Back in June, we discussed microbiome and its important role in your digestion and overall health. In that article, we defined microbiome and listed several functions and benefits. And then last month, we discussed six ways of improving and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.
In this article, we will discuss some of the things that get in the way of a healthy microbiome – external factors, events and lifestyle factors that can negatively affect your gut. Keeping aware and guarding against these pitfalls will help support a healthy digestive system for a lifetime.
What Causes Disruption To Your Gut Microbiome?
Normally, your gut functions by an intricate symphony of billions of agents working together in your digestive tract to extract nutrition from the foods you eat while moving them through your system. Your gut microbiome is an ecosystem all its own that thrives on most of the foods you eat and provides you with innumerable health benefits in the process.
But when you have an excess of one type of microbe or a deficiency in another type, the intricate symphony can get out of tune – the balance can be disrupted and your gut health along with it. Many different factors can interfere with this balance, including …
1. Method of Birth
Although there are usually important factors that override concerns like the gut microbiome, it is nonetheless important to understand the effect of birth method on the gut microbiome. Babies born by Cesarean section miss the natural ‘launching’ of their gut microbiome that takes place during birth. The guts of babies delivered vaginally start their microbiome after being partially bathed in the mother’s bodily fluids during birth. The sterility of C-section delivery eliminates this natural step resulting in delayed development of lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Because your immune system is partly a function of your gut, these babies are often prone to asthma and allergies.
Sometimes we get sick enough to require an antibiotic – a powerful medicine that kills bacteria. When you’re sick enough to need it, taking antibiotics is worth it – far better than allowing harmful bacteria to damage our bodies. But the problem is that antibiotics are indiscriminate – studies have shown that they kill the good bacteria along with the bad. So, if you must take antibiotics for a severe infection, remember that your gut microbiome will likely have to be restored afterward.
3. Not Enough Dietary Fiber
Fiber is your gut microbiome’s favorite food. Your microbes use a process like fermentation to break down complex carbohydrates (providing additional food for even more beneficial other microbes).
4. Too Much Comfort Food
Repeated studies have found that diets high in fat, meat, and refined sugar will choke off the microbes you need for a healthy gut. In addition, to be very low in fiber, these foods also irritate the lining of your gut and cause obesity which further changes your gut microbiome.
Chronic metabolic diseases (like diabetes) and inflammatory diseases (like arthritis) can also negatively affect the gut microbiome. These illnesses can reduce levels of healthy bacteria in the gut which can further exacerbate the condition.
6. Sedentary Lifestyle
Like your heart, your gut thrives on exertion. Increased exercise increases metabolism which is crucial to the functioning of the gut and the activity of the gut microbiome. In addition to suffering from less active microbiomes, sedentary people also suffer a less diverse microbiome – often lacking in microbes to keep the optimal healthy balance.
7. Carb Starvation
In our May 20 article comparing keto to low-fat diets, we acknowledged that low-carb diets are sometimes very effective in burning fat. But the long-term use of a severely low-carb diet can negatively affect your gut microbiome. This is true simply because the microbes depend mostly on carbs for their own sustenance.
8. Stress and Sleep Health
Psychological stress affects the body and the gut is one of the first places we feel it. We sometimes even describe negative instincts as “I feel it in my gut,” because our stomach chemistry is highly tied to our psychological comfort level. Studies have also shown that sleep is linked to changes in both the abundance and the diversity of the gut microbiome.
9. Prescription Drugs
Certain types of prescription drugs are known to interfere with the gut microbiome. In particular, NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), statins (like Lipitor), and painkillers are known to affect the gut microbiome. Because many of these drugs may be important therapies, speak with a doctor to weigh the risks of any drug therapies you require.
Your gut microbiome takes its cues from your stomach – whatever you eat consistently, that’s what your gut microbiome stays ready to digest. This is why exploring exotic new foods can result in an upset stomach – it is simply because your gut lacks the microbes to correctly process the unexpected new curveball you threw at it.
There is a lot to think about! If you have questions about digestive health, gut microbiome, or any of the conditions discussed here, connecting with a doctor in a discrete setting has never been easier.
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