8 Things That Can Mess with Your Microbiome

WRITTEN BY Sarah Greenfield, RD, CSSD

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Is your water messing up your microbiome?

What Is Your Microbiome, Exactly?

Did you know there are more bacteria cells in your body than human cells? The term microbiome refers to the group of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that call the shots behind your health. The bulk of your microbiome is located in your large intestine. But there’s also a crucial balance of bacteria throughout the rest of your intestines and even on your skin!

These bacteria are hard at work keeping you healthy. A healthy microbiome can improve your digestion, immune system, and even your central nervous system and brain health. Eating a diet of whole, healthy foods can go a long way in making sure your microbiome is happy. But beware of these unsuspecting disrupters that can throw your microbiome off track!

8 Pesky Microbiome Disrupters

Antibiotics

First, let’s be clear. We’re not suggesting you never take antibiotics again. But it’s important to understand that taking antibiotics kills off a lot of the good bacteria in your body along with the bad. Your microbiome may not be able to supply nutrients, produce vitamins, or protect against pathogens as efficiently. In one clinical trial in Sweden, researchers found that after only a week of taking antibiotics, some participants had compromised microbiomes an entire year later! Be sure you’re taking antibiotics only as needed and not as a preventative measure.

Also, be careful about where you buy your meat! Antibiotics help farm animals grow fatter faster so they were considered a profitable option for a long time. Although the FDA banned using antibiotics for that purpose last year, the New York Times reports there’s still misuse in the industry.

Birth Control

Say what?! That’s right. The gut microbiome is indeed impacted by taking hormones like oral contraceptives. It may even decrease the effectiveness of the immune system and the way the body is able to process estrogen. If it’s an option for you, try switching to a low dose estrogen pill, or even a copper IUD that doesn’t have synthetic hormones.

Your Water

Chlorine was originally added to our water to decrease our risk for getting typhoid fever. Sadly though, it can also decrease your gut’s microbiome diversity which is no good. Similarly, fluoride was added to strengthen our bones and teeth, but may kill off good bacteria in the process. To avoid this microbiome disrupter, invest in a good water filter!

Processed & Packaged Foods

The more processed foods we consume, the more sterile our diets become. Processed food decreases the amount of good bacteria in our bodies. Studies show that eating ultra-processed foods provides the perfect environment for bad gut bacteria to thrive and cause inflammation. To combat this scenario, try preparing your own meals from fresh, whole foods as often as possible. (We’ve got some great meal prepping tips if you need them!)

A Sugary Acidic Diet

We know, bummer. We’re big dessert fans, too. The good and bad news is that your diet can rapidly shift your microbiome. It’s good news because you can quickly improve the situation. But it’s bad because you can just as quickly throw your system off. Unfortunately, for most of us, sugar is way too prevalent in our diets. In fact, the average American eats 152 pounds of sugar per year. That’s about three pounds per week! Sugar can create an acidic environment in the body which promotes disease and allows bad bacteria to flourish. Keep it in check by avoiding sugary foods, sodas, and other sweetened beverages. (Pro tip: The processed foods from the point above are also acidic!)

Pesticides

Pesticides were designed to keep bugs off our crops. Most recently, glyphosate has been the topic of conversation. Originally deemed as safe, this pesticide has now been linked to cancer and may even have neurologic effects due to its ability to change the balance of the gut microbiome. Shop organic whenever possible to keep your microbiome happy!

Stress

Even a small amount of stress can trigger the release of hormones and compounds in your body. Over time, stress can negatively impact your microbiome. Interestingly enough, it works both ways. Certain strains of bacteria in your gut can also impact the way neurotransmitters in the body. So having a diverse microbiome can actually help your body manage stress more effectively! Help the two work together by incorporating meditation or another stress management practice into your routine.

Eating The Same Foods Everyday

Lastly, if you find yourself buying the same ingredients all the time, your microbiome may get a bit bored. Having a diverse diet directly correlates with a diverse microbiome. I recommend getting at least 40 different types of whole foods into your diet throughout the week for maximum gut diversity. It’s also a good idea to shop at farmers’ markets, which forces you to switch things up with whatever’s in season.

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