8 bad daily habits that have been affecting your gut microbiome

Gut health is essential to our everyday well-being and all human microbiome plays a huge part in it. However, we often wait until a catastrophic event or a complete gut health breakdown before taking action.

As a matter of fact, the things we do every day can be more harmful to our gut than a single incident. Our daily habits can also be protective and nourishing if we do the right things.

How our decisions affect our microbiome

To be clear, both destructive and health-boosting behaviors are usually within our control.

Your gut performs at its best when the microbiome is healthy, with a variety of beneficial bacteria. When the gut microbiome has too many harmful bacteria and not enough friendly bacteria, an imbalance is called dysbiosis. 

There is a link between flora diversity and dysbiosis reduction and chronic and inflammatory diseases like insulin resistance, weight gain, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer. Therefore, keeping your gut bacteria as friendly and varied as possible is essential.

Despite all the creams, tonics and gut-healthy foods, our gut health is often compromised on a daily basis without our knowledge. Modern lifestyles and dietary habits are largely to blame for the disturbed gut microbiome.

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Habits that disrupt your gut microbiome

Here are eight habits and lifestyle choices that put our health at risk [1]:

1. Eating a limited range of foods

Studies have shown that a diet rich in whole foods with a variety of nutrients promotes diverse gut bacteria [2]. In recent decades, western diets have lost much of their diversity. It has been suggested that the average western diet is derived from just 12 plant species and five animal species [3].

According to the American Gut Project, however, people’s microbiomes can be impacted by different diets [4]. Researchers found that individuals who consume 30+ different types of plant-based foods per week have a more varied mix of gut microbes than those who consume less than ten other plant-based foods per week, regardless of where they live.

8 bad daily habits that have been affecting your gut microbiome

Diets lacking in a variety of whole foods can reduce gut flora diversity, which can negatively impact health. It is encouraging to know that changing your diet can modify your gut flora profile after only a few days [5].

2. Dietary lack of prebiotics

In the intestine, prebiotics feeds beneficial bacteria by passing through undigested. Thus, good bacteria can flourish in the body and perform all of their health-promoting functions.

Foods high in fiber and resistant starches contain prebiotics. Prebiotic foods include:

  • Bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and onions
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lentils, chickpeas, beans and oats

3. Physical inactivity

Our busy lives often make exercise a luxury of ‘me’ time. Being physically active, however, can reduce stress levels and prevent chronic diseases. Additionally, it has been shown to alter gut bacteria, resulting in improved gut health.

Studies have shown that professional athletes have a more diverse gut flora or microbiome than matched controls. Despite the fact that not everyone is an elite athlete, regular exercise improves the diversity of the microbiota.

Fitness-level-related improvements in beneficial bacteria have been found to play a significant role in metabolic health and obesity prevention [6] [7]. One interesting study was conducted with a group of women recovering from non-metastatic breast cancer to see if these changes could be attributed to other populations.

This cohort was chosen because the treatment decreases metabolic and cardiorespiratory fitness [8]. Multiple gut health indicators were assessed and a six-week fitness protocol was used in the study. Participants with higher cardiorespiratory fitness also had more diverse gut bacteria than those with low cardiorespiratory fitness, according to the study. 

Beneficial gut bacteria grow and diversify when you exercise. The most interesting fact is that these types of bacteria, and their quantities, are not found in sedentary individuals.

4. Too much alcohol consumption

Even in small, consistent amounts, alcohol is toxic to gut health. Additionally, alcohol dehydrates you and aggravates your digestive tract.

Due to this irritation, food isn’t properly broken down, resulting in increased gas production and post-booze stomachaches. Dysbiosis results from sustained consumption.

It’s not all bad, though. Red wine can benefit your gut ecosystem if you drink it occasionally. 

This is because it has polyphenols, which have been shown to raise the number of valuable microbes in your intestinal system. The key here is moderation [9].

The consumption of alcohol, particularly chronic consumption (repeated and frequent use), is generally harmful. 

So how can alcohol consumption be reduced? 

Two standard drinks per day are the maximum amount you should consume. Allow yourself one to two alcohol-free days per week, if possible.

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5. Smoking cigarettes

Tobacco smoke is composed of thousands of chemicals, many of which cause cancer. There is evidence that it harms nearly every organ in the body. Interestingly enough, it is often implicated in common inflammatory bowel disorders and Crohn’s flare-ups [10].

What are the effects of smoking on gut health? A number of factors may contribute to it, including immunosuppression, oxygen deprivation, biofilm formation on the gastrointestinal membrane, as well as beneficial microbes in the gut.

It sounds like a very complicated process. However, consider the effects of smoking on your lungs. Think about all the living organisms that live in your gut lining.

Fortunately, there is evidence that smoking cessation increases gut flora diversity in the first three months after quitting, which is a healthy indication [11]. That is another good reason to give up the ciggies.

6. Use of antibiotics

In millions of cases, antibiotics have saved lives. They either kill bacteria or prevent them from reproducing.

There are, however, some drawbacks. Both beneficial and harmful bacteria are affected by them and they don’t discriminate. 

Combined with the western trend of overprescription or incorrect use, their power to destroy gut health is significant. It has been found that even short-term dosing disrupts gut flora diversity and composition. In terms of gut health, variety is important.

It is possible to affect the gut microbiota long-term with an entire course [12]. Most bacteria return after one to four weeks, but not always to their previous levels.

It may take up to a couple of years for this deficit to be resolved. You make or break your gut’s health through your daily actions because antibiotic use is often essential.

7. Sleep deprivation

A good night’s sleep is crucial to overall health, as we all know. In addition to its immediate benefits throughout the day, it is also linked to chronic inflammatory diseases, like heart disease and obesity.

There is an internal timekeeper in your body, your circadian rhythm. You are affected by it on three levels: your brain, your body, and your hormones. Your body receives signals that instruct you when to wake up and when to sleep. 

sleep and gut microbiome

Circadian rhythms are also observed in the gut. By sleeping fewer hours, working shifts, and partying late at night, you may disrupt your body clock.

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 [13]. 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. An excessive amount of stress

High-stress levels and modern lifestyles have harmful effects on our bodies. We still do not consciously implement ways to reduce unsafe levels, much to our detriment.  

There are several ways in which stress affects your microbiome. Heightened stress levels can lower the population of health-promoting bacteria that thrives in your gut.

Inflammation in the gut-brain axis is induced by this reduction, which activates the vagus nerve. It is also possible for harmful bacteria to produce peptides that send stress signals to the brain. 

By reducing diversity and bacterial profiles, stress can affect gut bacteria by reducing blood flow. Many health problems are linked to disruptions to the gut flora, and your gut bacteria has a crucial role in this. Modern lifestyle habits like excessive alcohol consumption, poor sleep, restrictive diets and inactivity harm our guts. 

Shame and guilt are unnecessary. All of us are prone to developing these habits over time.

They are not explosive or damaging as a one-time event but coupled together over time. You are more likely to develop chronic diseases and inflammation as a result of these damage accumulations.

Healthy habits such as consistent physical activity, lowering stress and eating a variety of whole foods will ensure that your gut survives the modern world. In order to improve your gut health, you should educate yourself about the basics of a healthy gut and the simple activities you can do.

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[1] https://gutperformance.com.au/8-lifestyle-habits-destroying-your-gut-health/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29562591/
[3] https://medium.com/the-future-market/introducing-biodiversity-the-intersection-of-taste-and-sustainability-6cb6af84c55
[4] https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/mSystems.00031-18
[5] https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24336217
[6] https://frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2016.00051/full
[7] https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26839963
[8] https://doi.org/10.1113/EP087404
[9] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/95/6/1323/4568378
[10] https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/s152169181730118x
[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23516617/
[12] https://www.nature.com/articles/d42859-019-00019-x
[13] https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27900260

Photograph: phoenixproduction/Envato
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