Our good gut bacteria are hearty and strong but like us, they cannot withstand ongoing stress. How many of these factors are present will determine how the gut will function and what conditions will develop. Here are the top stressors:

1. Antibiotics

They kill good and bad bacteria which gives yeast a chance to grow. Interestingly, bad bacteria will recover faster from a round of antibiotics than good bacteria. Studies show that taking probiotics while taking antibiotics, plus an additional two weeks of probiotics, help the good bacteria levels in the body stay at their normal levels. Research also shows that taking probiotics with antibiotics speeds healing as well.

2. Other Medications

While the research on this is just beginning, research is showing that many common drugs including proton pump inhibitors (to reduce stomach acid), diabetes meds, and common pain relief medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen change the composition of gut bacteria. This sets up an environment for the bad bacteria to take hold. Avoid taking medications unless you absolutely need to. Choose alternatives first.

3. Processed Refined Foods and Junk Food

These do not contain the prebiotic fiber that feeds our residential bacteria. They also may contain preservatives and additives which do not help, and they lack important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which help the gut function.

4. Lack of Diversity in the Diet

To support a variety of species in our gut, we have to consume a variety of foods to feed all the strains of good bacteria and keep the quantity at the right levels. Most of us seldom eat more than 15 different foods per week. For good gut health, we need different varieties of prebiotic foods, which feed our residential bacteria. This includes fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products.

5. Stress

Cortisol is a hormone produced by our adrenals gland. An excess of cortisol can deplete our good gut bacteria levels and increase the bad, in addition to several other health issues.

6. Excess or Too Little Exercise

Regular exercise is good for the gut but too much or too little can cause health issues. It can interfere with how the gut functions and lower good bacteria levels.

7. We Are Too Clean

The more our gut bacteria must defend against pathogens, the stronger and more resilient they become. If we do not expose ourselves to elements that are bad for us, our gut bacteria and immune system will weaken. This means that we are more likely to be susceptible to pathogens when we are exposed because our gut bacteria have not been able to learn how to defend us. So go ahead – kiss your dog!

Kiss Your Dog

8. Early Childhood Factors

If a baby is not breastfed or is delivered by caesarian section, then he/she will not have as much good bacteria as babies who are breastfed and delivered vaginally. They are more at risk for developing infections and therefore, are more likely to be prescribed antibiotics, which set them back even more. There are strategies that can be employed to counter this but this is a rare occurrence, so children in these circumstances do not get the right start. The condition of the mother’s gut is also a factor.

9. Drinking and Smoking

While a little bit of alcohol (unfiltered wine and beet) is actually good for your gut bacteria, too much of a good thing can lead to an increase in harmful gut bacteria. Smoking, even a small amount, yields no benefit to any part of your body, your gut bacteria included. The good news is that even after only 9 weeks of quitting smoking, the diversity of your gut bacteria increases dramatically.

10. Lack of Sleep

Our microbes help us sleep. They interact with our adrenals and help limit cortisol levels which can prevent us from falling asleep. Our good gut bacteria also help regulate inflammation which has been shown to disrupt sleep. We go to bed with one set of microbes and wake up with another. Just one night of poor sleep can alter good gut bacteria levels. Gut bacteria also regulate our circadian rhythms.

Honorable Mention

X-rays, airline travel, exposure to radiation, medications such as corticosteroids and chemotherapy drugs, surgeries, and alcohol all can have a negative effect.

Avoiding these stressors will not only help your gut, they will improve your health overall.