8 Surprising Ways That You Can Damage Your Healthy Gut Bacteria

7 minute read

You have trillions of bacteria living in your gut but not the type that causes you illness and disease, at least not directly anyway. Your health depends on a delicate balance of bacteria in your gut that keeps harmful strains to a minimum.

There are things you can do to boost gut bacterial health as well as numerous things that can disrupt this balance, allow harmful strains to thrive, and therefore decrease your overall well-being. It’s important you know what habits you have that may be sabotaging your health.

Your Relationship With Gut Bacteria

Your body consists of more microbes than it does cells, which should tell you just how important these microorganisms are. While most of them live within your gut, the impact they have on your health is far-reaching.

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The health of your brain and heart, as well as immune system, can be impacted by these microscopic organisms.

While most of the bacteria living in your gut are beneficial, there are some harmful strains present as well. The good bacteria help improve digestion, produce much needed short-chain fatty acids and vitamin K, and destroy harmful microorganisms in your gut.

If the number of beneficial flora is ever compromised, the harmful strains have the opportunity to colonize and take over. This is when your health is put at risk and inflammatory-related diseases are more likely to develop.

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Imbalanced gut bacteria have been linked to weight gain, inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, and certain types of cancer. It is, therefore, important to maintain abundant levels of bacteria.

Maintaining Abundant Gut Bacteria

In order to maintain optimal digestion and overall health, you need to support your friendly gut flora. Just as there are numerous threats to your health in the world, there are a number of things that can impact the health and diversity of your gut bacteria too.

1. Lack of Diversity in Your Diet

The more diverse your diet is, the more diverse your gut flora will be too. When there is a lack of diversity among your gut bacteria, you are more at risk for infection as each strain brings specific benefits to your health.

What you eat helps your gut bacteria to flourish and grow, so a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains and fiber is ideal.

Sadly, the Western diet these days centers around processed foods and limited plant and animal sources, causing our bacterial diversity to wane. By making a few changes to your diet, and eating a variety of food, you can restore healthy gut bacterial numbers and can see a difference in your health in as little as a few days.

2. Too Much Alcohol

Alcohol is not only addictive, but it is also toxic and dangerous for your physical and mental health. Alcohol has a specific impact on your gut health in that it contributes to an imbalanced gut community.

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Harmful bacteria thrive upon the sugars in alcohol, thereby weakening the beneficial strains and increasing your risk for infection and disease.

3. Lack of Physical Exercise

A lack of physical exercise has been found to impact the health and abundance of your gut bacteria. This does not mean you have to run a marathon, though, like walking, swimming, and even gardening count as a beneficial activity.

Not only does exercise help you lose weight and lower stress, but it also helps support bacterial health by enhancing diversity. Studies have found that physically active individuals have a more diverse community of gut flora, showing that a little exercise can keep you healthy at even the most microscopic levels.

4. Smoking

Cigarettes, like alcohol, are toxic to your health. Not only do they increase your risk for lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease, but their toxic ingredients contribute to inflammation in your gut.

Studies have found that quitting increases the diversity of your gut microbiome and your health.

5. Antibiotics

Often we require antibiotics to kill off bacteria that are causing us to be sick. The problem is that these drugs also kill off the friendly flora.

Antibiotics deplete your gut bacteria on a short-term basis, but it is enough of a window that harmful strains can take over your gut. The best way to avoid this is to limit antibiotic use to times when it is necessary and to take a quality probiotic supplement in conjunction with the medications. This will help to maintain a healthy gut bacteria balance.

6. Lack of Prebiotics

Your body requires certain nutrients to thrive, and the bacteria in your gut are no different. Prebiotics are foods containing the dietary fiber that these bacteria thrive upon.

Your body is not able to digest this fiber, but the bacteria in your gut can and they love it. The typical Western diet of high-sugar and high-fat foods deprives these bacteria of prebiotics, which contributes to their elimination.

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By including prebiotic foods, such as oats, lentils, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, and nuts, you can be assured that your gut bacteria stay strong.

7. Lack of Sleep

A good night’s sleep is essential to your overall health because it allows every part of you to rest and recover. Disrupting your sleep pattern can lead to cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, and disrupted gut health.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the gut bacteria that are associated with obesity and diabetes, so getting adequate sleep each night is necessary to keep your health optimal.

8. Stress

Stress is a part of everyday life, but repeated exposure can take a toll on your health. High levels of stress can reduce blood flow and alter the health of your gut bacteria by reducing the presence of beneficial strains.

As gut diversity decreases, more harmful populations can develop, which will raise inflammation in your gut and impact your health overall.

The Bottom Line

The bacteria in your gut may be small, but they have a big impact on your well-being. In general, you need to maintain a balanced and diverse diet, regular exercise, add a quality probiotic supplement to your daily regimen, and limit harmful behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol intake.

By tracking what you do and how it affects your gut bacteria, you can better understand how to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. You’ll feel better, and your gut bacteria will, too.

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