We all understand that gut health is essential for our everyday wellbeing. But in reality, we often wait for a catastrophic event or a complete breakdown in gut health before we do anything about it.
The truth is, the things we do over a period of time, on an everyday basis, can be more harmful than a singular event. Having said that, the things we do daily can also be protective and fortifying.
Just so we are clear… both the destructive and health-boosting activities are usually within our control.
The Cold Hard Truth
When the microbiome is optimal, with a diversity of beneficial bacteria, and your gut performs at its peak, you look and feel great!
If an imbalance occurs when the microbiome contains too many harmful bacteria and not enough friendly bacteria, this is called dysbiosis. This reduction in flora diversity and dysbiosis is linked to chronic and inflammatory diseases such as insulin resistance, weight gain, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer. Hence…
It is absolutely essential to keep your gut bacteria as friendly and varied as possible.
The reality is… even if we take all the lotions and potions and eat all the gut health-promoting food, it is often compromised daily, without you realising.
Primarily because of our day-to-day modern lifestyle and dietary habits.
Let’s look at the eight most common habits and lifestyle choices we make that put our health at risk in the short and long term.
1. Not Eating a Diverse Range of Foods
It has been shown that a diet rich in whole foods with a variety of nutrients helps to promote different types of bacteria, leading to diverse gut flora (Zinocker & Lindseth, 2018).
Unfortunately, over the past five decades, much of the diversity in the western diet has disappeared. It has been suggested that the ‘average western food intake’ is sourced from only 12 plants and five animal species (Biodiversity – The Intersection of Taste and Sustainability, n.d.).
But, ‘The American Gut Project’ (McDonald, et al., 2018) discovered some interesting impacts of different diets on the microbiome through studying ordinary everyday people. They found that individuals, no matter where in the world, who ate 30+ different types of plant-based foods per week had a more diverse mix of gut microbes than those who consumed less than ten separate plant-based foods per week.
So, a diet lacking in a variety of different whole foods can result in a loss of gut flora diversity – leading to several adverse health effects. However, it is promising to know that changing up your diet can alter your gut flora profile and can be achieved after only a few days (David, et al., 2014).
If you would like to find out more about the ‘The American Gut Project’ or a multitude of practical approaches to improve the diversity of food on your plate, take a peek at our blog post on the topic. We’ve got you covered.
2. Lack of Prebiotics in the Diet
Prebiotics are a type of fibre that passes through the body undigested and feeds beneficial bacteria in the intestine. This gives them the fuel essential for the good bacteria to perform all their health-promoting activities in the body and flourish.
Prebiotics are present in foods that are high in fibre and resistant starches. Foods that are considered to include prebiotics:-
- Lentils, chickpeas, beans, and oats
- Bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, and onions
- Nuts and seeds
Not everyone has the capabilities or time to eat these foods in adequate quantities. However, the fibre found in Gut Performance™ has been proven to be an excellent prebiotic. You only need to take one scoop daily to boost your prebiotic intake significantly.
3. Lack of Regular Physical Activity
Everyone gets busy, and exercise is often considered a luxury of ‘me’ time. And, it’s often the first thing to go when time is tight.
However, being physically active has many health benefits, including reducing your stress levels and the risk of chronic disease. It has also been shown to alter gut bacteria, improving gut health.
Several studies have been conducted worldwide, showing that professional athletes have a more diverse gut flora than the control groups, matched for body size, age, and gender. Although we understand not everyone is an elite athlete, it shows that regular exercise can improve diversity in the microbiota.
Additional studies have shown that people with higher fitness levels have an increased level of beneficial bacteria which plays a significant role in metabolic health and the prevention of obesity (Cerdá, et al., 2016) (Cronin, Molloy, & Shanahan, 2016).
To see whether these changes could be attributed to other populations (read – the rest of us), an interesting study was done with a group of women recovering from non-metastatic breast cancer.
They chose this cohort because the treatment depletes metabolic and cardiorespiratory fitness. The study implemented a six-week fitness protocol and multiple gut health indicators. The researchers established that participants with higher cardiorespiratory fitness also had more diverse bacterial populations in the gut compared with peers who had low cardiorespiratory fitness (Carter, Hunter, & Blackston, 2019).
It is clear that regular physical exercise promotes the growth and diversity of beneficial gut bacteria. But the most telling fact is…these types of bacteria and the amounts present are not found in sedentary individuals.
If you want to go deeper into how exercise can literally change the composition of your gut microbiome, click here for an easy-to-read, evidence-based article that won’t lead you astray.
4. Drinking Too Much Alcohol
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but alcohol is toxic to gut health, even in small, consistent amounts.
Not only does alcohol dehydrate you, but it also aggravates your digestive system. This irritation triggers a hold-up in the proper breakdown of food, causing increased gas production and often a post-booze stomachache. If the consumption is sustained, dysbiosis is the outcome.
But it’s not all bad. Enjoying the occasional glass of red wine can benefit your gut ecosystem. This is because it contains polyphenols, which have been known to increase the quantity of valuable microbes in your intestinal system. The key here is moderation (Queipo-Ortuño, et al., 2012).
Generally speaking, alcohol consumption, particularly chronic consumption (sustained and excessive use), is harmful.
What kind of alcohol consumption is considered less dangerous?
You should not drink more than two standard drinks per day. You should also allow for 1-2 alcohol-free days a week, more if you can. Follow this link if you want to know more about standard drinks and research-based guidelines on how much is too much.
5. Cigarette Smoking
We all know tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, a substantial number of which are known to cause cancer. It has been shown to cause harm to nearly every organ in the body. Interestingly, it is often implicated in common inflammatory bowel diseases and the flare-ups in Crohn’s disease (Capurso & Lahner, 2017).
How does smoking ruin your gut health?
It is most likely due to immunosuppression, oxygen deprivation, and biofilm formation on the gastrointestinal membrane and beneficial micro-organisms in the gut. That sounds incredibly complicated, doesn’t it? But think of what smoking does to your lungs. Super-impose that onto your gut lining and all the living organisms that reside there! You have a visual now…sorry.
The good news is, there is evidence emerging that smoking cessation increases gut flora diversity within the first three months of quitting, which is a marker of a healthy gut (Biedermann, et al., 2013). Another good reason to give up the ciggies.
6. Antibiotic Use
Antibiotics are essential medications that have saved millions of lives. They do this by either killing bacteria or preventing it from multiplying.
However, there are drawbacks. They affect both beneficial and harmful bacteria. They do not discriminate.
Coupled with the current western trend of being overprescribed or not being taken correctly, their power to obliterate gut health is significant.
Even short-term dosing has been shown to disrupt the composition and diversity of the gut flora. This is significant because variety is beneficial for your gut health. With an entire course, there can be long-term alterations in the gut microbiota (Cully, 2019).
The good news is that most bacteria return after 1-4 weeks, however not always to the previous levels. This deficit could potentially linger for up to two years.
Because antibiotic use is often essential, this is where your daily actions make or break the health of your gut.
7. Not Getting Enough Sleep
It is common knowledge that good quality sleep is vital for overall health. Not only for our immediate feelings of wellbeing throughout the day, but it’s also linked to many chronic inflammatory diseases such as obesity and heart disease.
Your body has an internal timekeeper – your circadian rhythm. It affects your brain, body, and hormones. It sends signals to your body to keep you alert and awake and tells you 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 late-night partying may have harmful effects not only on your body but your gut bacteria.
This is a new area of research; however, there has been evidence to show that as little as two days of sleep deprivation can cause subtle variations to the gut flora, with an increase in the abundance of bacteria associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and fat metabolism (Benedict, et al., 2016).
To prevent the side effects of insufficient sleep on your gut, you must attempt to keep your sleep pattern as routine as possible and implement healthy sleep hygiene practices consistently.
8. Too Much Stress
Our modern lifestyle, coupled with high-stress levels, has harmful effects on the body. But most of us still do not consciously implement ways to decrease unsafe levels, which is to our detriment.
The act of stress on your body causes changes in your microbiome in several different ways.
Heightened levels of stress can diminish the population of health-promoting bacteria that thrives in your gut. This reduction promotes chronic inflammation, which activates the vagus nerve (the communication line between the gut-brain axis) and leads to stress symptoms. Harmful bacteria can also create peptides known to send stress signals to your brain.
Stress can also reduce blood flow due to the fight or flight response, altering gut bacteria by reducing diversity and bacterial profiles.
Your gut bacteria play a vital role in your overall health, and disruption to the gut flora has been linked to many health problems. Our modern lifestyle habits, such as poor sleep, excessive alcohol consumption, restrictive diets, and inactivity, harm your gut health.
There is no need to feel shame or guilt. These habits sneak up on all of us.
They are not explosive or detrimental as a one-time event but coupled together over time, they accumulate into the damage that increases your risk of chronic and inflammatory diseases.
Alternatively, living a healthy lifestyle by ensuring regular physical activity, lowering stress, and eating a diet in a variety of whole foods gives your gut the best chance of surviving the modern lifestyle.
Your best defence is to educate yourself on the basics of a healthy gut and simple activities to improve your gut health along with your daily dose of Gut Performance™, of course.
Let us know via our Gut Performance ™ Instagram page and #gutperformance how you prepare your daily Gut Performance™ dose. We love to hear from everyone about how Gut Performance™ has taken your gut health to the next level.
Benedict, C., Vogel, H., Jonas, W., Woting, A., Blaut, M., Schürmann, A., & Cedernaes, J. (2016). Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals. Molecular metabolism, 5(12), 1175-1186. Retrieved 9 25, 2019, from https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27900260
Biedermann, L., Zeitz, J., Mwinyi, J., Sutter-Minder, E., Rehman, A., Ott, S., & Rogler, G. (2013). Smoking cessation induces profound changes in the composition of the intestinal microbiota in humans. PloS one, 8(3). doi:10.1371
Biodiversity – The Intersection of Taste and Sustainability. (n.d.). (A. F. Labs, Producer, & Alpha Food Labs LLC) Retrieved September 2019, from Future Market: http://thefuturemarket.com/biodiversity
Capurso, G., & Lahner, E. (2017). The interaction between smoking, alcohol, and the gut microbiome. Best Practice & Research in Clinical Gastroenterology, 31(5), 579-588. Retrieved 9 25, 2019, from https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/s152169181730118x
Carter, S. J., Hunter, G. R., & Blackston, J. W. (2019). Gut microbiota diversity is associated with cardiorespiratory fitness in post-primary treatment breast cancer survivors. Exp. Physiology, 104, 529-539. Retrieved from doi:https://doi.org/10.1113/EP087404
Cerdá, B., Pérez, M., Pérez-Santiago, J. D., Tornero-Aguilera, J. F., González-Soltero, R., & Larrosa, M. (2016). Gut Microbiota Modification: Another Piece in the Puzzle of the Benefits of Physical Exercise in Health? Frontiers in Physiology, 7, 51-51. Retrieved 9 25, 2019, from https://frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2016.00051/full
Cronin, O., Molloy, M. G., & Shanahan, F. (2016). Exercise, fitness, and the gut. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 32(2), 67-73. Retrieved 9 25, 2019, from https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26839963
Cully, M. (2019, June 17). Antibiotics alter the gut microbiome and host health. Nature Research. Retrieved September 17, 2019, from Nature Research: https://www.nature.com/articles/d42859-019-00019-x
David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., . . . Turnbaugh, P. J. (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563. Retrieved 9 25, 2019, from https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24336217
McDonald, D., Hyde, E., Debelius, J. W., Morton, J. T., Gonzalez, A., Ackermann, G., . . . Knight, R. (2018). American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. mSystems, 3(3). Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1128/mSystems.00031-18
Queipo-Ortuño, M. I., Boto-Ordoñez, M., Murri, M., Gómez-Zumaquero, J. M., Clemente-Postigo, M., Estruch, R., . . . Tinahones, F. J. (2012). Influence of red wine polyphenols and ethanol on the gut microbiota ecology and biochemical biomarkers. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95(6), 1323-1334. Retrieved 9 17, 2019, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/95/6/1323/4568378
Zinocker, M. K., & Lindseth, I. A. (2018). The Western Diet-Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease. Nutrients, 10(3), 365. doi:10.3390/nu10030365. Nutrients, 365. doi:10.3390/nu10030365