Healing the gut naturally takes time, effort, and the willingness to change aspects of both your diet and lifestyle, but healing is absolutely possible. And can be life-changing, too!
Gut health is foundational to all health. In order to feel energized, balanced and clear-minded, optimal digestion is not an option but a necessity.
Various symptoms of poor gut health:
How do you know your gut needs healing in the first place? Let’s take a look at symptoms of poor gut health.
You might be surprised that some of these seem unrelated to the gut. But I assure you that even those that don’t seem connected (like skin issues!) are very often traced back to poor gut health.
Itchy and watery eyes
Constipation and bloating
Gas and abdominal discomfort
While the symptoms above can indicate less than optimal gut health, they don’t give us the root causes behind why the gut needs healing in the first place or what led to its poor health.
Examples of root causes of poor gut health:
Let’s look at the types of things that can lead to gut dysbiosis, leaky gut, or inflammation and damage of the gut lining. Here are some of the more commonly seen factors that damage the gut. Of course, this is not a comprehensive list by any means:
Low stomach acid, usually caused by stressors
Highly processed, refined foods
Inflammatory vegetable and seed oils
Lack of sleep
Toxins and toxic exposure
Pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs, including antibiotics
As you can see, gut health can be influenced by many factors. Poor gut health might not stem from just one cause. It could be the result of multiple factors causing a tipping point from which symptoms begin to surface.
But just like there are many things that can contribute to poor gut health, there are also many things that can help improve gut health! Let’s take a look at some practical steps you can take.
12 Ways to Heal the Gut Naturally:
Thankfully, it is possible to naturally restore gut health. These twelve steps – followed consistently over time – can bring healing to the gut as well as relief from many of the unwanted symptoms that come along with poor digestion.
1. Eat a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet.
This means eating a diet that is full of a diverse array of foods such as colorful produce, healthy fats, organic, grass-fed meats, raw or cultured dairy, organic eggs, and plenty of cultured and fermented foods.
Basically, shop the perimeter of the grocery store and stay away from packaged, processed and refined foods as much as possible. I’d especially encourage you to cut added sugars and highly refined vegetable and seed oils out of your diet, which are particularly inflammatory and damaging to the gut.
If you’re struggling to develop an idea for what a real-food, nutrient-dense diet looks like, you’ll definitely want to give my article a read: What Is a Nutrient-Dense Diet?
2. Slow down.
I cannot stress this one enough. Especially before and during meal times. It’s best to eat food while the body is in a parasympathetic (the opposite of fight-or-flight!) state.
Slowing down and eating while in a rested state allows for digestion to unfold in the right order and in the completeness that it should.
Chewing (a lot!) allows saliva to be produced. Then, the stomach produces hydrochloric acid which breaks down the food so your body can use the nutrients in your food. And the rest of digestion follows properly via the gallbladder, pancreas, intestines, etc.
If you eat when stressed or in a hurry, your saliva and stomach acid secretions decrease. This alone can create heartburn, indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation, nutrient deficiencies and much more. So don’t eat your meals while standing up, multitasking, or in a stressed out state. Take a few deep breaths before your meal and eat slowly.
You may have to retrain your habits, but once you do, it can improve your digestion immensely.
3. Work to increase stomach acid.
Many of us have been taught that stomach acid is somehow a bad thing. It’s not! In fact, it’s absolutely necessary for strong digestion.
In my practice, I’m constantly working with my clients to increase their production of stomach acid in order to decrease post-meal bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, etc.
Stomach acid is what breaks down fat into fatty acids, carbohydrates into glucose, and proteins into amino acids. This breakdown allows the body to properly absorb and use the nutrients in food.
Some ways to increase stomach acid production include: eating slowly and relaxed, consuming 1 Tbs of apple cider vinegar before meals, taking digestive bitters before meals, or taking a hydrochloric acid supplement with meals.
I wrote an article on the importance of stomach acid and how, ironically, a lack of stomach acid can lead to heartburn. Read all about that along with natural heartburn remedies right here.
4. Get good sleep.
One study found that microbiome diversity was positively correlated with increased sleep, and that it was negatively correlated with wake after sleep onset. That means the better you sleep, the stronger your microbiota!
Another study found similarly that characteristics of the gastrointestinal microbiome and metabolism are related to sleep and circadian rhythm.
When you get better quality and quantity of sleep, you not only feel more energized and focused, but it literally has positive effects on the health of your gut’s good bacteria!
Consume sufficient amounts of filtered water each day. Optimal hydration ensures that nutrients can be shuttled around the body as necessary and that food can pass through the digestive tract regularly without backing up.
Good hydration is essential for waste removal and detoxification, which are necessary for gut health.
6. Manage stress.
In moments of stress, our bodies divert blood away from digestive organs to other places in the body. Stomach acid production also slows. And mucus production (which provides a protective coating in our intestines) is slowed as well.
This is not necessarily problematic in a moment or two. But when stress becomes chronic and sustained, it’s a big problem. In fact, chronic stress is associated with intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”), IBS and digestive distress.
It’s important to develop a daily practice of managing stress in a healthy way. This might look like breathing and relaxation exercises, journaling or reading.
Being proactive about managing stress well is the best way to prevent its negative effects in the first place.
7. Move your body.
Getting sufficient exercise is important for gut health. Countless studies have shown that bodily movement is beneficial for gut health, including this one.
Another study compared the gut flora of physically active women to non-active women. Active women had a higher abundance good bacteria. This would suggest that regular physical activity can be beneficial.
I suggest gentle movement for the body, especially if you are someone who struggles with hormone imbalance. Consistent movement in the form of walks, pilates, stretching, etc. is an important piece in gut health.
You may know that gelatin and collagen are good for hair, skin and nails. But did you know they are particularly healing to the gut, too?!
One study found collagen peptides improved the quality of the intestinal epithelial barrier. It actually helps improve leaky gut by enhancing tight junctions in the intestinal wall.
9. Eat probiotic-rich foods.
Cultured and fermented foods are rich in probiotics. They diversify your gut bacteria and aid in digestion.
I do encourage my clients to get probiotics from whole food sources. Studies suggest that only one tablespoon of sauerkraut gives you between 10 million to 10 billion CFUs. And it can contain up to 28 different strands of beneficial bacteria.
To put that in perspective, a typical probiotic you might take could contain up to 25 billion CFU’s and only 10 strands or so of beneficial bacteria per daily pill serving.
Whether through food or a combination of food and supplement, consuming probiotics is an important part of restoring gut health.
10. Drink meat stock.
Meat stock is especially rich in gelatin and amino acids. Together, gelatin and amino acids are very beneficial in healing the connective tissue in the gut lining.
I recommend drinking meat stock daily for the first 3-4 months that you’re on a healing diet. If symptoms improve, you can switch to bone broth, which is different from meat stock.
For more on bone broth versus meat stock and why I suggest meat stock initially while healing the gut, read my article here.
11. Get outside in the sun.
Did you know that sunlight has a positive effect on the microbiome?! Yet another reason to get outside daily!
Researchers have found that UVB rays from the sun have a protective effect against inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Furthermore, sunlight increases Vitamin D levels (of which much of the population is deficient!). And Vitamin D is known to improve intestinal health by down-regulating inflammation.
Researchers suggest that exposure to sunlight somehow alters the immune system in a positive way, which in turn affects how favorable the intestinal environment is for the different beneficial bacteria.
12. Detox your thought life.
It’s fascinating the way that our minds and emotions can have real positive or negative effects on our physical health. Negativity and negative thought patterns can be harmful and disruptive to gut health.
Recent research shows a connection between anxiety and the gut or gastrointestinal tract. Toxic thoughts and thought patterns can be damaging to the microbiome. Furthermore, negativity can inhibit proper stomach acid production, which we now know to have downstream effects on digestion.
Our thinking impacts our gut and vice versa. To enjoy optimal nervous system health as well as digestive health, we need to begin detoxing our thought life of negative patterns of thinking.
The vast majority of gut issues I’ve seen when working with clients at my practice stem from stress and low stomach acid.
I’ve even had clients with very, very severe gut issues whose doctors told them they were “fine” despite their ongoing symptoms. After just a few months of lowering stress, improving sleep, eating fermented foods, drinking meat stock, and slowing down, their gut issues went away completely.
Lifestyle and diet changes can be difficult, but I’m confident that if you follow the steps outlined above with consistency, you’ll see huge improvements in your gut health. And because gut health is so foundational to overall health, the rest of your body’s health is sure to improve as well.