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Is Your Lifestyle Helping or Harming Your Gut?
There is a whole community living within your intestines. If you’re thinking about billions of microscopic people walking around a city with its own infrastructure run by their own form of government (that sounds more like the plot of a sci-fi film with a cult following) you might be in the wrong place.
No, we’re talking gut flora - the microbiome responsible for your digestive process. Each type of bacteria in your gut requires different conditions to flourish. Some are good bacteria and some are bad. It’s in the best interest of your health to promote good bacteria growth because they destroy harmful bacteria and other microorganisms and produce vital vitamins and minerals.
When the bad bacteria gets out of control, it creates an imbalance called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis and low gut flora diversity are linked to inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease, weight gain that can lead to obesity, insulin resistance, and certain cancers.
How do you ensure that your microbiome stays in a state of balance? Take a good look at your lifestyle and daily habits to see how they might be affecting what’s happening within your body. What are you already doing to help out your gut? Is there anything you can improve? Below are a few facets of your lifestyle that can be contributing to your gut health for good or for bad.
Oral microbiomes are composed of billions of bacteria just like your gut. They live not just on your teeth but on your tongue, cheeks, tonsils, gums, and the roof of your mouth. Everywhere!
Each time you swallow - water, food, saliva - those bacteria get a one way ticket to your gut. Depending on the health of your mouth, this can either help or harm the gut microbiota by altering the composition of the microbiome. The proliferation of good bacteria in your mouth highly increases the chances of good bacteria promotion in your gut, whereas constantly ingesting bad bacteria can lead to numerous issues for your gut and overall health.
Furthermore, chewing, brushing, and flossing push whatever bacteria is in your mouth into the small vessels within your gums. This means easy access to your bloodstream. When you have stellar oral hygiene, the barrier between your mouth and your bloodstream is protected by a good seal.
But chronic gum disease and other infections in your mouth compromise the seal and opens up the opportunity for these germs to get into your blood and travel around your body - including your brain.
Brushing well twice daily helps break up and disorganize the bad bacteria that naturally builds up in particular areas. Flossing helps to dislodge food bits and particles that would attract bad bacteria and cause inflammation in the gums.
Eating fruits and veggies is not only beneficial for your digestion due to the fiber content, but they also help the overall health of your mouth. High fiber foods reduce the progression of gum disease and create more saliva that can help wash away excess food bits. A clean mouth helps make a clean gut.
The presence of alcohol in the gut can cause an imbalance between good gut flora and bad. This imbalance we know as dysbiosis. When bad bacteria is allowed to take over in the gut, it can lead to irritation of the stomach lining, a condition known as gastritis. Some common symptoms of gastritis are stomach pain and diarrhea.
Not to mention, having your GI tract process alcohol leads to inflammation which irritates your intestinal lining. This is because your liver can only keep up with wild partying for so long before it has to close its tab and go home.
Dehydration is another obstacle for optimal gut health regarding alcohol. The antidiuretic hormone (ADH) tells your body to hold on to water. This is what makes stool softening and bulking possible. Alcohol reduces the secretion of ADH and can lead to constipation.
If possible, it’s best for your gut for you to avoid excessive drinking. But when the occasional celebration calls for a few hours of letting loose, remember to drink plenty of water, eat a nutritious meal beforehand, and have a gut healing plan in place.
High amounts of processed sugar in your digestive system leads to overgrowth of yeast and bad gut flora. The imbalance can then lead to sugar cravings (which you’ll probably indulge) that then creates even more damage to your gut. It’s an ugly cycle that leads to a drastic increase in inflammation throughout your body.
With the increase in intestinal yeast, you’ll see symptoms such as fatigue, bacterial infections, joint pain (quite possibly psoriasis), skin and nail fungus, and digestive issues including IBD and ulcers.
If you suspect your level of sugar consumption is causing your stomach to be out of sorts, try changing your diet to include less refined sugars and more naturally derived sugars such as honey or agave. You can incorporate more healing foods such as pomegranates, coconut oil, and turmeric. We also suggest adding our Yeast Buster to help rebalance your gut flora if you suspect an overgrowth of yeast.
It’s widely known that a healthy lifestyle includes a physical activity habit. The muscular, cardiovascular, and metabolic benefits alone are reason enough to take up a spin class or start following a virtual HIIT program. But an interesting new study shows that there are powerful digestive gains to win from exercising a few days a week.
A University of Illinois study had a group of sedentary adults follow an exercise regimen for six weeks after taking samples of their gut microbiota. After the six weeks, researchers took another sample. Many participants had an increase in good gut bacteria that promote the production of short-chain fatty acids. These SCFAs reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Researchers took another sample of the participants’ microbiota after having them return to their sedentary lifestyle period of time. They found that the samples resembled the readings from before the exercise period. This is in support of the argument that an improved gut microbiome is fleeting, and that an active lifestyle should be maintained in order to enjoy the gut benefits.
Sleep is an essential healing element in our lives. But so many Americans perpetuate damaging nighttime habits that inhibit restorative sleep.
Your gut follows a circadian rhythm the same as the rest of your body. Your microbiota alters throughout the day based on the presence, composition, and abundance of your food and drink. Your gut’s circadian rhythm is sensitive to what time of day it is and acts accordingly when it thinks you should be asleep.
Getting too little, or poor quality sleep impacts your gut negatively and can lead to inflammatory diseases. This is directly related to the recovery process your entire body undergoes when you are in sleep mode. Having 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted healing and restoring time is the best gift you can give your gut.
Shut off the screens an hour before bed, dim the lights after dinner, and establish a soothing nighttime ritual so that your body knows that it’s time to start winding down. Your gut will follow suit.
READ OUR 8 TIPS FOR BETTER QUALITY SLEEP >
Chronic high stress levels due to increased production of cortisol, the stress hormone, take a major toll on every corner of your body, including your gut. Read more about the brain-gut axis to find out why that is.
Restorative sleep is one major way to lower your cortisol levels. But there are so many more rewarding steps you can take during the day to help find relief from your everyday stressors. Some of our favorites include:
- Walking in nature
- Practicing gratitude
- Decreasing caffeine intake
- Diffusing essential oils, or burning calming scents
- Finding something that makes you laugh
- Spending time with friends or family - even a phone call if they’re far away
- Playing with a furry friend
For the sake of your gut and your overall health, take a time out from whatever is bothering you or winding you up to exhale your stress and inhale peace. Remember, it’s not about controlling a situation but about how you respond to situations out of your control.
Self Love Is Gut Love
Your everyday life contains habits and rituals that not only shape who you are, but also how your body operates. Consider taking up a few of these lifestyle changes and feel how your body transforms over time. There are few things more satisfying that aligning your actions with the needs of your body. Love yourself, love your gut.