The human gut is home to trillions of bacteria known as the ‘gut microbiome’. Having a healthy gut microbiome also referred to as gut flora is highly important for overall health. The gut microbiome is made up of hundreds of species of bacteria, some of which are friendly, while others are not. The friendly gut bacteria play an important role in digestion, producing vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids and destroying harmful bacteria and other microorganisms. Interestingly, lifestyle, dietary and environmental factors can have a negative effect on your gut flora. In this article, Dr. Amit Miglani, Director & HOD – Gastroenterology, Asian Hospital Faridabad shares major factors that affect gut health.
An imbalance of harmful vs. friendly gut flora known as dysbiosis along with a reduction in the diversity of gut flora has been linked to inflammation, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, and colorectal cancer. Therefore, it is incredibly important to keep your gut flora as abundant and friendly as possible.
Factors that cause poor gut health
Without further ado, here are important things that can cause harm to your gut bacteria and affect your digestive system.
1. Not consuming a diverse range of foods
Generally, a healthy flora is one that contains rich and diverse gut bacteria. And a diet consisting of a wide variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains can bring about more diverse gut flora. In fact, changing your diet can work on altering your gut flora in only a few days.
A diet lacking in a diverse range of whole foods can result in a loss of gut flora diversity which in turn may lead to a number of negative health effects.
2. Absence of Prebiotics
Prebiotics are a type of fibre commonly found in fruits and vegetables that passes undigested through the body and promotes the growth and activity of friendly gut bacteria. A lack of prebiotics in the diet may be harmful to your gut health in general.
Foods rich in prebiotics include beans, garlic, nuts, bananas, and oats among others.
3. Drinking too much alcohol
Alcohol consumption is addictive and when consumed in large amounts it can have harmful physical and mental effects. It has a negative effect on gut bacteria as well.
However, when consumed in moderation - the polyphenol content in red wine may have a protective effect on gut flora.
4. Cigarette smoking
Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of harmful chemicals. Smoking has a detrimental effect on every part of the body and raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
5. Being physically inactive
Regular physical activity has a number of health benefits including weight loss, lower levels of stress, and a reduced risk of chronic disease. Recent studies suggest it may also alter the gut flora, improving gut health.
Walking, cycling, swimming, and gardening are all examples of physical activity.
6. Antibiotic Use
Antibiotics are important medicines used to treat bacterial infections and have saved millions of lives over the past 80 years. However, the downside is that they affect both good and bad bacteria and also lead to long-term alterations in the gut flora. The harmful effects of antibiotics can last on gut bacteria for as long as two years.
7. Getting insufficient sleep
Getting the required hours of good sleep is very important for overall health. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of diseases including heart disease, obesity, and more. Your gut health is also affected by your sleeping pattern. Disrupting your body clock with improper sleep, working in shifts or eating late at night can affect your gut bacteria.
Being healthy isn’t only about a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and getting the required hours of sleep. High levels of stress can have a negative effect on your body. As far as gut health is concerned, it can reduce blood flow, increase sensitivity and alter the bacteria in your gut.