Skip to main content

Good health starts with good digestion.

Contributor: Michael S. Kurin, MD | Gastroenterology

Right now, trillions of organisms, mostly bacteria, are living in your digestive tract. Called your microbiome, these organisms play a key role in the health of your entire digestive system, which is what moves food through your body and extracts nutrients you need.

If that sounds complicated, that’s because your gut is a very complicated organ, says Michael Kurin, MD, a gastroenterologist at MetroHealth. What’s more, everyone’s microbiome is a little bit different. Genetics, ethnicity, diet, and even if you were breastfed as an infant all play a role in how well your system works, which affects your overall health.

There are ways to maintain a healthy gut. Here are Dr. Kurin’s top gut-health tips:

Choose whole foods. Different foods feed different kinds of gut bacteria, and good bacteria thrive on natural, whole foods, says Dr. Kurin. Think fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Stick to lean meat, poultry, and fish, and limit red and processed meats as best you can.

Hydrate! Your gut needs water to do its job. Without enough, you can become constipated. Healthy adults should drink 64 ounces of water daily, says Dr. Kurin.

Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both pull water from your body, increasing urination and dehydration. Too much alcohol can disrupt your gut microbiome, causing bloating and diarrhea. Men should drink no more than two alcoholic drinks per day; women should drink no more than one. For some, caffeine can also have a laxative effect, causing diarrhea. Aim for no more than three cups of caffeinated beverages daily.

Avoid processed foods. Artificial flavors, sweeteners and preservatives can cause gut problems. Diet drinks with artificial sweeteners are particularly troublesome, says Dr. Kurin.

Take a three- to four-hour “food pause” between meals. “The gut has a mechanism called the migrating motor complex,” says Dr. Kurin. “It’s like a broom that sweeps away gunk left in your gut.” But it only kicks into action about three to four hours after meals. If you eat more in that window, bacteria begin to ferment, causing gas and bloating.

Don’t smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing polyps in your colon, which can become cancerous over time.

Get regular exercise. Moving your body also helps keep your gut moving smoothly. It also helps reduce stress. The lining of your gut is packed with nerve tissue, called the complex enteric nervous system. These nerves tell your brain when to produce chemicals that help you digest. And when you’re under stress, hormones can be triggered that have a profound impact on your gut health. Yes, there really is a brain-gut connection!

Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. Antibiotics are lifesavers, but they only work on bacterial infections, like strep, and not on viral infections like the flu or COVID-19. While they kill bad bacteria, they also destroy some good bacteria. Only take them if you need them.
See your healthcare provider or a MetroHealth gastroenterologist if:
  • You have frequent bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.
  • You feel full all the time or are unable to finish a meal.
  • You have frequent stomach pain.
MetroHealth’s Gastroenterology Team

Our team treats a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, such as heartburn, gallstones, acid reflux, swallowing disorders, constipation, or pancreatitis. To schedule an appointment, call 216-778-5736.