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The Major Causes And Surprise Effects Of Poor Gut Health

by Alejandra Tello |

Are your cleaning products making you fat? 

Gut health is a hot topic. We are more conscious now than ever about how our diets affect our microbiome. But is diet the only contributing factor? Or are there other major causes of poor gut health that we’re not aware of? 

The human microbiome has been called “an organ in its own right” because of its complexity and the big part it plays in our physical well-being. The microbiome is composed of an estimated 100 trillion microbes that live in our digestive tract.  

 It is well known that friendly gut bacteria are essential to our health as they help us to digest our food, and produce certain vitamins that our body needs. If your intestinal flora becomes unbalanced, you may be in for some gnarly results. IBS, weight gain, inflammation, colorectal cancer - to name but a few! Most of us are aware of some of the more common causes of poor gut health, but the latest developments in microbiome research may surprise you. 

1. Alcohol 

Excessive consumption of alcohol takes its toll on the whole body. We usually bounce back from the immediate effects after a couple of days, but there are also long term effects that we may not associate with our weekend binges. Alcohol has been linked to deprivation of good gut bacteria, which can lead to inflammation that allows toxins to enter the bloodstream. The only exception is red wine, which in moderate amounts can actually have a beneficial effect on intestinal flora. 

2. Antibiotics 

If taken correctly, antibiotics can kill those bad bacteria that cause many common illnesses, but the downside is that they can kill off your good bacteria also. After taking one course of antibiotics, it can be months before your system rebalances.

3. Irregular sleep patterns 

Your body clock affects your brain, body and hormones. Disrupting your body clock through a lack of sleep may have harmful effects on your gut. In 2016, a group of Swedish and German scientists conducted one of the first studies on the impact of insufficient sleep on the composition of the human microbiome. The results showed a significant decrease in types of beneficial bacteria, as well as a decrease in insulin sensitivity. Evidence also suggests that an unhealthy gut may be the link between poor sleep and a decline in brain activity, explaining why you don’t feel so sharp at work after a poor night’s sleep! 

4. Lack of exercise 

A sedentary lifestyle can also alter the microbiome. One study found that professional rugby players had a more diverse gut flora and twice the number of bacterial families, compared to the control groups matched for body size, age and gender. That’s one more reason to hit the gym, or better still, incorporate walking or cycling into your daily commute. 

5. Lack of variety in the diet 

Diet is a super important factor in boosting your intestinal flora. Eating a variety of fresh food is essential to maintaining that digestive diversity. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yoghurts containing live cultures can also be hugely beneficial. The good bacteria in these foods improve digestion, boost immunity, and promote a healthy weight. 

6. Toxic cleaning products 

Women holding a bucket of toxic cleaners that can produce gut problems

Ok, so maybe you’ve heard of some of the above gut-busters before, but prepare yourself - there’s a new kid on the block. Studies have made a connection between types of cleaning product used and the development of weight problems, the underlying cause being a link between the microbiome and the metabolism. New evidence suggests that children who are regularly exposed to petroleum based household disinfectants are more likely to be overweight than those exposed to eco-friendly products. 

Like antibiotics, chemical cleaning products don’t know the difference between good and bad bacteria, and will wreak havoc with your intestinal flora when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Which means that all the hard work we are doing by eating that kimchi and cycling to work can be pretty much undone while disinfecting our bathrooms! So next time you choose your cleaning products, choose wisely. Your gut - and possibly your waistline - will thank you for it.