You'd be forgiven for thinking gut health refers to one specific part of the body, but the more we discover about this emerging health topic, the clearer it is that it involves far more than the gut. As Vincent Pedre, MD, author of Happy Gut, recently told us, it's actually linked to a ton of seemingly unrelated systems and symptoms. "Fatigue, mental fog, and allergic conditions like an allergy, asthma, or skin rashes are all related to poor gut health," he says. "You have to find the root cause, dig deep, and look under the hood. The gut is the foundation of our health—you have to start there."
Given how complex, common, and frustratingly vague the symptoms are, it can be tricky to know whether you have a gut imbalance and how to treat it. Here, we've narrowed down a simple 24-hour approach to improving your gut health, drawing on emerging research and expert advice. Follow this easy routine to get back on track and start healing your gut.
The Mistake: The common consensus is that starting your day with a hearty, protein-packed breakfast is great for your health, but Pedre says that it can overwhelm your gut. "When you sleep, your digestive system is in maintenance mode, so going and immediately eating food without preparing the stomach in some way is like jumping into a cold bath," he explains.
The Fix: Sip on hot water and fresh lemon juice to "wake up" your digestive system and help it get ready to digest solid food. "The lemon has acidity, so it helps stimulate stomach acid production, and it also wakes up the liver and prepares your body to secrete bile," he says.
The Mistake: Oral and gut health might seem completely unrelated, but it turns out the two are linked. According to Quip dental advisor Mark Burhenne, a strong gut microbiome bolsters the immune system and makes it more unlikely to get an infection from the mouth and bacterias via the mouth.
The Fix: Don't rush when brushing your teeth. To avoid cavities and dental issues, spend two minutes thoroughly cleaning your teeth and refresh your brush every three months (which dentists recommend but 90% of us don't do).
The Mistake: Some medicines are absolutely necessary, but gut experts warn that a lifelong reliance on antibiotics can wreak havoc on your gut health. "Everything you put into your gut will fertilize different bacteria and yeasts, causing a shift in the mix in the bacteria," explains Terry Wahls, MD, author of The Wahls Protocol, in an article for Mindbodygreen. "The largest factors that influence gut health are the medicine, vitamins, and supplements that people take each day."
The Fix: Question the pills you take every day, and talk to a medical practitioner about whether an alternative is right for you.
The Mistake: Stress is almost impossible to avoid, but allowing it to rule your day can also wreak havoc on your gut. "The relationship between environmental or psychological stress and gastrointestinal distress is complex and bidirectional: stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa," Harvard Mental Health Letter explains. While more research is needed, research suggests a sensitive gut could be related to chronic stress.
The Fix: Find a stress-relieving ritual that works for you, and make a conscious effort to incorporate it into your day. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed mid-afternoon, step out of the office, if only for a few minutes, and walk somewhere with greenery to sit and gather your thoughts.
The Mistake: It's no surprise that food plays a big role in maintaining a healthy gut, and Pedre says that one of the biggest mistakes you can make is ordering spicy meals. "Excessively spicy foods like habanero peppers or curry … can irritate the gut lining and cause issues," he explains.
The Fix: Opt for a Greek restaurant next time you dine out, which Pedre says is a gut-safe choice. "The menu is always packed with dishes that are easy on digestion, like salads, grilled vegetables, and grilled or baked meats."
Have you experienced a gut imbalance? Tell us how you altered your diet and routine.