Let’s Talk About Gut Health

Your small intestine (gut) is home to trillions of bacteria from hundreds of different species. They compete, cooperate, grow, shrink, and engage in an intricate dance that keeps a healthy balance.

Your gut bacteria influence your whole body. There’s a direct pathway between your gut and your brain, for example [1]. Gut bacteria can even influence body-wide fat storage [2].

Your gut biome’s widespread influence gives you a powerful opportunity to strengthen your whole body. The flip side of that, though, is that when your gut bacteria fall out of balance, you can see a broad range of effects. If you’re experiencing several of the following issues, there’s a chance you have dysbiosis (an imbalance in your gut bacteria):

  • Constipation  [3,4]
  • Diarrhea/gas [5]
  • Fatigue [6]
  • Brain fog [7,8]
  • Depression [9,10]
  • Acid reflux [11]
  • Hormone imbalance [12]
  • Stubborn yeast infections, including Candida [13]
  • Food sensitivities [14]
  • Impaired immune function [15]

If you’re struggling with any of these, don’t despair! We’ll help you understand why dysbiosis happens and give you some practical tools to restore gut health. With a little diligence, you can reprogram your gut bacteria to make your gut – and the rest of your body – more resilient than ever before.

 

FOUR COMMON CAUSES OF DYSBIOSIS

These are four of the most common causes of dysbiosis:

1) ANTIBIOTIC USE AND DYSBIOSIS

Antibiotics kill many damaging pathogenic bacteria. That’s great if you have strep throat or an overgrowth of E. coli. But the downside to antibiotics is that they aren’t picky about the bacteria they kill.

Taking antibiotics is like nuking your gut biome: it wipes out everything, including all the friendly bacteria thriving in your gut. And bacteria are clever. They adapt quickly to things that kill them, meaning the more humans use antibiotics, the more bacteria figure out ways to survive the nuke. That can lead to antibiotic-resistant pathogens that survive a round of antibiotics, and with no friendly bacteria competing, they’re free to aggressively colonize your gut.

If you recently took antibiotics and you’ve started noticing the issues you read about above, you may have antibiotic-induced gut dysbiosis.

Pro tip: in the future, follow antibiotics with a good probiotic, to inoculate your gut with healthy strains of bacteria. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus both help prevent dysbiosis from antibiotics [16,17]. The other tips later in this article may help you, too.

2) DYSBIOSIS FROM SUGAR AND REFINED CARBOHYDRATES

Refined carbs are a favorite food of several pathogenic bacteria [18]. If you’ve been eating a lot of sugar or refined carbs like white bread, pasta, and so on, you may be fueling the overgrowth of damaging microorganisms in your gut.

It’s worth noting that complex carbs, especially ones rich in fiber, have the opposite effect: they’re great for improving gut health [19,20].

3) STRESS AND DYSBIOSIS

We mentioned earlier that there’s a direct link between your gut and your brain. As a result, your psychological state can have a major impact on your gut, and vice versa.

If you’ve ever been anxious and gotten an upset stomach, you probably know about the gut-brain link intuitively. Recent research has shown that that link is quite real. Stress contributes to oxidative damage and inflammation in your gut, which can in turn contribute to dysbiosis [21].

4) ALCOHOL AND DYSBIOSIS

There’s a strong link between alcohol and inflammatory bacterial overgrowth in both humans and rodents [22]. Regular drinking seems to lead to more severe dysbiosis, as well as increased gut inflammation, but there’s also an acute effect with alcohol – that is, a night of binge drinking negatively impacts your gut. Alcohol may also damage your gut lining [23].

These are some of the most common factors in gut dysbiosis.

 

HOW TO RESTORE GUT HEALTH

Here are three simple ways to balance your gut bacteria and restore – or even enhance – your gut health.

1) CUT SUGAR, ADD FIBER

As a rule of thumb, bad gut bacteria run on sugar, while good bacteria run on fiber [24,25]. A Western diet (low-fiber with lots of inflammatory fats and simple carbs) leads to, quoting the referenced study, “severe gut dysbiosis” [26].

The biggest takeaway here is to cut out sugar and refined carbs, including alcohol, and to increase fiber intake. Fiber will feed good gut bacteria and ferment into short-chain fatty acids that curb inflammation and improve overall gut health [27].

If you’re on a higher-carb diet, get your carbs from complex, fiber-rich sources. If you’re on a low-carb or keto diet, make sure you’re loading up on veggies. And no matter what diet you follow, favor healthy fats over inflammatory ones.

Summarizing:

  • Cut sugarsimple carbs, and alcohol
  • Get plenty of fiber from complex carbsvegetables, or both
  • Eat healthy fats to decrease gut inflammation

2) EXERCISE TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH

Working out is a two-pronged approach to building a stronger gut. Exercise on its own, independent of diet, improves gut biome composition by increasing anti-inflammatory bacteria [28,29].

That alone is awesome, but exercise also strengthens your gut-brain axis by decreasing stress, regardless of the type of exercise you choose [30]. As you read earlier, stress is a major factor in dysbiosis.

So get moving. Do whatever you enjoy – running, lifting, yoga, even walking. Your gut bacteria will thank you.

3) PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS FOR DYSBIOSIS

You can also address your gut bacteria more directly. Probiotics are supplements that contain live beneficial gut bacteria. Taking them on a regular basis can inoculate your gut biome with healthy strains and crowd out bad bacteria. You can then add prebiotics – special types of fiber or starch that feed good bacteria and encourage them to grow.