The importance of gut health has been gaining more and more attention in recent years. The GI tract has been called “the microbiome,” “the body’s second brain,” and will likely receive countless other nicknames. No matter what you choose to call it, maintaining your body’s gut health should be one of your priorities. Managing your microbiota – the 300 to 500 types of bacteria containing nearly 2 million genes in your intestines – is critically important to your overall health. Researchers believe it could help keep serious conditions like diabetes and colon cancer at bay, and findings also suggest gut bacteria affects everything from your immune system to your metabolism.
Yet, some of the decisions we make every day could be impacting our gut health – and not in a good way. While there are many environmental and lifestyle habits which can affect the microbiome, here are three of the most notorious offenders that can alter its balance:
While one glass won’t derail your system, excess consumption could cause trouble. Too much alcohol can irritate the intestines and alter your hormone levels, thereby allowing inflammation to take place. Because this inflammation can also lead to leaky gut syndrome – a condition which could be the precursor for serious chronic conditions – it’s a good idea to drink sparingly, if you choose to at all.
Stress is the body’s natural response to threats. Yet, stress can lead to an increase in cortisol (called “the stress hormone”), which can impact your immune system and disrupt the balance of the microbiome. Moreover, research shows the gut and brain health are directly linked, with up to 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin being produced by the digestive tract. The relationship between mental health and the gut therefore goes both ways, which is why it’s important to find healthy ways to control stress.
While the purpose of antibiotics is to fight infection, they can also kill good bacteria in your gut as well. Although most people only take antibiotics when they really need them, it’s never a bad idea to ask your doctor if there are alternative treatments available. For instance, while antibiotics are widely prescribed for conditions like bronchitis, these illnesses are often caused by viral infections. Some experts believe taking antibiotics for conditions like acute bronchitis could actually be harmful.
Of course, if your condition truly does warrant the use of antibiotics, you should always follow your health care provider’s recommendations. You can restore your gut flora after medications by taking specific strains of probiotics and incorporating probiotic foods into your diet, such as yogurt, kefir, and tempeh. Colostrum is a key source as well to help maintain a healthy gut. Additionally, consuming bone broth, collagen, and foods with vitamin C can help strengthen the bacteria lining your digestive tract both while on antibiotics and afterwards.