The gut microbiome hosts up to 1,000 bacterial species that encode about 3 million genes, performing countless functions required for a person’s physiology and survival. 1 A healthy person has about 85 percent “good” bacteria and 15 percent “bad” bacteria. 2
Despite the sheer quantity of bacteria that reside in our bodies, the amount of good bacteria can be altered significantly – and quickly – by many factors, many of which you can control. Read on to learn how you can protect your health by avoiding and changing these 10 lifestyle habits that are destroying good bacteria in your body.
Studies suggest antibiotics can affect gut health – even changing its microbial and metabolic patterns.3 When you take a common antibiotic like penicillin or erythromycin, for example, the diversity of those bacteria could decrease.4 Even when levels return to normal over time, these drugs disturb your gut’s health, and that could be a factor in future health problems. This is why more and more physicians recommend taking a probiotic supplement hours after consuming antibiotic medication.
2. Pesticides and Herbicides
Glyphosate is widely used ingredient in weedkillers used by farmers. Residues from this toxin then continue on to contaminate our food supply. A recent study suggests glyphosate is responsible for destroying gut health and killing off healthy gut bacteria, increasing the risk for gluten intolerance and celiac disease.5 To avoid this, stick with organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
3. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, such as Sweet ‘N’ Low and Splenda, might save you a few calories, but scientists have indicated they might not be so healthy for your body’s bacteria population. In one study, subjects who consumed artificial sweeteners saw a decrease in good bacteria, which then caused glucose intolerance.6
4. Overzealous Sanitary Habits
Being clean is generally considered a good thing, but a bit of “dirt” actually helps you maintain a healthy gut bacteria. David P. Strachan, a professor of epidemiology, coined the term “Hygiene Hypothesis” to explain his study’s findings: Children in larger households were less likely to develop hay fever as a result of being in more contact – and therefore, exchanging more germs – with their many siblings. The idea here is that the more bacteria you’re exposed to, the more diverse your bacterial makeup (which is attributed to a healthy gut). Strachan went on to say that “improved household amenities and higher standards of personal cleanliness” may also deprive children of collecting a diverse array of bacteria.7
A moment of stress is normal, but being in a state of chronic stress has been shown to adversely alter the state of your gut microbiome. One study concluded that stress not only alters the makeup of gut flora, but it also weakens the gastrointestinal tract’s capacity to function the way it’s supposed to (e.g. secreting substances important to the survival of healthy gut flora).8 On the flip side, researchers have shown that probiotic-rich foods can help with stress. One study asked healthy women to eat yogurt containing live active probiotic cultures.9 By the end of the four-week period, these women were calmer. Researchers indicated the friendly bacteria in the yogurt positively affected the gut, which experts believe is strongly linked to mood.10
6. Poor Diet
We’re surrounded by prepackaged foods filled with sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives. If your diet is filled with junk food, you’re taking in less nutrition than someone who’s consuming lots of vegetables and fruit. More specifically, a poor diet means you’re not getting as much fiber into your system. Scientists have shown that fiber is essential to maintaining a healthy gut.11 In fact, eating a lot of fiber has been shown to make considerable changes in the gut microbiome, increasing the levels of healthy bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.12
7. Irregular Sleep Patterns
We already know a night of tossing and turning makes you irritable, tired, and unproductive, but it can also impact your microbiome. Research has shown that poor sleep habits affect one’s circadian rhythm, which produces negative changes in the gut microflora.13 Make sure you get around six to eight hours of sleep each night, and try going to bed at the same time every day.
Studies have found that higher diversity in the gut microbiota affects the characteristics and magnitude of the immune response to vaccines and infection.14 This research provides a window into how vaccines and resistance to pathogens work. Although there hasn’t been a definitive conclusion as to how vaccines directly alter the body’s microbiome, the fact that it’s unknown is a cause for concern for many parents.
9. NSAIDs and Other Medications
Use of NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs), often in the form of aspirin, ibuprofen, and other over-the-counter pain medication, might be your first option when you have a headache or feel achy, but it’s been shown to have negative effects on the gut.15 Research has also shown that drugs to alleviate heartburn and diabetes symptoms were also associated with a less diverse bacterial population in the gut.16,17
10. Chlorinated Water
Many experts believe that drinking or even swimming in chlorinated water disrupts the ideal bacterial flora in the gastrointestinal tract. 18That’s because chlorine kills all bacteria, good and bad. Make sure you add filters to your faucets at home, and minimize the amount of time you spend in the pool.
Making simple changes to your lifestyle can help promote healthy levels of bacteria in your body. As long as you remember what to minimize or avoid (e.g. medications, antibacterial soaps, toxic foods), and what to incorporate more of into your life (e.g. sleep, fiber, stress management), you’re on your way to replenishing the good bacteria your body so greatly needs.
For more on optimizing gut health, keep reading:
1. Whiteman, Honor and Honor Whiteman. “The Gut Microbiome: How Does It Affect Our Health?”. Medical News Today. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
2. The Science Of Probiotics | American Nutrition Association”. Americannutritionassociation.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
3. Pérez-Cobas, Ana Elena et al. “Gut Microbiota Disturbance During Antibiotic Therapy: A Multi-Omic Approach”. N.p., 2012. Print.
4. T, Hassan. “Pharmacologic Considerations For Patients Taking Oral Contraceptives.”. Popline.org. N.p., 1987. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
5. Samsel, Anthony and Stephanie Seneff. “Glyphosate’S Suppression Of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes And Amino Acid Biosynthesis By The Gut Microbiome: Pathways To Modern Diseases”. N.p., 2013. Print.
6. Suez, Jotham. “Artificial Sweeteners Induce Glucose Intolerance By Altering The Gut Microbiota”. N.p., 2014. Print.
7. H, Riemann. “Ultrastructural Changes In The Gut Autonomic Nervous System Following Laxative Abuse And In Other Conditions. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 1982. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
8. Konturek PC, et al. “Stress And The Gut: Pathophysiology, Clinical Consequences, Diagnostic Approach And Treatment Options. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
9. Tillisch, Kirsten et al. “Consumption Of Fermented Milk Product With Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity”. N.p., 2013. Print.
10. Publications, Harvard. “The Gut-Brain Connection – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health. N.p., 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
11. Courage, Katherine. “Fiber-Famished Gut Microbes Linked To Poor Health”. Scientific American. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
12. Slavin, Joanne. “Fiber And Prebiotics: Mechanisms And Health Benefits”. N.p., 2013. Print.
13. Voigt, Robin M. et al. “Circadian Disorganization Alters Intestinal Microbiota”. N.p., 2014. Print.
14. Gut Bacteria Play Key Role In Vaccination”. ScienceDaily. N.p., 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
15. NSAIDs: Good for the Joints, Bad for the Gut?. “Nsaids: Good For The Joints, Bad For The Gut?”. Iffgd.org. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
16. “Heartburn Drugs Affect Gut Bacteria, Which May Promote Infection”. Reuters. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
17. “Intestinal Bacteria Are Affected By Antidiabetic Drugs, Shows Research”. ScienceDaily. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
18. Daily, The. “5 Reasons To Stop Swimming In Chlorinated Pools”. The Alternative Daily. N.p., 2017. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.