Feb 6, 2024 • 10 min read

How to Heal Your Gut Naturally

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Research continues to emerge on the important role of gut health and its impact on virtually all organ systems. Lifestyle plays a significant role in the health and maintenance of this complex environment and, unfortunately, for many that spells trouble for their guts. 

Our gut is made up of our digestive system which includes our stomach, small intestines, and colon. It houses a complex ecosystem of microorganisms that play an essential part in its function and well-being, also known as the gut microbiome.

Many digestive issues can be attributed to poor gut health that are a result of imbalances in this microbiome including frequent gas, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation. Unfortunately, many prescription medications can exacerbate these issues.

If you’re struggling with gut health, you may be wondering how to heal it naturally. 

A diet that eliminates aggravating foods and adds gut-health-promoting foods, probiotics, and prebiotics can help to heal your gut naturally, along with lifestyle modifications relating to stress, sleep, and exercise.

This guide goes over natural ways to heal your gut, how to identify gut health issues, how your diet affects gut health, and more. 

10 ways to heal your gut naturally

Taking a natural approach to healing your gut can have health benefits that far exceed improvements in digestion. Below are natural options to support a well-functioning microbiome.

Remember, it’s always important to talk to your doctor, Registered Dietitian (RD), or healthcare provider before starting any new supplements or making significant dietary changes. 

1) Eliminate aggravating foods

Particular foods may be the cause of your gut imbalance. Common foods that can cause harm to your gut include highly processed foods, foods that contain large amounts of added sugars, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, fried foods, dairy, and gluten.

If you know the potential cause of your gut challenges, consider eliminating these foods. For example, if dairy products always make you feel bloated, swap your dairy for non-dairy alternatives. 

Suppose you aren’t sure what or if a food is causing your gut woes, consider an elimination diet. Include only a few bland foods in your diet for a few weeks and then slowly reintroduce foods one at a time to see if any trigger symptoms of gut disruption. 

Working with a gut health dietitian is a good way to work through this process of repairing your gut and figuring out what is causing your gut health issues. Best of all, if you have health insurance, it likely covers the costs of your visits.

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2) Take a probiotic

Probiotics are live bacteria that can help to restore and balance our gut flora. Having a diverse and thriving gut environment supports a variety of essential functions including digestion, absorption of nutrients, and increased immunity. 

Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut. If you don’t consume probiotic-rich foods frequently, a probiotic supplement can help fill in the gaps. Just be sure to choose one that contains a good source of good bugs.

Look for probiotic products that contain colony-forming units (CFUs) in the billions to ensure you are getting an adequate dose of healthy bacteria. Choose products that contain well-researched bacterial strains and be sure to take note of storage recommendations.

3) Prioritize prebiotics

Prebiotics are sometimes referred to as food for our healthy gut microbes. They are a type of insoluble plant fiber that feeds the good bacteria in our gut and supports the growth of new bacteria for a thriving digestive ecosystem.

Incorporating more of these foods into your diet can promote gut health. Good sources of prebiotics include:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Asparagus 
  • Bananas 
  • Chicory root
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Dandelion greens 

4) Incorporate gut-health-promoting foods into your diet

Aside from cutting out potential gut irritants, you’ll also want to include more gut-health-promoting foods in your diet. Below are some foods to consider adding to your daily meal rotation:

  • Anti-inflammatory foods. Inflammation can wreak havoc on our delicate gut flora. Choosing anti-inflammatory foods can protect these microbes and reduce the incidences of various health conditions. These foods include antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
  • Fermented foods. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut are excellent sources of probiotics that help add to the number and diversity of your gut microbiome. 
  • High-fiber foods. Fiber-rich foods help promote healthy digestion and gut regularity. Certain types of fiber also act as prebiotics which provide nourishment to our healthy gut microbes and allow them to thrive. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. 
  • Bone broth. Emerging research is finding bone broth to contain anti-inflammatory properties that may aid in reducing symptoms and severity of gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcerative colitis.

5) Consider gut health supplements

While prebiotics and probiotics tend to get the limelight as gut-health-promoting supplements, they aren’t the only nutrients to consider. Below are some other gut health supplements you may want to add to your routine:

  • Omega 3s. Emerging research suggests that omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are essential in modulating gut immunity by acting on gut microbes. These microbes also modulate the absorption and metabolism of omega-3s.
  • Fiber. Human gut microbiota break down and ferment dietary fiber to produce beneficial metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) which have been shown to have benefits including reducing various disease risks.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a pivotal role in maintaining the structure and function of the gut mucosal barrier, helping to protect against harmful pathogens. Many suffer from low vitamin D levels due to changes in season, lack of sun exposure, or low dietary intake. 
  • Zinc. Zinc works with our gut microbes to elicit various benefits including immune modulation, reductions in the inflammatory response, and a role in cell regulation that may provide anti-cancer effects.
  • L-glutamine. L-glutamine is a newly popular supplement that can improve gut health in various ways including balancing the gut microbiome, improving the integrity of the intestinal lining to prevent permeability, and reducing inflammation. 

6) Change the way you eat

Many uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms can be caused by the way you eat. For example, you may experience uncomfortable bloating if you eat very large meals or if you eat your meals very fast.

An irritated gut is not a thriving gut. To avoid uncomfortable symptoms that may be negatively impacting your gut health, consider choosing smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to aid in digestion.

Additionally, consider eating slowly and make sure to chew your food thoroughly. This is easier to do when we eat meals at the table without distraction, so avoid sitting in front of the TV or computer, or looking at your phone while eating. 

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7) Stay hydrated

It’s important to stay adequately hydrated for our digestive system to function at its best. Acute or chronic dehydration can cause disruptions in digestion, such as constipation, which can create an imbalance in gut bacteria

Water needs vary by individual, but it’s important to sip water throughout the day and include more hydrating foods in your diet such as fruits and vegetables like watermelon and cucumber. 

To determine if you are meeting your water needs, assess the color of your urine. Well-hydrated urine appears pale yellow. If it appears dark, you need more water. If your urine is clear, you are getting more than enough.

8) Do your best to manage stress

Emerging research is finding a strong connection between stress and our gut microbiome. Like diet, stress significantly impacts the well-being of this fragile ecosystem. Chronic stress, especially when combined with a poor diet, can spell serious trouble for our healthy bacteria.

Managing stress is crucial to maintaining the integrity of our healthy gut microbes which significantly impact our overall health. Practice stress management techniques such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, meditation, guided imagery, and exercise.

If you continue to struggle to manage your stressors, consider working with a professional, such as a licensed therapist, to help you find coping mechanisms that work for you. 

9) Exercise regularly

Recent studies have found that exercise may be able to help increase the number of beneficial microbes in your gut and increase microbial diversity which is associated with improved overall gut health and function.

Regular exercise doesn’t need to be limited to specific forms of exercise but rather consistent movement incorporated into your daily routine such as walking, jogging, biking, dancing, swimming, strength training, yoga, Pilates, and anything in between. 

10) Get plenty of sleep

Sleep deprivation can impart stress on the body which causes harm to our gut microbes. Additionally, studies are finding that our gut microbes may also influence our sleep quality. It’s recommended that adults aim to get between seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night.

Prioritize sleep by setting a regular bedtime each night that allows for at least seven hours of rest or more. Avoid exposure to blue light from electronic screens (TV, computer, phone) at least one to two hours before bed, and avoid caffeinated beverages close to bedtime. 

Make sure your sleep environment is conducive to rest. Keep it dark and quiet, consider black-out curtains or a sound machine if needed, and set the room to a comfortable temperature before going to bed.

How to know if you have gut health issues

Since we can’t see into our gut, it can be tough to know if you are suffering from gut health issues. Several signs can indicate potential gut health issues:

  • Upset stomach. If you are experiencing frequent bloating, cramping, gas, constipation, or diarrhea, this can be a sign your gut is struggling to digest and absorb nutrients adequately. 
  • Food intolerances. Food intolerances can be caused by poor-quality gut bacteria that make digestion of certain foods difficult and therefore create various symptoms of intolerance such as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.  
  • Sugar cravings. Consuming high amounts of sugar in the diet can encourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria which negatively impact our gut microbiome. Some studies suggest this may further fuel cravings for these foods.
  • Unintentional weight fluctuations. If you are losing or gaining weight unintentionally, your gut microbes may be to blame. They can be a cause of various conditions such as insulin resistance or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Side note: see SIBO nutritionists here. An imbalanced gut creates challenges with nutrient absorption, blood glucose management, and adipose tissue (fat) storage.
  • Sleep alterations. Newer studies are finding that gut health may play a role in our sleep quality. If we are experiencing new onset sleep challenges, it might be due to a change in our gut microbes.
  • Autoimmune conditions. Our gut makes up the majority of our immune system. When it is not functioning properly it can open us up to potential autoimmune conditions by increasing inflammation and reducing immune response.

How your diet affects gut health

The foods you eat play a significant role in the health and diversity of your gut flora. 

Consuming a diet rich in a variety of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats, fermented foods, and dairy provides a wide range of essential nutrients.

These nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, probiotics, and prebiotics, can encourage a healthy environment for microbes to grow and thrive as well as encourage microbial diversity. These are essentials for a thriving gut.

The more diverse our microbiome, the more benefits it can impart to our health including boosting our immune function to lower our potential disease risk for a wide variety of conditions such as obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and gastrointestinal conditions.

Consuming a diet lacking many of these essential nutrients, such as a diet containing high amounts of highly processed foods, added sugars, and alcohol, can leave you susceptible to gut health alterations and open you up to a variety of potential health ailments.

Processed foods can alter the composition of the gut microbiota and lead to inflammation which can promote disease.

Why you should consider working with a gut health dietitian

Getting personal and professional advice from a nutritionist or dietitian is almost always worth it as your diet is a factor in so many health challenges. If you’ve been experiencing challenges with your gut health, don’t try to navigate it on your own. The internet can be a vast and overwhelming place that may lead you down the rabbit hole to nutrition misinformation.

Instead, set yourself up for success by working with a Registered Dietitian (RD) specializing in gut health. A gut health RD is a nutrition professional who has extensive expertise in all things gut health to help guide you where you need to be.

A gut health RD will evaluate your diet and lifestyle and provide practical recommendations to help you improve your gut and your well-being while supporting you in your changes along the way. 

Navigating the complexities of gut health alterations is easier said than done, so don’t shy away from extra support when it’s available.

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians here at Zaya Care, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

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Healing your gut FAQs

What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut is a condition characterized by poor intestinal permeability. This means pathogens are better able to gain access to your gut and cause harm to your organ systems.

How can I fix my leaky gut?
Leaky gut therapy should include dietary modification, particularly pertaining to fats, sugar, additives, and ultra-processed foods. These foods should be avoided and replaced with probiotic and prebiotic foods or supplementation as needed. Additional nutrients and supplements such as arginine, glutamine, polyphenols, vitamins, fiber, and FODMAPs may be included as well to help heal the intestinal barrier along with a balanced diet rich in whole foods.

What is the fastest way to heal my gut?
For mild gut alterations, a quick way to boost gut health includes the incorporation of probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods or supplements to boost microbial volume and diversity.

How does stress affect gut health?
Stress can cause negative alterations in gut health by increasing intestinal permeability. As with leaky gut, this allows an increase in pathogenic activity through the intestinal barrier and puts us at risk for health complications.

How does sleep affect gut health?
Sleep affects our gut similarly to stress. Chronic sleep deprivation causes additional stress on the body and therefore increases intestinal permeability.

What is the best drink for gut health?
Getting adequate water throughout the day is the best way to encourage and support gut health as it supports healthy digestion and nutrient absorption to promote a thriving microbiome.

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Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando. Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.