Gut bacteria play a very important role in daily health. The gut microbiome is the hundreds of microorganisms that live in your intestines. Research shows that every individual has about 200 individual species of bacteria, viruses and fungi which contribute to optimal health. They reduce the risk of diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.
What role does the gut microbiome play in your health?
Gut health is linked to immunity, mental health, and cardiovascular health. Studies show that poor gut health can lead to an increased risk of cancer, poor mental health, endocrine disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease and autoimmune disease. Having diverse gut bacteria can improve your overall health.
When your gut microbiome’s health isn’t at its optimal level, you may notice some changes in your physical condition.
1. Upset stomach
Constantly feeling bloated, extreme flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, acid reflux or heartburn can be a sign of an unhealthy gut. Having imbalanced gut health makes it more difficult to digest food. In addition, waste disposal is also affected and this can cause multiple disruptions in your digestive tract.
2. Increased inflammation
Research shows that a diet of high sugar can lead to an altered gut microbiome and this can in turn lead to inflammation. This is when the body sends cells to defend against pathogens, a foreign microbe or an irritant. Sometimes the body can misread signals and thinks its own tissues are harmful which leads to autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes. Signs of acute inflammation include pain, redness, swelling, and heat in the area.
3. Unplanned weight changes
Gaining and losing weight without changing your diet or exercising can be a sign of an unhealthy gut microbiome. With an imbalanced gut, your digestive system can’t absorb nutrients properly, regulate blood sugar levels and affects how your body stores fat. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can lead to weight loss due to poor nutritional absorption. Weight gain can be caused by insulin resistance and increased inflammation.
Imbalanced gut bacteria can lead to poor sleep which causes chronic fatigue. This may be due to inflammation, metabolic function and mental health.
5. Skin irritation
Lower concentrations of gut bacteria can affect the body’s immune system. Sometimes psoriasis is caused by the presence of harmful bacteria in the gut.
6. Food intolerance
This is due to difficulty digesting certain foods. It differs from a food allergy, which is caused by the immune system reacting to different foods. Food intolerance such as lactose intolerance can be caused by poor quality of gut bacteria. It can lead to bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and nausea. Some studies do show that food allergies can be caused by an imbalanced gut microbiome.
What habits lead to poor gut health?
One of the most common ways to know that your gut microbiome is unhealthy is by having inconsistent poop. Being constipated or having runny poo can be a sign of imbalanced gut bacteria. As a result, doctors can recommend a poop transplant where you get a healthy sample transplanted into your rectum. The transplants are done via capsule or through a colonoscopy.
With gut diversity decreasing for most people, poop transplants are becoming more common. However, they aren’t a cure-all for most health concerns. According to Dr Blair Merrick, a clinical research fellow at the Faecal Microbiota Transplant at Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust, some gut bacteria species are going extinct due to the changing lifestyles. Stresses and vices of modern life are contributing to this.
1. Strong spirits
Spirits are bad for gut health. Wines and ciders contain polyphenols which feed gut bacteria and increase microbiota diversity. Spirits kill gut microbiota. When having a strong drink, try to limit your intake.
Longer breaks between meals help your microbes. Every Sunday, delay breakfast and opt for a later brunch to help your digestive microbiota to regenerate. Snacking at night imbalances the gut microbiome. Different microbes work at night to fix the gut lining. Avoid midnight snacks.
Not all plant milks are created equal. To keep the liquid stable, manufacturers add emulsifiers. These destroy gut bacteria, including good gut bacteria.
Anti-bacterial mouthwash helps destroy halitosis. However, most mainstream mouthwashes hurt oral microbiota. You need to balance the bacteria in your mouth to maintain gut health. Additionally, oral bacteria directly affect gut bacteria.
Sitting at your desk for most hours of the day can increase stress and ruin your posture. But it can also increase the risk of irritable bowel syndrome. You need to exercise for the useful bacteria in your gut to thrive. You should walk around for at least five minutes after every two to three hours. In addition, you can do jumping jacks or jump rope.
6. Chewing gum
A gum habit leads to an over-production of digestive acids. When chewing gum, the gut is triggered as though there is food. When there’s nothing to digest, the digestive juices don’t stop production. This also kills a lot of gut bacteria.
Even a healthy diet that’s repeated daily isn’t great for your gut health. It’s necessary to have a varied diet to enable your gut microbiome to thrive. Where affordable, try to eat 30 different foods each week. Mix your porridge with chia seeds one morning then with fruit the next day. You can also have fruits one day then nuts the next.
9. Diet soda
Zero-sugar and diet sodas are bad for gut health and lead to irritable bowel syndrome. This is because the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas lead to an imbalance known as dysbiosis. Too much diet soda can also lead to feelings of anxiety. Less gut bacteria diversity leads to reduced production of tryptophan, which is metabolised into serotonin, a hormone that leaves the brain feeling happy. Opt for water instead of diet soda.
Gloria Mari is a culture writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. She writes on art, film, literature, health, and the environment. She has previously written for Kenya Buzz, People Daily, The Elephant, and Kalahari Review.