Keep Your “Gut Feeling”: Tips to Preserve Your Gut Microbes

The gut and brain are connected and in communication with each other; it’s called the gut-brain axis, and our microbiome may play an important role in this connection.

A microbiome is a major ecological community of bacteria, viruses, yeast, and other microbes living in and on your body, sending signals to your brain that affect your mood and behavior.

What can you do to help maintain a healthy microbiome?

1. Get Enough Fiber

Prebiotics are dietary fiber that passes through the body undigested and promotes the growth and activity of friendly gut bacteria. Many foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, naturally contain prebiotic fiber. Fibers are the main meal for good gut microbes.

A recent study showed that when microbes are starved of fiber, they can start to feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, possibly triggering inflammation and disease (also known as Leaky Gut Syndrome).

Prebiotic fiber supplements also promote the production of short-chain fatty acids are the main nutrient source for the cells in your colon. They can be absorbed into your blood, where they promote metabolic and digestive health (Hannah D. Holscher, Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut Microbes, Feb 2017).

2. Cut Back on Alcohol

According to Dr. Josh Axe, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com alcohol can cause oxidative stress and upset the delicate microbial balance within the gut. In other words, alcohol may cause “bad bacteria” in the gut to proliferate more easily, while killing off “good gut bacteria.” Some research shows that Gin (a distilled alcohol beverage) decreases the number of beneficial gut bacteria. However, an interesting thing is that red wine actually increases the abundance of gut-friendly bacteria and decreases the number of harmful gut bacteria like Clostridium. The beneficial effect of moderate red wine consumption on gut bacteria appears to be due to its polyphenol content (Amit Kumar Sing et al ,Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenol on Gut Microbiota,  Nutrients, September 2019).

3. Protect Yourself Against Antibiotic After-effects

Antibiotics are important medicines used to treat infections. They work by either killing bacteria or preventing them from multiplying. They usually cause a short-term decline in beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, and can temporarily increase harmful bacteria like Clostridium. However, antibiotics can also lead to long-term alterations in the gut microbes. After completing a dose of antibiotics, most bacteria return after 1–4 weeks, but their numbers often don’t return to previous levels. (Sheng Zhang, et al, Facing a new challenge: the adverse effects of antibiotics on gut microbiota and host immunity, Chinese Medicinal Journal, May 2019). These harmful changes in the composition and diversity of the gut microbes can have long-lasting effects. By taking probiotics (though not within a few hours before or after taking an antibiotic), you can help protect the “good” bacteria in your system from the antibiotic effects.

4. Get Moving

Being physically active has a number of health benefits, including weight loss, lower stress levels and a reduced risk of chronic disease

Recent studies suggest that physical activity may also alter the gut bacteria, improving gut health . Athletes had higher levels of Akkermansia, a bacteria shown to play an important role in metabolic health and the prevention of obesity. Active women had a higher abundance of health-promoting bacteria, including Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia, suggesting that regular physical activity, even at low-to-moderate intensities, can be beneficial. (Carlo Bressa et al;Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women; Feb 2017, PLOSONE)

5. Kick the Smoking Habit

Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals .Cigarette smoking is also one of the most important environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease, a disease characterized by ongoing inflammation of the digestive tract. Furthermore, smokers are twice as likely to have Crohn’s disease, a common type of inflammatory bowel disease, compared to non-smokers. Smoking decreases gut flora diversity, which is a marker of a healthy gut (B M Calkins, A meta-analysis of the role of smoking in inflammatory bowel disease; Dec 1989 Digestive Disease Science). 

6. Get Sufficient Rest

Sleep is so important that your body has its own time-keeping clock. It’s a 24-hour internal clock that affects your brain, body and hormones, It appears that the gut also follows a daily clock . Disrupting your body clock due to a lack of sleep may have harmful effects on your gut bacteria.  

A 2016 study was the first to explore the effects of short-term sleep deprivation on the composition of gut flora. Two days of sleep deprivation caused subtle changes to the gut flora and increased the abundance of bacteria associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and fat metabolism (Christian Benedict et al, Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals, Molecular Metabolism, October 2016).

7. Relax as Much as Possible

High stress levels can also have harmful effects on the body. In the gut, stress can increase sensitivity, reduce blood flow and alter the gut bacteria. One study in humans looked at the effect of stress on the composition of gut bacteria in 23 college students. The composition of gut bacteria was analyzed at the beginning of the semester and at the end of the semester during final exams. The high stress associated with final exams caused a reduction in friendly bacteria, including Lactobacilli.( Simon Knowles, et al Investigating the role of perceived stress on bacterial flora activity and salivary cortisol secretion, Biological Psychology, Feb, 2008).

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