When you hear the word “bug,” you may think of the creepy crawlies that invade your home, but some bugs are actually good. The ones living in our guts, for example, work hard to keep us healthy. These are known as probiotics – healthy bacteria that aid in digestion, boost metabolism, improve mood, and increase energy.
The exact definition of these gut bugs has been debated for some time by experts, but the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations appear to have created an acceptable definition: live microorganisms that have numerous health benefits for the host when administered in sufficient amounts.
Threats to Delicate Bacteria
Probiotics have been known to treat painful ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and skin infections. These bacteria may appear strong, but they are delicate and easily crushed. They’re threatened by powerful stomach acid, light, and even heat.
The yogurt you had for breakfast may not help if the probiotics are destroyed before they’ve even reached your digestive tract. And for people who avoid dairy, whether it’s because of a dietary choice or an allergy, receiving enough probiotics may be harder.
The next time you work on building up your probiotics, you should consider some of the threats actively working against you.
1. Manage chronic stressors.
Whether it’s emotional, mental, environmental, or physical, stress is always present. The good news is that it’s manageable. Take simple steps. Evaluate your overall stress load, adjust your exercise regimen and diet, and carve out some quality time for yourself. Whether it’s running another mile on the treadmill, reducing processed foods, or reading a good book, choose something good for you.
2. Limit your artificial sweetener intake.
Artificial sweeteners, which gained popularity in the 1990s, were promoted as a sugar-free alternative you could consume without gaining weight. But that promise was too good to be true. These sweeteners change the balance of intestinal bacteria and can make your metabolism sluggish.
These chemicals are now included in numerous food products. Try your best to avoid foods that come in boxes or bags, and read the labels. You can easily identify them by looking for descriptions like “light” or strange names like acesulfame potassium or sucralose. When you’re out of the house and ordering sweetened food or drinks, ask for real sugar or honey.
3. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep.
Sleep allows our bodies to recover from the everyday stresses of life. Scientists have discovered a direct link to sleep and good bacteria in our guts. The more sleep we get, the more good bacteria we build up. Wind down an hour before you intend to fall asleep.
Either switch those blue light-emitting devices to sleep mode or turn them off entirely. Prolonged exposure to blue light before bedtime can be disruptive to your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that tells it to power down for the night. If you can’t part with your cell phone or iPad, switch your device to Night Shift mode to reduce the wavelength interference.
4. Quit smoking.
Smokers have more to worry about than just gut health. German researchers discovered a significant change in the intestinal lining and gut bacteria in mice exposed to cigarette smoke – and it wasn’t a positive one.
In another study completed in 2014, smokers who quit found improved changes in the diversity of their gut bacteria. Each year, 1.3 million people successfully kick the habit. No matter the approach you take, keep trying until you find the one that works best for you.
5. Reduce your alcohol consumption.
It’s not necessary to eliminate alcohol entirely; some alcohol consumed in moderation can have positive health benefits. However, too much can directly affect the balance of your good gut bacteria and weaken the stability of your gut lining. Just like evaluating stress, it’s important to know where you can cut back on your alcohol intake. Try limiting yourself to one or two glasses of wine or beer when possible.
The bugs in your gut are working tirelessly to build up your intestinal strength and fight illnesses and bad bugs. Why not give them a leg up? Increase your probiotic intake to take care of your body.