Constipation. Diarrhea. Bloating. Gas. Indigestion. Nausea. These are symptoms that everyone has experienced at one time or another in their lives. For most people these are short-term and can be traced back to one cause – a tropical vacation, an overindulgent bachelorette party, too much spicy food, a nasty virus.
But for many, these feelings are constant, everyday reminders that something isn’t quite right with your digestive system. Maybe a doctor has diagnosed you with the dreaded Irritable Bowel Syndrome, aka the “we don’t know and can’t help you” Syndrome. It’s distracting, embarrassing and a deep blow to your quality of life.
The Human Gut
The human gut contains over 500 species of microorganisms and 70% of the immune system's cells. In perfect balance, your gut bacteria keeps that digestive system moving smoothly. It is also responsible for warding off disease and is involved in the synthesis of vital nutrients, including Vitamin K, Biotin, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, and Thiamine (1). In addition, 90% of the body's feel-good chemical serotonin is created by gut bacteria (2)!
The main factors that contribute to the decline in both the diversity and the number of bacteria in our gut include:
1. Overuse of Antibiotics
As opposed to probiotics (meaning "for life"), antibiotics ("against life") indiscriminately destroy all bacteria in the body, reducing microbial diversity and shifting the balance of the microbiome to favor unwanted strains. Don't get us wrong, antibiotics can be lifesavers, it’s just important to take steps to protect your “good” strains after a course.
2. Dietary Factors
Diets high in sugar and processed foods and low in fiber, healthy protein, and healthy fats have been shown to promote the growth of bad bacteria in the gut (3).
Research has found that exposure to stress leads to an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria while simultaneously reducing microbial diversity in the large intestine. (4).
4. Lack of Sleep
Lack of sleep and a disruption in circadian rhythms (sometimes caused by too much screen time!) have also been shown to alter the microbiota for the worse (5).
“Toxins” here is a catchall for several other factors: artificial sweeteners, pesticides, and even ingredients found in personal care products.