Maintaining good gut health goes beyond diet

By accessing your gut microbiome profile, you gain a peek into the communication system of microbes that live inside all of us. As reported by the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), we are mostly microbes. Our human genes are outnumbered at least 150 to 1 by the genes of our microbes. In other words, we are completely dominated by the microbes in and on our bodies.

Innumerable studies now concur that our gut microbiome is the No.1 influencer of wellness. It influences immunity, bone health, energy production, metabolism, weight, aging, skin health, hormones, thoughts, and more.

While much has been written about how the food we consume impacts our gut health, it’s not the only factor to consider. Lifestyle can also make or break your gut microbiome. Here are five of the top non-dietary influences on your gut microbiome that you should know about:

  1. Exercise

Obesity among children in the U.S. is worsening, especially in the age group under five, according to the journal Pediatrics. This is very bad health news on many levels, especially since a variety of published studies show how exercise exerts a significant effect on our gut microbiome. One such study in GEN showed that daily exercise in the young can stimulate the formation of a healthier microbial system that will pay benefits for a lifetime.

Another study shows how exercise can reverse the detrimental effects of gut microbiome damage cause by environmental contaminants. And yet another interesting report shows how athletes exhibit a “significantly greater” microbiome diversity than non-athletes, and that the modification of gut microbiota through exercise can be a “powerful tool” in the fight against disease.

Nationally recognized sports nutritionist, strength and conditioning coach Brandon Mentore says that physical activity causes your body to pump, contract, expand and move fluids around all throughout your system.

“The kinetic action that exercise has on the gut microbiome has a cleansing effect that increases bacterial cycling, turnover and refresh rates,” Mentore says. “The more flow there is in your system the less ‘stale’ your bacterial profile will be.”

Mentore says exercise also improves the microbiome through recovery because exercise is a form of stress that breaks down the body and stresses the systems. We reap the benefits during recovery by upregulating the immune system and reducing inflammation as well as oxidation.

“Bacteria that have a similar profile and function to these processes work to copy themselves and overpower bacteria that have a weaker effect on the immune system, and are pro-inflammatory and oxidative,” says Mentore.

Another way exercise influences the microbiome is through the biochemistry of the gut and corresponding body systems. Certain bacteria thrive in various pH ranges. Some bacteria do well in a more acidic environment and others in a more alkaline environment, and then there’s the balance between the two. Exercise can shift your pH and alter your microbiome improving the relationship between the acid-alkaline balance to a more favorable, healthier profile.

  1. Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can adversely impact your gut microbiome sooner than you might think. A Swedish study showed that even healthy, young adults who receive insufficient sleep for only two consecutive nights had detrimental changes in their microbiomes. After two nights of just 4.5 hours of sleep, the numbers of beneficial strains of microbes in subjects’ digestive tracts were reduced by nearly half. Participants also became about 20 percent less resistant to insulin as their microbiome began to resemble those of obese individuals.

This study also pointed out that even short naps during the day can’t compensate for regular eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. That’s because your entire body — including your microbiome — is designed for predictable cycles of sleep, wakefulness, and eating. Disrupting that rhythm negatively impacts both the regular oscillations and composition of the microbiome.

There is also ample data from animal studies that show an unbalanced gut microbiota can lead to circadian misalignment.

And there’s further research that lack of sleep increases cravings for junk food such as refined carbohydrates and sugar. Refined carbohydrates are known to feed harmful bacteria, which could by itself indirectly lead to poorer gut health.

  1. Stress

If you’re a worrier, you may have a lot more to worry about than you think.

We have between 50 to 70 trillion gut microbes — more than all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The gut microbiome is a vast ecosystem of organisms such as bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and protozoans that live in our digestive tract, which collectively weigh up to 2 kg. (heavier than the average brain). The trillions of gut  bacteria, many of which are vital, break down food and toxins and help make vitamins.

Stress significantly disrupts the homeostasis (balance) of our microbiomes, according to an Oregon State University study. Researchers discovered that when someone is under stress, gut microbiome communities become discombobulated and behave erratically. These stress factors can include everything from extreme temperatures and smoking to diabetes and simple anxiety.

Stress can also release stress-related hormones that negatively impact gut microbes. These stress-related hormones can cause changes in our intestinal surface that relocates beneficial bacteria from where they should be. The end result is often increased susceptibility to infection.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology (NCBI) a stressful lifestyle alters intestinal microbiota, which negatively impacts intestinal permeability and gastrointestinal secretions.

  1. Medications

Antibiotics and other strong medications may provide short-term relief, but at what cost?

Once thought of as a miracle drug that could do no wrong, a mounting body of research portrays antibiotics as your gut flora’s worst nightmare. Rather than just targeting bacteria that cause disease, antibiotics wipe out all microbes, both friend and foe, creating a microbiota imbalance that can lead to an assortment of health issues including weakened immune function, hormonal problems, allergies, eczema, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mood disorders, inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and obesity.

A study of American Indians who had never been exposed to antibiotics showed that they had the highest microbiome diversity ever exhibited by any human group.

A similar study found that there’s a decrease in microbiome diversity in developed countries compared to societies with no access to Western medicine.

Research published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology reports that antibiotics appear to damage the cell membranes of gut microbiota cells.

“Pharmaceuticals adversely influence our gut microbiome,” says certified health coach Connie Rogers. “The overuse of medications, the abundance of stress, and hormonal disruption, may lead us down the path of depleted neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that are essential for life. Neurotransmitters are dependent on microbiome and mitochondria health.”

A team of researchers at the McMaster University and St. Joseph’s Health Care Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, concluded that even low-dose penicillin could make us more aggressive by triggering neurochemical changes in the brain and creating a gut bacteria imbalance.

The study, published in Nature Communications, is significant because it offers further evidence that antibiotics screw up the microbe balance in the gut, which compromises the blood-brain barrier and can lead to psychological problems, ranging from anti-social and aggressive behavior to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The study also is important because while past research has shown similar results with high doses of antibiotics, this is the first study proving that even a small amount of antibiotics can have dire consequences.

Acid reflux? The medication you take for this may also be compromising your gut health. Proton-pump inhibitors are a group of drugs whose main action is a pronounced and long-lasting reduction of stomach acid production. But studies show proton pump inhibitors to be associated with “profound changes” in the gut microbiome of users compared to non-users, and that prolonged use reduces the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria leading to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

  1. Environment

Have you ever seen an exterminator who looked healthy? Avoid pesticides. Studies show that chronic low-dose exposure to pesticides leads to dysbiosis — a microbial imbalance or maladaptation on or inside the body, such as an impaired microbiota.

Also try to avoid those commercial weed-killing herbicides, even the friendly looking ones commonly sold at your local garden nurseries. Like Monsanto’s Roundup. That’s Roundup R-O-U-N-D-U-P. Why Roundup? Because the active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, which kills plants by stopping them from creating proteins responsible for growth. Turns out glyphosate also damages beneficial gut bacteria.

One particularly disturbing study demonstrated how glyphosate is bad news for the good microbes in your gut but not a big deal for highly pathogenic bad bacterias such as Salmonella, which has an amazing resistance.

Artificial sweeteners are compounds that research has also exposed as being toxic to our gut microbiome. In tests using saccharin, participants experienced a decline in the balance of good bacteria. Their glycemic response worsened as well with signs of strong dysbiosis. Artificial sweeteners’ attack on the gut microbiota also appears to induce glucose intolerance.

A rapidly-growing body of research indicates that other compounds used in industry, agriculture, consumer goods and medications also harm gut microbes resulting in adverse downstream effects on our health.

Heading this list is triclosan, a synthetic antibacterial chemical found in personal care products such as soap, mouthwash, toothpaste, hand sanitizer and deodorant. Triclosan is easily absorbed through the skin and gastrointestinal tract and rapidly alters the microbial composition of the gastrointestinal tract.

This restructuring of the gut microbiome impairs the immune system-regulating activities of gut microbes. Frequent use of antibacterial products has been associated with an increased risk of food sensitivities, seasonal allergies, and asthma.

Health Shields – Do They Exist?

Obviously, controlling your lifestyle so you sleep and exercise more, worry less and avoid unnecessary medications will go a long way in keeping your gut microbiome healthy. But for added protection, also consider these measures:

  • Detox pesticides by eating fermented foods
  • Eat organic fruits, legumes, beans, and vegetables
  • Use probiotics such as Just Thrive
  • Use Prebiotics such as Equilibrium
  • Take antioxidant supplements such as Hydra molecular hydrogen tablets
  • Eat foods rich in polyphenols such as blueberries and almonds
  • Stimulate your vagus nerve.

Gut Microbiome Profile Via Testing

Conventional medicine’s indifference to our gut microbiome is partially responsible for the surge in chronic illness that accounts for almost 50 percent of Americans who have at least one chronic disease.  Most conventional doctors will probably give you a sideways smile if you ask them for an evaluation of your gut microbiome.

However, due to advances in RNA sequencing, it’s possible to receive a cutting-edge microbial report from a team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and physicians who take the gut microbiome very seriously.

Less than two years ago they founded a startup called Viome and now offer the Gut Intelligence Test that analyzes a stool sample to determine microbial balance, as well as what gut microorganisms, are actually doing. Based on the result, supplements are recommended along with foods to eat (or not eat) to improve overall health including having more energy, better moods, improved skin and sounder sleep.

Viome’s Gut Intelligence test costs $399 and includes personalized and actionable dietary recommendations via a Viome app. The first report normally is received three weeks after initial testing. During the year of service, customers may also re-test for an additional $199 per test. To save $50, click here and use code HONEYCOLONY at checkout.

Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest ten years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.

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HoneyColony and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on HoneyColony is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program.

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