Gut health is important for overall health, and there are many wide-ranging causes that can change and affect gut health. These changes can be from acute causes, such as gastrointestinal surgeries, to others, such as the normal aging process, which may affect gastrointestinal motility. Regardless of the cause, the intestines usually experience changes during the healing or aging process.1
That said, despite any shifts, it’s important to get back on track as soon as possible and make the gut the best it can be.1 Here are a few things to consider.
What are the implications of changes in the gut?
The gut has trillions of bacteria that help to digest food, absorb nutrients, and manage our wellbeing.Many of these bacteria are beneficial, and evidence has shown that good gut health is linked to supporting general health, including the immune system and brain. However, certain gastrointestinal conditions can lead to changes in the gut’s microbial environment and result in poor health and wellness.2
Common sources of gut-health changes include shifts in gut immunity, stomach acid, and gastrointestinal flora (that is, the ecosystem of over 400 bacterial species that make up the microbiome).2,3
Some digestive changes—including compromised gut function—are simply caused by the aging process.3 This is because our natural metabolic processes slow as we grow older.
Are there ways to support common gastrointestinal changes?
You’ve probably heard the expression, “prevention is the best form of medicine.” Prevention is admittedly king in a healthcare setting, but it also involves hard work and dedication.
So how can we avoid intestinal changes that may affect gut health? Here are some preventive strategies that may help keep your gastrointestinal health in check:4
Get plenty of exercise.
To ward off age-related issues, including those associated with poor intestine health, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise five days per week. Physical activity will help you stay regular and may keep your digestive system in good working order.5
Maintain a healthy weight.
While frequent exercise is linked to weight management, a healthy weight in itself can prevent digestive changes and age-related gut struggles.5 Aim to consume healthy portion sizes and whole foods when possible.
Drink lots of water.
To promote a strong and healthy digestive tract, aim to drink fluids throughout the day. Drink water until you no longer feel thirsty, and if you are taking any prescription medications, please discuss water intake directly with your supervising doctor prior to any changes.
Which ingredients can enhance gut health?
Many foods and supplements are connected to a healthy gut and a strong digestive tract.4 Some options to explore include:
Probiotics are “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”6,7 They offer a number of benefits, including supporting digestion, and data suggests a gut-brain connection exists.8 While only strain-identified probiotics have been researched extensively for specific health benefits, fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso soup, kombucha, and kefir are popular dietary sources of probiotics.
Most probiotics come from one of the following genera of bacteria:8
This is the most common probiotic genus. Found in yogurt, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods, lactobacilli can help support immune health such as healthy nasal, sinus and respiratory function.9,10
Another common and well-researched probiotic genus, specific Bifidobacteria strains provide support for acute bowel distress and immune health and may help control body weight regulation.11,12
Prebiotics are fibrous carbs the human body cannot digest (but certain bacteria in the gut can). They serve as food for probiotics and include oats, garlic, onions, apple skin, beans, and chicory root.5 Much like probiotics, prebiotics encourage healthy digestion.8
When it comes to improving our digestive health, fiber—also known as roughage—is crucial.13 It cannot be digested by the body; rather, it passes through the stomach, small intestine, and colon more or less intact.9
Fruits and vegetable, whole grains, beans, and legumes are all rich in fiber.14 Fibrous ingredients are generally full of nutrients as well, which may enhance our absorption abilities.13
There are two types of fiber, one of which is more closely linked to the digestive system:13
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and may help support already healthy cholesterol and glucose levels. It is found in oats, beans, apples, peas, and other ingredients.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It does, however, increase stool bulk and ensure material moves efficiently through the digestive tract. Whole-wheat flour, nuts, bran, and vegetables like cauliflower and potatoes are all good sources of insoluble fiber.
Be sure to discuss your fiber intake with your healthcare practitioner to minimize chances of discomfort.13
This amino acid provides both a source of fuel and precursors for growth to the rapidly dividing cells of the intestinal lining.15
5. Inner-leaf aloe
Sourced from the aloe vera plant, inner-leaf aloe has been shown in studies to support temporary digestive symptoms such as cramping, bloating, and flatulence.16 It has also been shown to a support a healthy intestinal lining.17
Ideal for gastric comfort, zinc-carnosine works by supporting the healthy ecology and integrity of the stomach lining.18,19
Always consult your healthcare practitioner before making any adjustments to your diet or adding any supplements.
For more information on nutrition and gut health, please visit the Metagenics blog.
Haupt A et al. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/09/06/8-common-digestive-problems-and-how-to-end-them. US News Health. Accessed April 17, 2019.
Gorbach SL. Medical Microbiology. 1996;1(4), Chapter 95. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7670.
Johns Hopkins Medicine Staff. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/your-digestive-system-5-ways-to-support-gut-health. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed April 17, 2019.
Conaway B. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/digestive-health-aging#1. WebMD. Accessed April 17, 2019.
Harvard Health Letter. Harvard Health Publishing. 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/aging/easy-ways-to-stay-regular. Accessed May 14, 2019.
Sanders ME. Probiotics. ISAPP. Available at: https://isappscience.org/probiotics. Accessed March 15, 2019.
Hill C et al. Natur Revs Gastro Hepatol. 2014;11(8):506—514.
Prebiotin Staff. https://www.prebiotin.com/prebiotin-academy/what-are-prebiotics/prebiotics-vs-probiotics/. Prebiotin. Accessed April 17, 2019.
Busch R et al. Food Nutr Sci. 2013;4:13-20.
King S et al. Br J Nutr. 2014;112(1):41-54.
Stenman LK et al. EBioMedicine. 2016:j.ebiom.2016.10.036.
Ouwehand AC et al. Vaccine. 2014;32(4):458-463.
Mayo Clinic Staff. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983. Mayo Clinic. Accessed April 17, 2019.
World Cancer Research Fund. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/recommendations/wholegrains-veg-fruit-beans. Accessed May 14, 2019.
Kim MH et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(5):1051. Published 2017 May 12. doi:10.3390/ijms18051051
White A. https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/aloe-vera-juice-for-ibs#benefits. Healthline. Accessed April 17, 2019.
Surjushe A et al. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53(4):163–166.
Miyoshi A et al. Jpn Pharm Ther. 1992;20:181-197.
Misawa T et al. Jpn Pharm Ther. 1992;20(1):245-254.