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Gut Health

Are You Sabotaging Your Gut Health?

A half-dozen under-the-radar lifestyle routines that may be upsetting your stomach and damaging your intestinal microbiome.

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You take probiotic supplements, eat a healthy diet, and avoid gluten like the antichrist—but your belly’s still not better? Check out these six surprising habits that might be sabotaging your gut health:

1. Your Type-A tendencies

Fast-paced, high-stress living can seriously impact gut health. Chronic tension and anxiety reduce blood flow to the gut and disrupt digestion. Plus, studies link ongoing stress with reductions in microbiota diversity, fewer beneficial bugs, and higher levels of potentially harmful bacteria.

Fueling your fast-paced lifestyle with a steady stream of triple lattes can make things even worse. Caffeine hampers digestion and boosts stomach acids, leading to heartburn or acid reflux. Too much coffee also interferes with sleep (which go-getters are probably lacking anyway), which is also bad for your belly. Lack of restful shut-eye increases the risk of gastrointestinal illnesses and impairs intestinal bacteria. Even two nights of sleep deprivation can impact the microbiome, decreasing beneficial bugs and promoting strains linked with weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.

2. Your couch potato proclivities

Rest and relaxation benefit your belly—but being too laid back can disrupt gut health. Your digestive system needs regular physical activity and good muscle tone to move waste through the colon, and a sedentary lifestyle is linked with a higher likelihood of constipation, IBS, and other digestive issues. Some studies also suggest that physical activity supports the microbiome, increasing bacterial diversity and boosting beneficial bugs. Other research links changes in microbial diversity with improved metabolism and cardiorespiratory fitness, and lower insulin resistance. Plus, exercise lowers stress and improves sleep, both of which support your gut.

3. Your supplement regimen

That daily dose of vitamins, minerals, protein powders, and other supplements may be impacting your gut health. Some supplements contain FODMAPs—short-chain carbohydrates that aren’t completely digested, leading to bloating, gas, and stomach pain in sensitive people. Sugar-free gummies, chewables, and liquids are often sweetened with sugar alcohols that can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Surprisingly, even some supplements targeted for digestive health contain these irritating ingredients. For example, probiotics with added prebiotics, especially FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides) or inulin, can cause bloating, gas, cramping, and pain.

4. Your speedy eating routine

If you gulp down lunch at your computer or approach dinner like it’s a sprint to the finish line, you’re hurting your gut health. When you eat too fast, food isn’t adequately broken down into smaller particles by chewing, and digestive enzymes in saliva don’t have time to start their work. Inhaling meals also means you’re swallowing lots of air, leading to bloating, indigestion, heartburn, and stomach pains. And washing down that partly chewed food with soda or sparkling water introduces gas into the digestive tract, causing bloating, belching, and abdominal discomfort, especially in people with IBS.

5. Your laundry detergent

Common chemicals in laundry detergent, soaps, and other household cleaners can damage your microbiome, which can seriously affect your gut health. In a recent study, researchers linked higher blood levels of chemicals found in detergents, soap, shampoo, stain-repellent fabrics, nonstick pans, and other household products with lower numbers and diversity of beneficial bacteria. Other research shows that pesticides also adversely impact microbiota composition, and some studies suggest that disruptions to gut bacteria from chlorpyrifos, a widely used insecticide, can increase the risk for obesity and insulin resistance. And pain-relieving medicines such as NSAIDs and aspirin can cause bleeding, inflammation, and ulceration in the stomach and small intestine.

6. Your happy-hour habit

Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and interferes with digestion, and studies link excessive drinking with higher rates of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammation of the stomach lining, and other illnesses. Chronic alcohol consumption also disrupts the microbiome, decreasing beneficial bugs and increasing numbers of potentially harmful bacteria, which impacts gut health. Some research suggests that alcohol-induced changes in microbiota composition promote oxidative stress, inflammation, leaky gut, and a greater risk of liver disease and other diseases.

Liquor is the worst, but beer and sweet wines aren’t beyond reproach. They’re high in FODMAPs that further impact gut health. On a happier note, some studies suggest that red wine in moderation can boost beneficial bacteria and reduce numbers of potentially harmful bugs.

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(Photo: Pornchai Mittongtare)

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