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Ways to Fix Your "Unhealthy Gut" Fast

Here’s how to help your gut microbiome thrive.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

A healthy gut means a healthy you. "The gut microbiome is one of the most important aspects of our overall health," says Dr. Will Cole. "Medical research has confirmed the powerful role our gut plays in even seemingly unrelated health problems such as autoimmune conditions, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and even skin problems like acne and eczema. An unhealthy gut often starts before there are any obvious symptoms. A combination of genetics and lifestyle factors such as poor diet, chronic stress, and medications are all triggers that build up over time that perpetuate a cycle of chronic inflammation and continue to weaken the microbiome." Here are five ways to fix your unhealthy gut, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Make Fermented Foods a Part of Your Diet

Starbucks Fresh Blueberries and Honey Greek Yogurt Parfait
Courtesy of Starbucks

One 10-week study from Stanford University showed that fermented foods (such as kimchi and yogurt) are not only good for the microbiome, but can also help support a healthy, robust immune response. "This is a stunning finding," says Justin Sonnenburg, Ph.D, associate professor of microbiology and immunology. "It provides one of the first examples of how a simple change in diet can reproducibly remodel the microbiota across a cohort of healthy adults."


Quality Sleep Means a Healthy Gut

man sleeps peacefully in comfy sheets

Good quality sleep (and the right amount) is strongly linked to a healthy gut, experts say. "Given the strong gut-brain bidirectional communication they likely influence each other," says Jaime Tartar, Ph.D. "Based on previous reports, we think that poor sleep probably exerts a strong negative effect on gut health/microbiome diversity."


Regular Exercise

woman jogging in the city by water

Multiple studies show exercise has a positive impact on gut health. "When we say that phrase ['exercise as medicine'], we think of it as meaning that exercise will help people stay healthier and live longer. But you don't think about your gut bacteria," says San Francisco State graduate student Ryan Durk. "We now know that exercise is crucial for increasing beneficial bacteria in the gut."


Manage Your Stress


Chronic stress can alter gut bacteria diversity and lead to higher numbers of harmful bacteria,  studies show. "These bacteria affect immune function, and may help explain why stress dysregulates the immune response," says Michael Bailey, Ph.D. "These changes can have profound implications for physiological function. When we reduced the number of bacteria in the intestines using antibiotics, we found that some of the effects of stress on the immune system were prevented. This suggests that not only does stress change the bacteria levels in the gut, but that these alterations can, in turn, impact our immunity."


Avoid Junk Food

marshmallow pops and fruit dessert from the buffet at excalibur in las vegas
The Buffet at Excalibur/Yelp

"It's very hard to know exactly what it is in junk food that is causing a problem," says epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector. "It's not the fat, carbs and protein, it's the extra chemicals. The data is probably best for artificial sweeteners that are derived from things like paraffin and the petrol industry, so our bodies and our microbes are not used to breaking them down. But it could be other stuff, like the enzymes you don't get on the label, or emulsifiers. There are few studies on emulsifiers, and nearly all in animals, but they show that you get reduced diversity and more inflammatory microbes. The idea is that they're doing the same as they are in cooking: sticking your microbes together, creating an emulsion. Or it could be the lack of fibre and the fact that everything is refined. We haven't nailed it down, but I think it's safe to say that ultra-processed foods are bad for your gut microbes and we should avoid eating them regularly."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan