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Gut Health: How To Keep Your Digestive System Healthy

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Active Aging Presented by Public Health Seattle-King County

Our digestive systems change 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 in your digestive health.

Eat a Proper Diet

Step one to improving gut health? A good diet. It acts as your first line of defense. A recent Stanford study showed that eating fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi daily for 10 weeks increased the diversity of the participant’s stomach microbiomes. This complex community of bacteria in your intestines breaks down food and churns out chemicals. These bacteria keep your bowels regular, tune up immunity, help regulate body weight, blood sugar, and blood fats, tamp down inflammation, and influence your moods. They may even play roles in thinking and memory, according to recent research.

• 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 rectum cancer, which increases with age. Try fresh blueberries, strawberries, sweet potatoes, bananas, and leafy greens.

• Eat high-fiber foods. According to Everyday Health, among the best high-fiber choices are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Clevelandclinic.org recommends reducing salt consumption and avoiding white foods like bread, rice, and potatoes.

• Eat salmon or cod, the good fats.

• Cut back on artificial sweeteners. Sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin may 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 boost the beneficial bacteria that protect the intestines’ inner lining.

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Get Active

Exercise and physical activity offer many health benefits, including preventing constipation. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends doing muscle-strengthening exercises two days per week. Bike, walk, swim, or dance. Aerobic exercise leads to better digestion and can keep blood vessels in healthy shape. Exercise also helps maintain a healthy weight, which is vital for healthy digestion. So, get up and get moving. Your stomach will thank you.

Stay Hydrated

Clevelandclinic.com recommends drinking water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages throughout the day. Drinks like orange juice with pulp can help ease constipation, which becomes more common as we get older. Combos like liquids and fiber can help soften stools so they pass through the digestive tract more easily. Be aware that liquids with caffeine, such as tea and coffee, have the opposite effect and can be dehydrating.

Consider Probiotic Supplements

Medical conditions, physical and emotional stress, or the use of antibiotics, which are known to destroy bacteria, can upset your gut’s bad and good bacteria balance. Probiotics can tip the balance back to the good bacteria. Plus, they may also fight inflammation, relieve issues like diarrhea, and even boost immunity! Some foods are natural probiotics like dried beans, garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, certain artichokes, green bananas, and wheat.

According to webmd.com, dietary supplemental probiotics are an option for those who need a probiotic boost. Probiotics offer various benefits to older adults. They help reduce the frequency and duration of diarrhea, improve heart health, and help relieve lactose intolerance as well as some food and skin allergies. Your doctor should help you choose the right one for you.

So, take steps now to improve the foundations 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 the important and untold stories of innovation, service, and sacrifice by the Black community and supports efforts to improve equity and achieve social justice. We want everyone to get health insurance and access health care. Visit www.kingcounty.gov/health for health insurance, flu and COVID-19 testing locations.