Greetings readers, we have all heard that it is very important to have healthy lifestyle habits such as eating well, staying active and keeping up with our health screenings.
You certainly can’t change your genes or much of the environment around you, but making educated and purposeful choices when it comes to diet, activity, sleep, alcohol use, and smoking can reduce health risks. and potentially add years to your life.
In this article I will explain the incredible impact that lifestyle has on our intestinal health. Many people mistakenly believe that our digestive health depends solely on diet and things like fermented food.
However, this is just one of the ways our lifestyle affects our microbiome.
What is the microbiome?
The average human intestine contains about 1 kg of bacteria. These bacteria contain millions of microbes that live inside our intestines, collectively these microbes respond to the name of “the microbiome” .
Of course, this beneficial bacteria has a job to do and plays an important role in our overall health.
Some of the main duties of our gut microbes include:
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- Help with digestion and food processing.
- Help the manufacture of vitamins.
- Protection against harmful bacteria (pathogens).
Why are the microbiome and “good bacteria” important?
Have you ever heard of gene expression?
In general, a large section of people still believe that our health is due to genes and luck. They think that our genes predetermine our life and that we can only hope for the best.
Actually, the way we live our lives plays an important role in gene expression and determines the activation of these genes. Simply put, just because someone has a single cancer gene doesn’t mean it is activated.
While gut bacteria and health are an emerging field , some recent research is showing that our microbiome can directly influence gene expression.
In fact, the health of our microbiome is linked to susceptibility to cancer, heart disease, dementia, and diabetes.
Additionally, there are close links between the microbiome and mental health. Therefore, having a well-balanced community of good bacteria in our gut can protect against anxiety and depression.
Equally important is the connection between the microbiome and allergies and asthma. Researchers believe that a diverse microbiota has a strong influence, and that early exposure to a variety of helpful bacteria reduces infant risk.
How can we improve our intestinal health?
There are a number of ways we can support the beneficial bacteria in our gut, you may already be aware of the benefits of fermented foods, but there are other lifestyle factors that influence our microbiome as well.
In addition to what we eat, the following things are important:
- Exposure to toxins
Let’s take a look at each of these topics and how they affect our gut health.
1- Sleep directly and indirectly influences intestinal health.
It is important to get enough sleep so that our body has the necessary time to rest and repair itself, in addition, chronic lack of sleep can have a strong association with the risk of diseases.
Particularly relevant to sleep, is the human circadian cycle, also known as “the human body clock”, these cycles have a strong influence on health, in fact, there is evidence that poorly organized sleep cycles negatively affect our intestinal health by altering the microbiota.
Also, lack of sleep increases cravings for junk food such as refined carbohydrates and sugar, therefore, sleep deprivation can cause an increase in the consumption of these foods.
As is known, refined carbohydrates feed harmful bacteria and this could indirectly lead to poorer gut health.
👉 Improve your gut health through sleep.
- Try to adopt a regular sleeping pattern and stick to it.
- Instead of reading one more article, or watching one more episode – just go to bed! You can do it the next day.
- Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep a day.
2- Exercise improves intestinal health
Exercise is another important consideration in our repertoire for one more lifestyle. Since exercise has so many health benefits, it should be part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone.
Interestingly, in recent years, various published studies show how exercise has a significant effect on the microbiome.
Looking at the research, it appears that physical activity should be encouraged from an early age if we want optimal gut health for our children.
A recent study showed that daily exercise in young people can stimulate the formation of a more beneficial microbial system.
Particularly interesting is a study that presented data on how environmental pollutants can damage the gut microbiome. These detrimental effects are reversed with participation in the exercise.
Among the most notable findings on exercise and gut health are the following:
- Athletes show significantly greater microbial diversity than non-athletes.
- Modifying the gut microbiota through exercise could be a “powerful tool” in the fight against disease.
- Exercise alters gut immune function and microbial diversity.
👉 Improve your gut health through exercise.
- Try to do a resistance workout of 20 minutes or more at least twice a week.
- Move … a lot! Humans are not sedentary by nature, and you should move as much as possible.
- Walk reasonable distances instead of using your car or taking the train.
Everyone knows that stress is bad for you. Sometimes the pressures of modern life are just too much, the bills to be paid, the miserable boss at work, the search for a new job and more, there are many reasons to feel stressed.
Unfortunately, chronic stress is extremely unhealthy , lowers the body’s ability to deal with inflammation, and shares the links with chronic disease.
Due to the release of stress-related hormones, stress can also have a negative impact on gut health. These stress-related hormones induce changes in our intestinal surface and can relocate beneficial bacteria.
The net result of this is that we are more susceptible to infection. Stress can also have other effects on the health of our gut.
Some of them include the alteration of the intestinal microbiota, the change of the gastrointestinal secretions and the increase of the intestinal permeability.
👉 How can we protect our gut health against stress?
- Try not to worry or overthink things.
- Don’t ignore the stressors in your life, deal with them and make a plan to deal with them.
- Consider carefully if something (or someone) in your life makes you unhappy.
- Take steps to improve your diet and sleep; both influence mood and stress.
Everyone has some element of stress in their lives, what matters is how we handle it.
4- Antibiotics destroy gut health and damage the microbiome
While our gut bacteria love to feed on prebiotic foods, there is one thing they hate, antibiotics. As you may know, most drugs have side effects and one of these side effects is harming our little bacterial friends.
This class of drugs has a variable range of effects on the microbiome, and none of them are good. Administration of antibiotics appears to damage the cell membranes of the gut microbiota cells.
It is worrying that a single exposure to antibiotics can change the state of the microbiome for a year. Exposures to antibiotics early in life are particularly harmful.
Still, the science is clear. If you want a healthy gut, minimize the use of antibiotics unless necessary.
5- Exposure to toxins damages intestinal health.
Finally, several compounds act as toxins for the bacteria in our intestines.
Three of them are the following:
Several studies show that artificial sweeteners cause harm to the health of our intestines. In tests with saccharin, the participants suffered a decrease in the balance of good bacteria.
In addition to this, their glycemic response worsened and they showed signs of strong dysbiosis.
Frighteningly, artificial sweeteners appear to induce glucose intolerance through their adverse effect on the gut microbiota.
Pesticides or commercial pesticides are another compound that can have significant effects on our gut health.
Studies show that chronic exposure to low doses of pesticides leads to dysbiosis in the subject.
In a study investigating the impact of glyphosate on bacterial microbes, all beneficial bacteria had a moderate to high susceptibility to damage from the chemical.
However, highly pathogenic bad bacteria (such as Salmonella) were very resistant.
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are another form of medication that affects the good bacteria in our gut.
As a result, people taking proton pump inhibitors for conditions like acid reflux may unknowingly be damaging the health of their intestines.
Most significantly, PPI use is consistently associated with “profound changes” in the gut microbiome of users compared to non-users.
In addition to this, additional studies show that long-term use of PPIs reduces the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria and leads to small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
The health of our microbiome has a strong influence on our digestion, mood, and immunity.
All things considered, the health of our gut is essential to our overall well-being.
But the state of our intestines largely depends on the lifestyle decisions or healthy habits that each of us makes.
As with most things, a healthy diet full of real food, enough sleep, and exercise are essential.