One thing that is too hard to change is a habit. We all have some habits that we have established in our lives. Are they good or bad habits? What is the effect of these habits on our health? Some lifestyle choices can affect our health, especially on our gut health and on our gut bacteria.
Interestingly, many diets, lifestyle and other environmental factors can negatively affect your gut bacteria.
First, let’s see what are gut bacteria and why they are important for our health?
Hundreds of species of bacteria reside in your gut. Some of them are friendly, while others are not.
Most bacteria in the gut belong to one of four groups: Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria or Proteobacteria.
Each group plays a role in your health and requires different nutrients for growth.
Friendly gut bacteria are important for digestion. They destroy harmful bacteria and other microorganisms and produce vitamin K, folate and short-chain fatty acids.
When the gut flora contains too many harmful bacteria and not enough friendly bacteria, an imbalance can occur. This is known as dysbiosis.
Both dysbiosis and a reduction in gut flora diversity have been linked to insulin resistance, weight gain, inflammation, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer.
Here is the list of things that can harm your gut bacteria, some may surprise you
1.Lack of Prebiotics in the Diet
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that passes through the body undigested and promotes the growth and activity of friendly gut bacteria.
Many foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, naturally contain prebiotic fiber.
A lack of them in the diet may be harmful to your overall digestive health.
Foods high in prebiotics include:
- Lentils, chickpeas, and beans
- Jerusalem artichokes
One study in 30 obese women found that taking a daily prebiotic supplement for three months promoted the growth of the healthy bacteria Bifidobacterium and Faecalibacterium.
Prebiotic fiber supplements also promote the production of short-chain fatty acids.
These fatty acids are the main nutrient source for the cells in your colon. They can be absorbed into your blood, where they promote metabolic and digestive health, reduce inflammation and can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Moreover, foods rich in prebiotic fiber may play a role in reducing insulin and cholesterol levels.
2. Not Eating a Diverse Range of Foods
Generally, rich and diverse gut flora is considered to be a healthy one.
A lack of diversity within the gut bacteria limits recovery from harmful influences, such as infection or antibiotics.
A diet consisting of a wide variety of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can lead to more diverse gut flora. Changing up your diet can alter your gut flora profile after only a few days.
This is because the food you eat provides nutrients that help bacteria grow. A diet rich in whole foods provides your gut with a variety of nutrients that help promote the growth of different types of bacteria, resulting in more diverse gut flora.
Unfortunately, over the past 50 years, much of the diversity in the Western diet has been lost. Today, 75% of the world’s food supply comes from only 12 plants and five animal species.
Interestingly, studies show that those living in rural regions of Africa and South America have a more diverse gut flora than those living in the US and Europe.
Their diets are generally unaffected by the Western world and are rich in fiber and a variety of plant protein sources.
3.Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Alcohol is addictive, highly toxic and can have harmful physical and mental effects when consumed in large amounts.
In terms of gut health, chronic alcohol consumption can cause serious problems, including dysbiosis.
One study examined the gut flora of 41 alcoholics and compared them to 10 healthy individuals who consumed little-to-no alcohol. Dysbiosis was present in 27% of the alcoholic population, but it was not present in any of the healthy individuals.
Another study compared the effects of three different types of alcohol on gut health.
For 20 days, each individual consumed 9.2 ounces (272 ml) of red wine, the same amount of de-alcoholized red wine or 3.4 ounces (100 ml) of gin each day.
Gin decreased the number of beneficial gut bacteria, whereas red wine increased the abundance of bacteria known to promote gut health and decreased the number of harmful gut bacteria like Clostridium.
The beneficial effect of moderate red wine consumption on gut bacteria appears to be due to its polyphenol content.
Polyphenols are plant compounds that escape digestion and are broken down by gut bacteria. They may also help reduce blood pressure and improve cholesterol.
4.Lack of Regular Physical Activity
Physical activity is simply defined as any movement of the body that burns energy.
Walking, gardening, swimming, and cycling are all examples of physical activity.
Being physically active has several health benefits, including weight loss, lower stress levels and a reduced risk of chronic disease.
What’s more, recent studies suggest that physical activity may also alter the gut bacteria, improving gut health.
Higher fitness levels have been associated with a greater abundance of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that’s important for overall health, and butyrate-producing bacteria.
One study found that professional rugby players had a more diverse gut flora and twice the number of bacterial families, compared to the control groups matched for body size, age, and gender.
Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, 70 of which can cause cancer.
Smoking causes harm to nearly every organ in the body and raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
Cigarette smoking is also one of the most important environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease, a disease characterized by ongoing inflammation of the digestive tract.
Furthermore, smokers are twice as likely to have Crohn’s disease, a common type of inflammatory bowel disease, compared to non-smokers.
In one study, smoking cessation increased gut flora diversity, which is a marker of a healthy gut.
6. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Getting good sleep is very important for overall health.
Studies show that sleep deprivation is linked to many diseases, including obesity and heart disease.
Sleep is so important that your body has its time-keeping clock, known as your circadian rhythm.
It’s a 24-hour internal clock that affects your brain, body, and hormones. It can keep you alert and awake, but it can also tell your body when it’s time to sleep.
It appears that the gut also follows a daily circadian-like rhythm. Disrupting your body clock through a lack of sleep, shift work and eating late at night may have harmful effects on your gut bacteria.
A 2016 study was the first to explore the effects of short-term sleep deprivation on the composition of gut flora.
The study compared the effects of two nights of sleep deprivation (about 4 hours per night) versus two nights of normal sleep duration (8.5 hours) in nine men.
Two days of sleep deprivation caused subtle changes to gut flora and increased the abundance of bacteria associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and fat metabolism.
Nevertheless, sleep deprivation’s effects on gut bacteria is a new area of research. Further studies are required to determine the impact of sleep loss and poor sleep quality on gut health.
7.Too Much Stress
Being healthy isn’t only about diet, physical activity, and adequate sleep.
High-stress levels can also have harmful effects on the body. In the gut, stress can increase sensitivity, reduce blood flow and alter the gut bacteria.
Studies in mice have shown that different types of stress, such as isolation, crowding and heat stress, can reduce gut flora diversity and alter gut profiles.
Stress exposure in mice also affects bacterial populations, causing an increase in potentially harmful bacteria like Clostridium and reducing beneficial populations of bacteria like Lactobacillus.
One study in humans looked at the effect of stress on the composition of gut bacteria in 23 college students.
The composition of gut bacteria was analyzed at the beginning of the semester and the end of the semester during final examinations.
The high stress associated with final exams caused a reduction in friendly bacteria, including Lactobacilli.
While promising, research on the relationship between stress and gut flora is fairly new, and human studies are currently limited.
8.Preservatives & Emulsifiers
Preservatives are added to most packaged foods to slow or prevent the processes of oxidation and bacterial growth – or put another way they are designed to kill bacteria. There are many natural preservatives such as salt and natural acids, oils, and vinegar which are easily digested and do no harm however most preservatives in our food are synthetic man-made – and studies have shown they could be doing serious harm to our gut
Emulsifiers are very common in packaged foods which also extend the shelf life of foods and keep ingredients—often oils and fats—from separating. Emulsifiers are found in many common household foods from mayonnaise to ice cream, biscuits to peanut butter with common emulsifiers including ingredients such as polysorbate 80, carboxymethylcellulose, lecithin, carrageenan, polyglycerols, and xanthan.
Some major studies have shown how emulsifiers negatively affect the makeup of our gut bacteria and disrupt the protective mucous layer that shields our intestinal tract, resulting in inflammation and can lead to bacterial infection. Another side effect is an interference with the signal of ‘satiety’ – or feeling full – leading to overeating and get fatter.
9.Artificial Food Colouring
The use of food coloring in processed food is now widespread to encourage sales, and many of the popular colorings used today have been found to have antibacterial properties. This was previously considered a positive effect but now we are increasingly aware of the damage such chemicals have on our gut flora.
Sugar in our diet feeds the types of bacteria and pathogens we want to keep in check – so a diet rich in sugar can lead to an overgrowth of these bacteria and a resulting in balance and dysbiosis in our guts.
Furthermore, a study at Oregon State University found that altered gut bacteria as a result of a high-sugar diet appeared to impact “cognitive flexibility,” in one’s ability to adjust to changing situations – and also showed an impairment of early learning for both long-term and short-term memory.
It’s also worth noting that sugar is addictive and refined sugar contains no nutrients –only calories that are quickly absorbed causing blood sugar levels to jump and then collapse – causing hunger and further cravings.
How to Improve Gut Health
A healthy gut flora that’s high in friendly bacteria is essential for overall health.
Here are some tips on how to improve your gut flora:
*Eat more prebiotic foods: Eat plenty of foods rich in prebiotic fibers, such as legumes, onions, asparagus, oats, bananas, and others.
*Consume more probiotics: Probiotics may increase the abundance of healthy gut bacteria. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and tempeh, are all excellent sources. You could also start taking a probiotic supplement.
*Make time for quality sleep: To improve sleep quality, try cutting out caffeine late in the day, sleeping in complete darkness and making a structured sleep routine so that you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
*Reduce stress: Regular exercise, meditation, and deep breathing exercises may help reduce your stress levels. If you regularly feel overwhelmed with stress, you may want to consider seeing a psychologist.
*Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Good sources include blueberries, red wine, dark chocolate, and green tea. Polyphenols are not digested very efficiently and often make their way to the colon, where they are digested by bacteria.
Read more: How To Restore Gut Health
Conclusion: As you can see gut bacteria are very important for our health. Avoiding these bad habits can help you for better gut health and that is where all starts. Better gut health, better health for the whole body.