Lifestyle Factors and Gut Health
If you’ve read the blog post Food for Gut Health you’ll have some ideas as to what to eat to promote gut health. Here are more ideas, beyond what you eat, to promote a healthy digestive system.
Exercise – physical activity helps increase healthy bacterial populations and promotes microbial diversity, along with numerous additional benefits for long-term health. A sedentary lifestyle can increase harmful bacteria and reduce microbial diversity in the gut, contributing to increased risk of diseases and infections.
Chronic Stress – stress and anxiety impact colonic motor activity via the gut-brain axis which can alter the profile of the gut microbiome, including reducing numbers of beneficial Lactobacillus species. Stress may also contribute to IBS, which is associated with changes in the microbial populations via the central nervous system (1). Learn techniques to manage how you react to what happens to you. Meditation, yoga, qi gong, breathing exercises and mindfulness are all recommended.
Time Spent in Nature – being outside increases the range of bacteria that you are exposed to and this increases microbial diversity. Gardening is particularly beneficial as this exposes you to a wide range of soil organisms.
Travel – travelling overseas increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases, including those that cause diarrhoea. Some infections may go undiagnosed but result in long-term gut problems, including IBS. Poor sanitary conditions in developing countries, and poor personal hygiene, can facilitate the spread of infectious agents. Travelling across time zones also disrupts the circadian rhythm which impacts gut health and alters microbial populations (1).
Shift Work – disrupts the circadian rhythm, the digestive system and the gut microbiome (1).
Environmental toxins – including household cleaning products, cosmetics, heavy metals and other pollutants can negatively alter the gut microbiome.
Poor sleep habits – can lead to dysbiosis, inflammation and impaired immune function.
Teeth and Gum Health – bacteria from the mouth can get into the stomach and cause problems with digestion. Avoid sugary foods and heavily processed foods as these can cause yeasts to thrive. Brush your teeth for 3-4 minutes twice a day. Oil pulling can also help to keep the mouth clean. First thing in the morning swish 1 tablespoon of oil (coconut, sesame, olive or other unrefined oil) around your mouth for 10-20 minutes until the oil feels thin. Spit it out and rinse the mouth well.
Gentle Gut Cleansing – safe elimination of toxins is a vital part of health. The dietary tips provided in the Food for Gut Health blog will help with this. In addition, detoxifying and binding herbs and formulas are available. These include Modified Citrus Pectin, seaweed-derived alginates, milk thistle, dandelion root and leaf, garlic, coriander, L-glutathione, Acetyl-L-Cysteine, activated charcoal, bentonite clay, chitosan, chlorella, diatomaceous earth, zeolites, silica gel, psyllium husk and vitamin C.
Space Between Meals – it’s beneficial to give the microbiome a rest between meals and especially overnight. At night the gut microbes work to clean up your gut lining and keep it healthy. Aim to leave at least 12 hours between your last meal in the evening and your breakfast in the morning and avoid snacking between meals.
Smoking – smoking has a negative effect on bowel health with a significant influence on the gut microbiota composition (1). If you smoke talk to your GP about ways to stop.
See also blog post 7 Gut Disruptors for what to avoid if you want a healthy digestive system.
1. 2015 Jan; 7(1): 17–44. The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Conlon MA, Bird AR.