Every day your gut is working hard to maintain the health of your body. From breaking down food to digesting nutrients, your stomach is a vital part of your overall health. This is becoming clearer as research investigates the connection between inflammation in the body and the gut.
Studies show that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and the inflammation involved in this condition is linked to dysbiosis or imbalanced levels of bacteria in the gut. This same imbalance may be the cause of another digestive disease too, known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Those people with IBS, which may involve a low-grade level of inflammation, are often diagnosed with anxiety and depression. The brain-gut axis theory links an imbalanced gut with anxiety and depression. Therefore, it’s theorized that such inflammation and IBS symptoms may be due to an imbalanced gut. This is because when people with such conditions receive good bacteria in the form of probiotics, signs of their anxiety and depression were reduced.
Therefore, by working to balance the gut microbiome, you may be able to reduce inflammation to improve not only your gut health but overall health. Let’s learn a bit more about inflammation and five ways you can reduce inflammation for optimal gut health.
Is inflammation terrible for my health?
When you develop an injury, you can see the signs of inflammation doing their job. Redness, swelling, and pain are just a few signs of acute inflammation. This is a sign that the body is healing. Inflammation involves the release of immune cells into the body so it can fight off pathogens. However, it’s when inflammation becomes a chronic condition that it can start to wreak havoc on your health.
Chronic inflammatory conditions include the joint disease rheumatoid arthritis as well as the skin condition psoriasis. The type of inflammation involved in such circumstances is triggered by oxidative stress. This oxidative stress can lead to cell damage and increased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases, which also include heart disease and diabetes.
How does inflammation impact gut health?
When it comes to gut health, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) include Crohn’s disease and colitis. It is thought that the cause of such digestive conditions consists of a defective immune system. This means that the body responds inappropriately to environmental triggers and in turn, causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of such conditions include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in the stool
- Reduced appetite
- Unplanned weight loss
Treatment of such conditions may consist of biologic medications that help control the immune system as well as changes in diet to reduce triggers of inflammation.
IBS is thought to be linked to inflammation but is not typically considered an inflammatory condition. However, research shows that inflammation may play a pathogenic role in IBS. Mucosal inflammation in the intestinal tract been linked to IBS. It may explain why some of the symptoms of IBS such as abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea may overlap with symptoms of IBD.
What can trigger inflammation in the gut?
As mentioned earlier, when the gut microbiome is imbalanced, oxidative stress and related inflammation can ensue. The gut can become imbalanced when you consume a diet high in processed foods, low in fruits and vegetables, and high in sugar. Also, you can throw the gut bacteria off the balance if you drink too much alcohol, use antibiotics in high doses, or smoke. Not to mention that being sedentary or stressed can also cause gut bacteria imbalance.
Five ways you can reduce inflammation in the gut
So, now that you know a little more about what inflammation is. The gut is all about and what may cause it, let’s talk about how to rid of it. Read below for five ways you can restore balance in your gut and in turn rid of inflammation.
Eat more antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables
It seems that every health and wellness plan involves eating more fruits and vegetables, but this is for a good reason. Research shows that a diet rich in plant-based foods and rich in fiber from fruits, vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds can help improve gut health. These types of foods have been found to have an impact on the balance of the pro- and anti-inflammatory factors in the gut and immune system.
However, fiber isn’t the only reason such foods are good for the gut. Eating a variety of plant-based foods each day can provide the body with a diverse number of antioxidants. For example, bright orange-yellow vegetables, as well as leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, are a good source of the antioxidant carotenoids. Research shows that this particular antioxidant has the potential to regulate the gut microbiome by assisting in the maturation of the immune system of the gut.
So, to reap the most anti-inflammatory benefits from the food you eat and improve gut health, be sure to add plant-based foods to every meal and snacks. Try carrot sticks or sliced bell pepper for snacks or steam up some broccoli or green beans for dinner. The possibilities are limitless on how you can enjoy plant-based foods as part of your daily routine.
Restore better sleep patterns to help restore balance in your gut
Although you may give your sleep patterns a second thought when it comes to gut health, it has more impact than you may think. Research shows that even partial sleep deprivation can cause subtle changes in the gut microbiota. Over time, this could lead to an imbalance in your gut and inflammation and related conditions.
- One hour before bedtime, turn off all screens from the television, phone, and computer.
- Try to set bedtime each night so you can put your body on a routine.
- Avoid eating large meals two to three hours before bedtime.
- Avoid bright light before bedtime.
- Make sure your mattress and pillows are in good shape and support you comfortably.
Stay active for improved gut diversity
Exercise is well-known for being good for the heart, but it’s also healthy for the gut. A 2017 study of women shows that active women had a higher number of health-promoting bacterial species than those who were sedentary. Another study confirmed such findings when they reported that exercise could enhance the number of beneficial microbial species and enrich the diversity of gut bacteria.
Therefore, be sure to be active for 30 minutes most days of the week. Every step counts, so a few minutes of walking here and cleaning house there all add up over a day towards improved gut health.
Quit smoking and limit alcohol to reduce gut inflammation
You may know that drinking alcohol and tobacco is not suitable for you, no matter how you look at it. So, to get your gut in order, it’s essential to stop smoking and limit alcohol intake. A 2018 study suggests that those who smoke have decreased the diversity of bacteria in the gut. This increases the risk of inflammation.
Furthermore, research shows that those people who quit smoking had marked changes positively in the gut microbiome. Therefore, if you don’t smoke, then don’t start. But if you do smoke, try to quit by using some of the resources offered at smokefree.gov or visiting your healthcare provider.
When it comes to drinking alcohol, a study was done to look at the impact of excessive alcohol intake on gut bacteria. Study results show that alterations in the gut microbiome are found in those who abuse alcohol. These may be related to the observed inflammatory state and endotoxemia in these individuals.
So, when it comes to drinking alcohol, try to limit your intake to no more than one standard drink a day for women and no more than two standard drinks a day for men. One standard drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Add prebiotics and probiotics to replenish your gut
In closing, it’s vital to mention the importance of prebiotics and probiotics in gut health. You may hear these terms a lot when it comes to digestive health. You may not be fully aware of what they are and what they can do for your health.
Probiotics are just live microorganisms like bacteria that have the potential to benefit health. The body already contains many bacteria, but sometimes the gut can become unbalanced, as you read earlier. This can be due to lifestyle factors, environmental factors, or other reasons. You can consume probiotics in a daily supplement form, or through consuming fermented foods. If you choose to consume a supplement, some tips on selecting the probiotic that is right for you include:
- Green vegetables
If you purchase a probiotic that contains prebiotics in it, then you may see such ingredients on the label as fructo- or oligosaccharides, inulin, or lactulose, to name a few. Prebiotics can enhance the health benefits of probiotics or can stand on their own as helpful foods to improve gut health.
Research shows that probiotics may be able to improve the health status of those with degenerative diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, liver diseases, and IBD. They work by helping to increase the population of healthy bacterial species in the gut. It also helps to improve gut barrier function. Preserving the gut barrier can help to preserve the ability of the intestinal tract to absorb nutrients from food.
Prebiotic research has also found promising results in regard to gut health. Through the metabolites formed from their fermentation, research shows that prebiotics can contribute to improved gut barrier function.
You can add more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Then mix it up with either a daily probiotic or some fermented foods, you can feed your gut what it needs. If certain foods you consume cause any gut health symptoms, be sure to visit your healthcare provider. You’ll have more insight into food intolerance or digestive condition that needs further attention.
Final Thoughts on How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
Inflammation isn’t just about pathogens and wounds. Gut health conditions like IBD and IBS are starting to become more and more linked to inflammation in the body. And by correcting the balance of the gut microbiome, such inflammation seems to improve. There is still a long way to go in research to confirm the findings of such studies. But great promise reveals the potential for methods such as prebiotics, probiotics, and anti-inflammatory diet to help soothe inflammation and improve gut health.
Just adding a few foods and supplements to your daily routine, could help reduce inflammation and improve your gut health. This will help restore balance in your gut microbiome. By replenishing the good bacteria in your gut, you can reduce uncomfortable symptoms and prevent or treat current digestive conditions.
So, if you have been diagnosed with an inflammatory gut health condition, or think you may have one, use the tips above to help improve your symptoms. Be sure to see a qualified healthcare provider to help you with the primary management of symptoms with prescribed therapies. Use the methods listed above strictly as a complementary therapy unless otherwise told to do so by your healthcare provider.
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a dietitian since 2010, and has helped thousands of patients in arenas like weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. Staci has also been writing and editing since 2011 for such websites as CDiabetes, Anirva, and Casa de Sante, to name a few and has been a featured expert for websites like Shape.com, ThisisInsider.com, and Eat This Not That. Staci hopes to provide others accessible, accurate, and practical health and wellness information so they can make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.