It’s no secret that beauty starts on the inside, but your inner beauty goes beyond personality and character—your gut health plays a role, too! Countless studies have shown that taking care of your gut is one of the best ways to support whole-body health, including your nails, skin and hair.

Many of us would like to be more mindful of our gut health, but when working to maintain a balanced microbiome, it can be difficult to know where to start. To get started, here are the top ten steps you can take to improve your gut health today. Read on to begin your journey toward inner beauty—plus, learn which products you should be using to provide nourishment from the inside out.

1. Eat More Fermented Foods

You might be familiar with so-called “live” foods, but here’s a quick explainer. Live foods naturally contain probiotics—“good bacteria” that can help balance your gut’s microbiome. There are plenty of plant-based live food options by way of fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, plant-based yogurt and other pickled foods. Adding a serving or two of fermented foods daily is a great way to boost probiotics in your gut, helping your microbiome kick into gear.

2. Eat More (and Different!) Plants

As we know by now, not all bacteria are bad. And in fact, there’s more than one kind of “good” bacteria. A healthy gut contains hundreds or even thousands of diverse microbial species, each requiring unique nutrients to thrive and thereby support your health. Studies show that “dietary diversity”—the practice of acquiring your nutrients from a diverse array of sources—is key to keeping your gut bacteria happy. Increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables is a great way to make sure your gut is getting what it needs.

3. Focus on Fiber 

Probiotics get a lot of the gut-health love, but just as important are prebiotics. Think of it this way—if probiotics are the “good bacteria” in your gut, prebiotics are their food. In this sense, prebiotics are responsible for creating an environment where healthy bacteria can flourish. Prebiotics are mostly made up of fiber and complex carbohydrates, like beans and legumes, avocados and whole grains. Eating foods rich in these nutrients can support the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

4. Cut Down on Stress

The connection between stress and gut health is not fully understood, research has suggested that chronically high stress may impact the balance of gut bacteria. In fact, your gut health may be linked to your mood more deeply than research can currently prove. For now, you can support your gut health by reducing stress using scientifically backed methods, including meditating for 10 minutes daily, reducing screen time and even taking a walk.

Read More: What’s the Connection Between Stress and Hair Loss

5. Take a Daily Probiotic Supplement 

Even higher in microbiotics than fermented foods, probiotic supplements were originally developed to treat specific issues with digestion or gut function. But a growing body of research suggests that already-healthy people can also benefit from their use.

Taking a daily probiotic supplement can support gut health, helping your body grow thicker, fuller and healthier hair—an easy way to nourish beauty from within every day.

6. Stay Away from Sugar 

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, your sugar intake could be causing harm. Research shows that too much sugar can have a serious impact on your gut health by increasing inflammation, which can help bad bacteria thrive and impact levels of good bacteria. Cut down on added or refined sugars and replace them with fruits, veggies and pro- and prebiotics—your gut will thank you.

7. Rethink Refined Foods 

When it comes to a healthy gut, the phrase “you are what you eat” holds some truth. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a not-so-healthy treat every once in a while, but try to keep fast food and refined (or “junk”) food to a minimum. Studies show that even a slight increase in junk food intake negatively impacts gut bacteria. Support your gut by swapping out junk food indulgences with healthier (but still tasty!) recipes.

Eat Up: Foods to Grow Your Healthiest Hair

8. Improve Your Sleep Quality

In the busy world we live in, prioritizing sleep can feel like a pipe dream—but consider this your sign to take it seriously. Studies show a fundamental link between the quality of your sleep and the health, diversity, and level of functionality of your gut bacteria. Do your body (and your hair) a favor by implementing good sleep hygiene habits, like establishing a regular sleep schedule, incorporating relaxation techniques (like yoga) and avoiding screens before bedtime.

9. Get Moving

It’s no secret that exercise is good for you, and recent research suggests that your microbiome benefits from working out just as much as the rest of your body. Experts recommend regular exercise throughout the week—150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of elevated activity weekly—to maintain optimal health. If that sounds overwhelming, do the math: that’s just over 20 minutes of moderate activity a day! So hit the dance floor (or dance in your bedroom!), go for a swim, do some yoga or head out for a hike to activate your body and your gut.

Related: Why Exercise Should Be a Part of Your Hair Growth Routine

10. Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotic Use

Last but not least, remember that too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. This is especially true with antibiotics. Doctors prescribe antibiotics when necessary to treat bacterial infections, and in these cases, they’re necessary—and of course, you should always take them when prescribed. But antibiotics work by wiping out your entire microbiome, and they don’t discriminate—they kill healthy and unhealthy bacteria alike. So never take unnecessary antibiotics, and never take them without supervision from a medical professional.

When you finish prescribed antibiotics, follow them with probiotic supplements to replenish healthy gut bacteria and get your body back on track.

The Takeaway

Your gut is complicated, and even today, gut health and the human microbiome are not fully understood. Researchers are developing new ways to understand this fascinating system all the time. If you have a serious concern regarding the health of your microbiome, trust your gut — don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted medical professional. Otherwise, incorporate a daily probiotic supplement and stick to these tips to set yourself on the path to a happy microbiome and healthy you!

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Photo credit: Alyson McPhee/Unsplash

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Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.