Raise your hand if you've tried to lose weight lately. That noise you just heard? That's the sound of phones being dropped all over America as people throw both hands up in the air. According to one Gallup poll, more than half of adults are trying to lose weight at any given time—and those are just the people who admitted to it. This constant pressure to diet may be leading to some serious unintended consequences for your mind.
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Take the Right Probiotics
Look for supplements containing Lactobacillus and Streptococcus thermophilus strains of healthy bacteria. In a new study in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers found that these bugs were more plentiful in the breast tissue of healthy women than in those with cancer. They don't know for sure whether consuming these bacteria can help prevent the disease, but previous studies have shown that microbes can travel from your gut to your breasts, where they may help produce antioxidants that prevent the cellular damage that contributes to cancer, says Gregor Reid, Ph.D., one of the study's authors. Also smart: eating plenty of probiotic-rich fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut and miso. (You'd be surprised how many types of food contain probiotics.)
Eat Even More Fiber
"Our ancestors ate 10 times more fiber than we do now," Schiestl says. This may help explain why their gut bacteria communities were far more robust. Aim for the recommended 25 grams of fiber a day, and be sure to incorporate chewy, stringy vegetables such as celery, asparagus, and artichokes into your diet. (Or try one of these high fiber recipes.)
"These foods contain resistant starch and other nutrients, which many of the healthy bacteria in your GI tract feed on," Daniel-MacDougall says. (Not yet convinced you need more fiber? This nutrient alone has been proven to reduce the risk of cancer.)
Have More Fun Getting Sweaty
Exercise can increase the diversity of your gut bacteria, according to a new review of several studies in the journal Frontiers in Physiology. The researchers think that working out may decrease the body's production of bile acids, which in turn lets microbes flourish, or increase its production of health-promoting short-chain fatty acids. Exercise may also reduce the amount of time it takes food to make its way through the intestinal tract, boosting GI bug diversity. (As if you needed another perk: exercise also makes you better in bed.)
Other evidence indicates that fit people have higher levels of a specific strain of bacteria that is known to reduce the risk of obesity, which is strongly linked to breast cancer. Experts don't yet know exactly how much exercise is good for your gut bugs, but they do have proof that it's essential to do workouts you enjoy. In a study on mice, only those that exercised voluntarily increased the diversity of their GI bugs, says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The mice forced to work out against their will did not.