5 Ways To Support Your Gut Health This Summer, From Functional Medicine Experts
Simple practices that can make a major difference.
There's no debating the importance of a healthy gut for overall well-being. Luckily, summer is a great time to get your gut microbiome in prime shape. With sunnier weather, longer days, and nutritious produce in season, there are a number of tools at your disposal to help get your gut on the right track.
In fact, gut experts emphasize that there's plenty everyone can do right now to start reversing negative habits and nourish your microbiome. Consider this article the motivation you need to add "improve gut health" to your summer to-do list.
1. Get outside and find a stress-busting activity you love.
Being out of touch with nature is one major factor that messes with gut health. "As we narrow our contact with nature, animals, and other humans, we get a more narrow microbiome," triple-board-certified physician and gut health expert Zach Bush, M.D., tells mbg.
To remedy this, prioritize spending more time outdoors—go on a hike or jog off the beaten path, touch some trees and plants, get dirty—to help foster biodiversity.
Plus, exercising outdoors is a positive double-whammy for your gut health. A 2018 study found that endurance exercise training for 30 to 60 minutes three times a week for six weeks led to increased abundance of SCFA-producing microbes, says gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz, M.D. As a reminder, SCFAs are healing compounds with anti-inflammatory properties produced by good gut bacteria that help heal the gut and regulate the immune system.
Or, consider meditating outdoors for bonus benefits. "Meditation can alter the gut microbiome and the types of bugs in positive ways," says integrative physician Vincent Pedre, M.D. Authors of a 2017 research review suggest that meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and helping maintain healthy gut-barrier function. With this in mind, other meditative and relaxing activities (yoga, hiking, running, etc.) could have a beneficial effect on your gut, too.
2. Make probiotics part of your daily routine.*
Summer is as great a time as any to establish a healthier routine–including one that promotes gut health. One of the most straightforward ways to support your gut microbiome: Taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.* That's because, when you take a probiotic supplement, you add more of these good bacteria to your gut.* "Think of probiotics as your little helpers that restore order and help maintain harmony in your gut ecosystem,"* Pedre previously told mbg.
Not only do these beneficial bacteria promote abdominal comfort (and help with gas and bloating) and support regularity, but they also help build a stronger immune system thanks to the gut health and immunity connection.* If you want to take a probiotic for general wellness, Pedre typically recommends a multistrain probiotic with at least 30 billion CFUs total of strains rooted in scientific research.*
3. Go organic (or organic-equivalent) when you can.
You may associate summer with lovely fruits and vegetables. However, many experts believe that consuming produce grown with pesticides and herbicides may negatively affect the good bacteria in your microbiome. To minimize this, opt for organic produce and limit packaged foods when possible.
If you're on a budget, Bush recommends letting the EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists help you prioritize what fruits and veggies to buy organic and what's the safest (in terms of pesticide residue) to buy conventional. Since organic farming preserves the diversity of bacteria in the soil, it also preserves it in the food you eat. Opting for organic meat (or the highest quality you can get, like pasture-raised) and animal products will help you avoid potential residues of agricultural antibiotics as well.
4. Reset your circadian rhythm.
Summer days may seem longer thanks to ample daylight, but it's important to stick to a healthy, consistent sleep schedule nonetheless. To avoid falling into erratic resting patterns and counter the gut-sabotaging effects of poor sleep habits, you've got to bite the bullet and prioritize a sensible bedtime that allows for you to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
To help reset your circadian rhythm—and make the transition to an earlier bedtime and wakeup time easier—avoid electronics and bright light at night (or at least try some blue-light blocking glasses after sunset) to promote natural melatonin production, and aim to get outside for at least five minutes first thing in the morning for some natural light exposure.
5. Find a way to be around animals.
"I recommend having contact with animals, whether that's horses or dogs or whatever—the more contact you can have with an animal species, the more biodiverse you can get your gut," says Bush. "A dog in the home radically changes the microbiome within the house." No pets at home? Something as simple as volunteering at a shelter or even an equine center and being in contact with those animals can help. Bonus: Animals help alleviate stress, too!