The health of your gut impacts so much of your overall health, yet 60 to 70 million people are affected by digestive diseases every year. “There isn’t a single system in the body that the microbiome doesn’t impact,” says microbiologist Kiran Krishnan. Here are five habits undermining the health of your gut. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
A Diet High In Processed Foods Sugars
Your gut health relies heavily on the food you eat—one study showed that people who ate a large amount of whole foods such as fresh vegetables, seafood, and nuts had a higher likelihood of good gut bacteria in comparison to those who ate sugary, over processed junk. “It goes back to the age-old message of eating as many whole and unprocessed foods as possible,” says Dr. Sarah E. Berry, a nutrition scientist at King’s College London. “What this research shows for the first time is the link between the quality of the food we’re eating, the quality of our microbiomes and ultimately our health outcomes.”
Not Getting Enough Sleep
There is growing evidence that not only does lack of sleep affect gut health, but gut health affects sleep quality and duration. “There’s still a lot we don’t know—we’re just scratching the surface, especially when it comes to how sleep influences our gut bacteria—but we do know that digestive health can play a role in how well someone sleeps, and sleep can affect how well the digestive system functions. It’s a two-way street,” says Ryan Barish, M.D., functional lifestyle medicine physician with Henry Ford Health System. “It also probably has to do with your resiliency—how healthy you are otherwise, whether you have other medical conditions. But the longer the sleep deprivation goes on, the bigger impact it can have on your gut health.”
Staying hydrated is crucial to gut health, so make sure you’re getting enough fluids every day to keep things moving, so to speak. “It does ensure that your metabolism is functioning optimally,” says registered dietician Alissa Rumsey. “By hydrating more, you’re getting rid of bad bacteria in your system, and it allows good bacteria in your gut to grow. It’s a way of cleaning out toxins in the system.”
Not managing your stress levels can directly affect your gut health, experts warn. “We know that there’s strong crosstalk between the immune system and the microbiota,” says immunologist Orly Avni, PhD, Bar Ilan University. “An important step in understanding how stress may lead to autoimmune conditions is to identify the genetic responses of bacteria.”
Lack of Exercise
If you’re not getting exercise, you are missing out on some impressive gut health benefits, experts warn. “A recent study, in which participants worked out for 30 minutes, three days a week, for six weeks straight, showed that many participants experienced an increase in certain microbes in the gut that help reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases as well as type 2 diabetes,” says registered dietician Nora Minno.