Gut health: how to keep your digestive system healthy
Active Aging presented by Public Health Seattle-King County
Our digestive system changes as we age, often bringing new issues to the forefront of our health concerns. There are many things you can do to take control and improve your digestive health and even help prevent digestive problems. Often, simple lifestyle changes can make major improvements to your digestive health.
First step to improve gut health? A good diet. It acts as your first line of defense. A recent Stanford study showed that consuming fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi daily for 10 weeks increased the diversity of participants’ stomach microbiomes. This complex community of bacteria in your intestines breaks down food and produces chemicals. These bacteria keep your bowels regular, boost immunity, help regulate body weight, blood sugar and blood fats, reduce inflammation and influence your mood. According to recent research, they may even play a role in thinking and memory.
• Have you ever heard the phrase “Eat the rainbow?” Yes, eating a wide variety of produce like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower can improve gut health. Eating fruits and vegetables – the more colorful the better – may also help reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer, which increases with age. Try blueberries, strawberries, sweet potatoes, bananas, and fresh leafy greens.
• Eat fiber-rich foods. According to Everyday Health, among the best choices high in fiber are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Clevelandclinic.org recommends reducing salt intake and avoiding white foods like bread, rice, and potatoes.
• Eat salmon or cod, the good fats.
• Reduce artificial sweeteners. Sucralose, aspartame and saccharin can interfere with microbiome diversity, impacting the body’s ability to absorb blood sugar.
• Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. Polyphenols, plant compounds found in coffee and black or green tea, can stimulate beneficial bacteria that protect the inner lining of the intestines.
Exercise and physical activity provide many health benefits, including the prevention of constipation. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends doing muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week. Ride a bike, walk, swim or dance. Aerobic exercise improves digestion and can keep blood vessels healthy. Exercise also helps maintain a healthy weight, which is essential for good digestion. So get up and get moving. Your stomach will thank you.
Clevelandclinic.com recommends drinking water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages throughout the day. Drinks like orange juice with pulp can help relieve constipation, which becomes more common as we age. Combinations like fluids and fiber can help soften stools so they pass through the digestive tract more easily. Be aware that caffeinated liquids, such as tea and coffee, have the opposite effect and can be dehydrating.
Medical conditions, physical and emotional stress, or the use of antibiotics, which are known to destroy bacteria, can upset the balance of bad and good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics can tip the scales toward the good bacteria. Plus, they can also fight inflammation, relieve issues like diarrhea, and even boost immunity! Some foods are natural probiotics like dried beans, garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, some artichokes, green bananas and wheat.
According to webmd.com, dietary supplement probiotics are an option for those who need a probiotic boost. Probiotics offer various benefits to the elderly. They help reduce the frequency and duration of diarrhea, improve heart health, and relieve lactose intolerance as well as certain food and skin allergies. Your doctor should help you choose the right one for you.
So take action now to improve the basics of your gut health. And always talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
Active Aging is presented by Public Health – Seattle & King County. Public Health – Seattle & King County recognizes important and untold stories of innovation, service, and sacrifice from the Black community and supports efforts to improve equity and achieve social justice. We want everyone to get health insurance and have access to health care. Visit www.kingcounty.gov/health for health insurance, flu and COVID-19 testing locations.