You’ve probably heard the phrases “gut health” and “gut flora” during your visits to the doctor. Most of the time, these terms are mentioned when you’re consulting about your digestive health. But do you understand what they mean?
Essentially, the word “gut” refers to the part of the gastrointestinal tract where trillions of microscopic living organisms such as viruses, fungi, and bacteria reside. These so-called “microbes” comprise the “flora” found in the cecum, a pocket-like portion of the large intestine.
The primary motive of this article is to explain what happens when your gut flora faces an imbalance – called dysbiosis – and the six unexpected things that can cause it.
6 Things That Can Harm Your Gut Flora
There are colonies composed of millions of good bacteria in the body that work together to ensure overall well-being. They are gathered in colonies and work to maintain not just gastrointestinal health but immunity and mental wellness as well.
When one or more of these colonies are imbalanced, you might experience a condition called dysbiosis. Among the common signs and symptoms of dysbiosis include:
- Upset stomach
- Halitosis or bad breath
- Rectal or vaginal itching
- Chest pain
Aside from checking the symptoms, dysbiosis can also be diagnosed through an organic acids test, a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA), and a hydrogen breath test. Treatment can range from oral medication to supplementing with probiotics.
Things Which Can Effect Gut Health
Of course, prevention is still the better option. To make sure you maintain sound gut health, below are six things that can harm the gut flora that you should watch out for:
1. Lack of Food Diversity
Since you were young, you’ve been told to eat a balanced diet. You were even taught about the three food groups and what they do to keep you healthy. But as it turns out, eating the same thing every single time can be harmful to your gut flora and can lead to dysbiosis.
A lack of variety in the food you consume can cause a loss in the microbiome diversity in the gut. And this has a variety of negative effects, including reduced recovery from harmful influences like antibiotics and infection.
To avoid this, be sure to add more types of whole foods, like grains, fruits, and vegetables, on your plate. You should also take note that changing up your diet in just a span of days can significantly alter the profile of your gut flora.
2. Insufficient Prebiotics
If you experience dysbiosis, another thing that could be lacking in your diet is prebiotics. This is a type of fiber that promotes the growth and activity of good bacteria in the gut.
Some foods that are rich in prebiotics include chickpeas, lentils, beans, oats, bananas, asparagus, garlic, artichokes, onions, nuts, and leeks.
3. High Alcohol Consumption
You are probably well-versed in the typical effects of alcohol consumption, but did you know that it can also cause an imbalance in your gut flora?
Studies have confirmed that chronic alcohol consumption can lead to dysbiosis. In one research, it was discovered that 27 percent of alcoholics had an imbalance in their gut microbiome condition, while healthy individuals are perfectly dysbiosis-free.
Interestingly, moderate consumption of certain types of alcoholic drinks has also been found to yield positive effects on gut health. Scientists discovered that red wine raised the number of good bacteria and lessened the population of Clostridium and other harmful gut bacteria. It was revealed that this was due to the beverage’s polyphenol content.
4. Antibiotic Intake
Antibiotics are some of the most prescribed medications to both children and adults, especially when treating infections such as strep throat & urinary tract infections. However, these don’t come without side effects.
One of the most common consequences of taking this type of medicine is antibiotic-associated diarrhea, which is linked to imbalanced gut flora. Scientists discovered that the drug’s bacteria-killing action doesn’t discriminate between the good and the harmful bacteria. Since both are affected, taking antibiotics can also kill off friendly microbes that foster better gut health.
5. Not Enough Physical Activity
Regular physical activities have a variety of benefits, ranging from reduced stress levels to weight loss. However, it was recently discovered that exercising could also affect the balance of bacteria present in the gut.
Based on studies, more physical activity leads to an increased number of both butyrates (a short-chain fatty acid crucial for overall health) and the butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut. Moreover, a study found that professional rugby players had more kinds of friendly bacteria in their gut compared to other controlled groups of the same age, body size, and gender.
6. Lack of Sleep
Physical activity like physical exercise, getting sufficient sleep can also help you avoid dysbiosis, among other chronic ailments like heart disease and obesity. This is because regular and adequate sleep helps the body maintain its circadian rhythm – the 24-hour internal clock that guides you when to sleep and when to stay awake and alert.
Interestingly, the gut also appears to follow a daily “clock” similar to the circadian rhythm. This means that disrupting your body’s natural schedule – be it by working the night shift, eating late in the evening, or not sleeping enough – can cause harm to your gut flora.
Based on one study, two days of sleep deprivation can already cause subtle changes in your gut microbiome. These changes include an increased number of bacteria linked to obesity, fat metabolism, and type 2 diabetes.
It is worth noting, however, that the connection between sleep and gut flora is a new subject of research and still requires more study to establish a more robust link.
Stop Harming Your Gut Flora
Prevention is always the better course of action – this much is right for your health. When it comes to maintaining a healthy gut flora, the best thing you can do is to know the things that can lead to an imbalance in the microbiome and avoid them altogether.