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Your Digestive System: 5 Ways to Support Gut Health

A Johns Hopkins digestive health expert discusses the ways your digestive system changes with age and shares the best ways to guard gut health and prevent digestive discomfort.

Digestive system problems such as heartburn, gas, bloating and constipation reflect what’s happening throughout your body. “As we age, the natural cycles slow down and don’t work as well,” says Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Gerard Mullin, M.D.

The main drivers of gut health change are shifts in stomach acid, gut immunity and gastrointestinal flora—the complex ecosystem of bacteria in your digestive system.

When gut health is good, he says, you’re less likely to experience damaging inflammation and lapses in immunity.

The following ways to protect your digestive system may sound surprising because they’re not just about diet. “Everything ties together,” Mullin says.

Eat the right foods.

“Americans’ fiber intake is 40 to 50 percent of what it should be,” Mullin says. A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides the fiber that builds good bacteria and gut health.

Other foods that build a healthy digestive system include kefir (a fermented milk drink that’s similar to yogurt and is rich in probiotics) and other fermented or pickled foods (such as kimchi, sauerkraut and pickled ginger).

Ask your health care provider about foods for specific problems such as constipation or bloating.

Get more sleep.

Not getting enough sleep is linked to a higher prevalence of obesity, which sets you up for digestive system disorders.

Move more.

As with other aspects of health, exercise is the best way to lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight to ward off digestive system problems.

Manage stress.

Reducing stress is fundamental to reducing heartburn, Mullin says. “There’s no magic diet that works.” Try relaxation therapies along with other distraction techniques. 

Get help for issues like anxiety and depression.

Mood and digestive system health (especially disorders like irritable bowel syndrome) are closely linked via the brain-gut connection.

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