produces vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and organic acids, such as acetate and butyrate. It helps regulate your blood sugar levels, affects your heart health, and even influences the chemicals in your brain that affect mood.(2, 3, 4) Without gut bacteria, you wouldn’t be able to properly digest food or absorb nutrients. 

Pretty much all of your bodily functions are influenced by the gut microbiome in some way. I think of the gut microbiome as the “control center” for your health.

And the best part? You now have the power to determine how well your microbiome functions and how it can impact your health based on what you choose to feed it.

A Brief History Of The Microbiome

If you’re like me, then you’ve probably always thought of bacteria as the bad little guys we want to avoid so that we don’t get sick. After all, bacteria have been linked to disease for hundreds of years.

And while there are still plenty of reasons to avoid certain bacteria outside of the body (although overly sterile environments are now generally regarded as counterintuitive for health), we now understand that certain bacteria play a crucial role in keeping us healthy inside the body. In fact, products of the gut microbiome have the potential to impact cells and organs throughout our bodies. (1)

In 2008, the massive Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was established — with the goal of characterizing and defining different species of bacteria throughout the body. The research helped better understand how the microbiome works as a cohesive unit. Now, instead of thinking of bacteria as completely independent entities, we better understand that they work collectively, as a team, to execute many bodily functions.  

Current State of Gut Health Research

As a result of the Human Microbiome Project, scientists began to uncover hundreds of ways the gut microbiome influences health. This has also sparked a kind of “gut health revolution” in which advancements in technology – namely metagenomic analysis and DNA sequencing – have made identifying microbes in the gut infinitely cheaper, faster, and more comprehensively than it was just a few years ago. (5)

Identifying microbes in the gut involves taking samples from the gut (typically stool samples) and processing the DNA which requires massive computing power. It now takes 1/1,000,000th of the cost to sequence DNA vs. 20 years ago. This is why researchers have a much better understanding of the amazingly complex ecosystem of the gut microbiome than was not possible previously.

And this research continues to lead us in exciting new directions.

Researchers are linking the strength or deficiency of specific bacteria in the gut microbiome to a seemingly endless set of conditions and diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, intestinal disease, nonalcoholic liver disease, colorectal cancers, and mental health disorders, among others. (2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). 

DNA sequences of thousands of strains of different bacteria, identified from sites all over the human body, have been deposited into the database for the Human Microbiome Project. This has given scientists unprecedented access to data and information that will continue to be explored for years to come. 

We now know that although everyone’s individual microbiome is unique, certain bacteria impact different functions in our bodies and there are ways to fine-tune your gut in order to achieve specific desirable outcomes in your health.  

Why Should I Improve My Gut Health?

An x-ray style colorful image of the human gut microbiome

The gut microbiome touches most aspects of your health. And keeping it strong can mean the difference between health and disease.

Let me put this in perspective to explain how impactful the microbiome is.  Every one of us deals with some sort of health issues in our lives. It’s just a fact of life. What’s really fascinating is that no matter what difficulty you’re facing, it’s almost certain that issue can be traced back to what’s going on in your gut.

Now that we better understand the role these gut bacteria play in promoting health, it makes sense that improving the health of your microbiome = improving your overall health. 

Which is actually great news, because that means we also better understand that simple changes to what we consume can have a profound impact on improving our health. 

Understanding The Benefits Of A Healthy Microbiome

When your microbiome is functioning at its best, you reap so many health benefits. What’s more, when you’re able to control your microbiome’s quality, you get to call the shots. 

Understanding your microbiome and how it works is the ultimate tool for empowerment — it puts you in the driver’s seat of your health. It has actually become possible to figure out what specific condition you want to improve in your life, and then fine-tune your gut to help achieve that outcome.

You have tons of helpful species of bacteria working together inside you to influence your immune system and improve your health in so many ways. When they are strong, they overwhelm and eradicate the species of microbiota that are trying to make you sick. 

We’re not just talking about the cold or flu, either. 

Having strong colonies of beneficial bacteria living in your gut means that you’re less likely to have certain diseases.  

Diseases like:

  • Diabetes (2
  • Cardiovascular disease (4
  • Mental health disorders (7
  • Intestinal disease (10
  • Colorectal cancers (9
  • Parkinson’s disease (11
  • Multiple Sclerosis (12
  • Autoimmune disease (13)
  • Asthma (14)

We’re talking about major, life-changing chronic conditions here. Conditions that can seriously affect your quality of life and exert way too much control over you. So if we’re able to create the first line of defense against disease and improve specific conditions in our health, simply by focusing on nourishing a healthy gut microbiome, we would definitely want to do that, right? 

Gut Bacteria: The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown

It is estimated there are at least a thousand unique species of bacteria in your gut microbiome.  (15) And we now have a better understanding of the specific ways these different bacteria can impact your health. 

There are certain classes of bacteria that have been studied and proven to affect one or more systems in your body resulting in specific beneficial effects on your health (let’s call these the “good guys”). (16)   Some good guys are responsible for keeping your blood sugar levels under control, others for improving digestion, while others help reduce inflammation in your body, and so on.

On the other hand, there are other classes of harmful bacteria that have been shown to negatively impact different systems in your body (you guessed it…we’ll call them the “bad guys”). If these bad guys aren’t kept under control and are allowed to propagate, it can lead to various negative impacts on your health including weight gain, a slew of digestive issues, poor blood sugar management, and many other health issues and diseases as mentioned earlier. (16)

In addition to what we know about these different beneficial and harmful bacteria, there is also a large group of unknown or neutral bacteria living in your gut. The gut microbiome is so vast and complex that we still haven’t yet classified or fully identified the roles of many species of bacteria. As gut microbiome research continues to progress, we’ll continue to learn more about these species of seemingly neutral bacteria in the gut and better understand what impact they may have on our health. 

The Battlefield Inside Your Gut

An illustration of the gut microbiome battle

So how do all these different species of bacteria work in your gut to impact different aspects of your health? Well, if you want to achieve a specific health outcome, many times it comes down to the health and strength of specific classes of “good” bacteria that reside within your gut. 

Imagine your gut as a battlefield — the “bad” bacteria are on one side, trying to make you sick and unhealthy. (17)

On the other side are the different classes of good guys, each group responsible for different aspects of your health, all of whom are intent on keeping you flourishing and in control of your health.

There is a constant power struggle going on between the good guys and bad guys inside your gut for control of your health. For the most part, these internal battles rage on every day, and we don’t typically notice as long as things remain in a state of healthy balance. That is until some of those pesky bad guys get the upper hand and we get sick or some aspect of our health gets out of control… 

And that’s the thing about the gut microbiome. We tend to not notice it until we start to experience negative symptoms.

By the time you realize that something’s going on with your gut microbiome, it’s likely that you’re not feeling great. Maybe you’re experiencing painful digestive symptoms like constipation, bloating, or diarrhea. Or maybe your blood sugar levels have gotten out of control. Or maybe you got a cold or the flu and you’re wishing that you’d given your gut a little more love.  

So how do we prevent this from happening? 

We give the good guys plenty of the proper ammo so they can win their battles for your health and keep the bad guys at bay when they start acting up. 

The Most Effective Ways to Improve Gut Health

Supporting the good guys and creating an environment that they can thrive in is so beneficial that sometimes doctors literally transplant healthy bacteria from one person’s colon to another’s. In fact, these transplants have been shown to be an astoundingly effective way to treat a serious digestive disease called Clostridium difficile colitis (C. diff). (18)

Luckily, for most of us, strengthening and supporting the good guys in our guts to achieve desired health outcomes doesn’t have to be that complicated…we just have to consume the right nutrients to feed the good guys what they need to keep them strong. 

The Best Foods For A Healthy Microbiome

The healthiest microbiomes host a diverse set of beneficial bacteria. The best way to ensure you are building the strongest, most diverse microbiome is to eat a variety of healthy fiber-rich foods that feed your gut.

At the very top of the list of foods to focus on for optimal gut health are prebiotic fibers.

Prebiotics are a class of food ingredients (or compounds in food) that feed your beneficial “good guy” bacteria. They are fibers that are not digested in the typical sense, but instead travel through your digestive tract all the way to your large intestine (or colon), where they are feasted upon by the beneficial bacteria that live there. This process whereby prebiotics are digested by bacteria is called “fermentation”. A diet that includes lots of healthy fiber-rich foods — including prebiotics to feed the good bacteria — is key to maintaining a healthy and diverse gut microbiome. (19)

There are several types of prebiotics that each have varying benefits. Some of the more common prebiotics have pretty long and unfamiliar names like fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), xylooligosaccharides (XOS), and inulin.  These prebiotics come from various plant sources including chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, asparagus, and wheat bran. (19)

However, there is a special type of prebiotic fiber called resistant starch which is widely considered the most beneficial and well-studied of the group. (20)

Resistant starch is a super-powered prebiotic and the preferred meal of some of the most influential good guy bacteria in your gut. (21)

Resistant starch is naturally found in small amounts in starchy plant foods like:

  • Green unripened bananas & plantains
  • Cooked and cooled potatoes and rice
  • Uncooked rolled oats
  • Beans & legumes
  • High-amylose corn

A plate with bananas, oats and allulose

One of the best things about prebiotic resistant starch is that it is resistant to digestion — by you at least — so it doesn’t affect your net carb count or spike your blood sugar levels. At all. 

In fact, resistant starch has been shown in many clinical studies to help regulate blood sugar levels over time by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing average blood sugar levels (called A1C). (22)

So resistant starch is the absolute perfect food for some special good guys in your microbiome that are responsible for keeping you healthy and keeping blood sugar issues at bay.

Since it’s not digested, resistant starch is also famous for curbing your appetite for long periods. It’s a perfect food for anyone who’s looking to avoid snacking in between meals. 

What Happens When You Effectively Feed Your Gut

When good bacteria regularly consume their favorite meal of prebiotics like resistant starch, the products of fermentation are released into the body.

Known as Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs), researchers have identified these amazing microscopic compounds as the primary method through which your microbiome influences many conditions and systems throughout your body. In addition to creating a strong intestinal lining, SCFAs also have been shown to play a key role in several critical bodily functions, including (23, 24):

  • Reducing inflammation 
  • Reducing cholesterol levels
  • Reducing blood sugar levels
  • Supporting white blood cells
  • Helping with weight control
  • Preventing heart disease
  • Encouraging a healthy aging process

In short, these SCFAs produced by some of your most powerful bacteria may help drive amazing long term, protective health benefits.

SCFAs are compounds that you want constantly circulating in your body to create the most vibrant health possible…and pretty much the only way to keep generating them is to regularly consume prebiotic fiber to keep the beneficial bacteria in your gut thriving. 

Foods To Avoid If You’re Working On Gut Health

Of course, if you’re trying to strengthen the good guys in your gut so your microbiome is operating at its best, it also helps to discourage growth of the bad guys.

You can probably guess what the bad guys love to eat: sugar, highly-processed foods, and refined, processed carbohydrates.

If you’re serious about gut health, it’s best to minimize these types of foods from your diet.

Save the sweets and processed foods for very occasional treats, and your gut microbiome will thank you for it.

What About Probiotics?

You may have also heard of probiotics.  Historically probiotics have been the primary go-to recommendation of what to take to improve your digestive health. They can  play an important role in this process, but it’s not quite that simple.  I’ll break it down for you what probiotics are, and their role in this gut health journey.

Probiotics are live strains of beneficial bacteria added to some foods, or taken as supplements, intended to increase the population of good guys in the gut and provide health benefits. Certain types of fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt can also naturally contain probiotics. Probiotics can be an important tool to help improve gut health.

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Although probiotics are good guy soldiers that are supposed to be delivered to the front lines as troop reinforcements…the truth of the matter is MOST probiotics just don’t work.

There is no regulation to determine that the probiotics you buy actually contain live bacteria. Most probiotics in foods and supplements are broken down by stomach acid during the digestion process before they can actually be of any help to the other good guys in your microbiome. Therefore most of them aren’t actually still alive by the time they get to your gut without encapsulation or other treatment on bacteria…and they kinda need to be alive to have any benefits on your health. (25)  Also, many probiotics aren’t able to effectively colonize in your gut, meaning they can’t take root and flourish over time — so once you stop ingesting them, they die off.

And to make matters worse, even the lucky few probiotics that actually survive digestion and make it to your gut usually aren’t prepared to do much fighting for our health. That’s because they still need to be fed fiber-rich foods to survive and thrive – specifically prebiotic fibers. By definition, prebiotics are able to bypass normal digestion and make it to your gut to feed beneficial bacteria. Therein lies the issue because unfortunately almost none of us get enough prebiotic fiber in our diets to keep our guts healthy — literally only 5% of Americans regularly eat the recommended levels of fiber. (26)  So unless they get a proper dose of the right prebiotics, probiotics just aren’t as effective as they should be. 

So for probiotics to be effective at improving your health through your gut, you need to make sure that (1) they are the right bacteria that you need in your unique microbiome to achieve your desired health outcome, (2) they are delivered in a way that ensures they actually survive the digestive process and colonize in your gut, and (3) they are well-fed with the nutrients they need to survive and thrive – namely lots of prebiotic fiber. (27)   

Other Important Ways To Support Your Gut

Gut health isn’t created in a vacuum. 

In addition to feeding your microbiome plenty of high fiber prebiotics, it’s important to take care of yourself in other ways to keep your microbiome thriving.  

Scientists have uncovered the fact that gut health is connected to so many different systems in your body and many of those connections are bi-directional.  That means that what’s going on in your gut has a significant impact on what’s happening elsewhere in your body, and what’s going on elsewhere in your physical and mental health can also have a significant impact on your gut.

So doing things that improve your overall health — like getting plenty of rest and exercise — seem to improve the strength of your microbiome. Scientists are still researching the exact mechanisms to understand how these interactions work. (28)

A slide showing how the gut affects mental health
Image credit: lifeeverchanging.com

According to research, stress also appears to negatively affect the microbiome, so reducing your stress levels in any way you can is a great idea for gut health and all-around health. There are indications that things like meditation and having communal meals with family and friends elicit positive emotional signals between the brain and your gut microbiome. These connections are referred to as the gut-brain axis and researchers are uncovering fascinating insights around the different ways your gut impacts your mental health and vice versa. (7)

Finally, you should also try to avoid using antibiotics when possible to keep your microbiome at its best. Sure, when you have an infection, antibiotics can be very necessary and effective in eliminating the bad viruses and bacteria causing you pain. But the problem is, antibiotics generally wipe out lots of good guys and bad guys in their attempt to resolve the infection. This leaves your gut microbiome in a weakened state that requires some real recovery to get your gut back into a healthy, diverse, and balanced state. (29)

What A Healthy Microbiome Looks Like

When we feed our gut microbiomes the right kinds of nutrients, and get plenty of rest and exercise, the good bacteria in our guts are encouraged to grow and diversify. (30)

The abundance and diversity of beneficial bacteria in your gut is the hallmark of a strong microbiome. This state of health and balance in your microbiome is called homeostasis.

When we have more healthy, beneficial bacteria working on our behalf to keep the bad guys at bay, we have better health across so many conditions. Bottom line.

We recover from illness faster and we’re less likely to develop disease. We’re also more apt to remain in control of our health vs. dealing with conditions that are in control of us. These are health goals that everyone on the planet can identify with.

How Muniq Improves Gut Health

The reality is, none of us get enough prebiotic fiber in our diets to keep our gut microbiomes in an optimal state. (26) And there are multiple reasons why…

With the advent of processed and fast food in the Western diet, which we’ve all been conditioned to consume, fiber-rich foods have largely disappeared from our diets. 

And even if you try to eat fiber-rich fruits and veggies, most modern crops lack the fiber content that our ancestors enjoyed from the same exact foods. And it’s practically impossible to adhere to any sort of low-carb regimen like the keto diet if you’re trying to increase fiber intake.

Plus, does anybody really look forward to eating a serving of prunes? 

I created Muniq with these challenges in mind.  

Our mission is to increase your hope, health and happiness through the science of the microbiome.  We stay at the leading edge of scientific research and developments around gut health and translate these insights into accessible and actionable solutions for everyone. 

I believe every one of us deserves the opportunity to benefit from these amazing breakthroughs around gut health and prebiotics.  Muniq is all about creating transformative, convenient, and even enjoyable solutions that enable you to harness the power of the gut to take lasting control of your health across conditions.

Our Muniq Prebiotic Resistant Starch Shake was designed to be a decadent and delicious way to get everything you need to get your microbiome working on overdrive and transform your health. It’s packed with prebiotic resistant starch — a full 50% of your daily fiber needs in one serving. 

Our shake also has 15 grams of protein, 0 grams of sugar, and 6g of healthy fats — a complete and well rounded meal. Because prebiotic resistant starch isn’t digested, it keeps your blood sugar levels nice and steady and doesn’t affect your net carb count (if you’re counting carbs).

Most importantly and taken daily, Muniq shakes may revolutionize your gut microbiome and give you better control of your health by improving your blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity over time. They also help alleviate digestive issues. 

Plus, they taste amazing, are incredibly simple to make, and keep you feeling full for up to 4 hours. 

When you regularly consume Muniq shakes, you feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut, helping them diversify and multiply, which keeps you healthy and helps your immune system keep harmful issues at bay.

This enables a special group of beneficial bacteria to produce SCFAs as a result of their resistant starch consumption — which research has shown is the primary mechanism for improving your blood sugar, digestive health, and support your weight loss goals. It’s a win-win scenario for your good guy bacteria and your long-term health. 

All you need is one, easy-to-mix shake per day — it’s the exact recipe you need to improve your gut microbiome and experience vibrant health.

To try Muniq and experience that feeling of triumph, click HERE.

References

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