How Gut Health Can Improve Overall Health

Research shows that a healthy gut is one of the most important facets impacting overall health.
Stock photograph by Ella Olsson via

Gut health is a trendy topic — and for good reason. Researchers consider the gut microbiome to be the body’s second brain. “The link between the gut and overall health is growing immensely,” explains Micah Zuhl, a professor of health sciences at Central Michigan University.

It’s believed that there are 39 trillion microbes and bacteria in your gut. And when those microbes and bacteria are disrupted — known as gut dysbiosis — by factors such as infections, poor dietary choices, obesity, and more, it can trigger a host of negative psychological, neurological, and behavioral reactions in the body.

“How the gut functions — or dysfunctions — can have an overwhelming influence on our overall health,” Zuhl says.

In fact, research shows that gut dysbiosis can lead to a host of chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and depression. Additionally, metabolic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and more are all linked to poor gut health.

Luckily, researchers have found that there are several things that you can do to improve your gut health and, in turn, improve your overall health. Here are three ways to clean up your gut.

1. Eat More Fiber

Fiber is critical to a healthy gut microbiome. A 2019 study in The Lancet found that those who consumed more dietary fiber were less likely to have a heart attack, die of heart disease, die of cancer, or be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, among countless other positive health outcomes. However, a staggering 95 percent of adults and children in the U.S. don’t consume enough fiber daily.

“Fiber in any form is the best thing we can do to promote a healthy gut microbiome,” says Robert Quinn, an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

Americans consume an average of 15 grams per day. But for optimal health, total dietary fiber intake should be 25 and 38 grams per day for women and men, respectively, to reap the greatest gut health benefits.

2. Control Blood Sugars and Weight

Experts agree that Type 2 diabetes is undoubtedly linked to an unhealthy gut microbiome. According to a 2022 study in the journal Nutrients, “a plethora of studies have demonstrated a significant association between changes in the composition profile of gut microbiota and development of diabetes.”

Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome can keep Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic conditions at bay. A 2021 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that increased gut microbial diversity can help combat insulin resistance, a common occurrence in pre-diabetic and diabetes patients.

Gut health experts suggest consuming as many different plants as possible each day, including vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, and whole grains and fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds.

3. Eat Gut-Healthy Foods

Not all food is created equal, especially when it comes to good gut health. “When we eat fruits and vegetables that contain dietary fiber, our gut bacteria feeds on the fiber, which allows the microbiome ecosystem to thrive,” says Dr. William W. Li, author of Eat to Beat Your Diet.

“When the ecosystem is healthy, it leads to a more efficient metabolism, a stronger immune system, lower inflammation, better lipid control in your blood, faster wound healing, and improved mood, among other health benefits. Bacteria love diversity, so feeding them a variety of foods is much more beneficial than eating the same exact foods day after day.”

Li’s top foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome are avocado, broccoli, bok choy, Napa cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, pears, and anything fermented, such as sauerkraut and kimchi.

So what about probiotics? Don’t believe the hype, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz writes in Fiber Fueled. While most people crave a quick-fix pill, the truth is, when it comes to a healthy gut, gulping down a probiotic won’t work. You can’t fix a bad diet with a probiotic (or any other pill, for that matter).

For optimal gut health, our bodies need prebiotics (which come from consuming a variety of plants) plus probiotics (which often come from fermented foods) to create postbiotics, which are the key to a healthy gut. So without the plant variety, probiotics are really just a placebo with little to no effect. Focus on consuming a wide variety of plants in your diet every week.

This story is part of the 2023 Health Guide. Read more in our Digital Edition.