Bugs. In general, bugs are creatures that you hope to never find crawling across your pillow or, worse, your face. That said, some bugs you may actually want in close proximity. There are many – trillions to be exact – that are good. Like, superhero good. These bugs are otherwise known as beneficial bacteria, or probiotics.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are naturally found in our bodies and have been shown to help support multiple areas of our overall health including digestion, nutrient absorption, fat metabolism, mood and energy balance, and immunity.*

These beneficial bugs are alive and, like your emotional state after The Bachelor in Paradise finale, very fragile. They can be killed easily by exposure to light, heat, stomach acid, as well as other aspects of modern life.

Here are five common threats to your healthy gut bacteria – and what to do about them!

  1. STRESS

It’s no secret: chronic stress is bad for your health. It’s been linked to numerous adverse conditions and research shows that we can now add poor gut health to the list. But, despite everything we know, many adults write stress off as an unavoidable and, at times, even necessary part of life, particularly when it comes to work. However, stress is not just experienced on the job. Stress can be mental, emotional, environmental, and physical.

When you consider work, personal life, diet, exercise, and environment, many adults are unaware of just how much stress they experience on a daily basis.

 

What to do about it:
You don’t need to quit your job and take up residence at an ashram, at least not immediately. Start by simply evaluating your overall stress load. What is it like at work?  At home? Are you hitting the gym too hard, too often? How many chemicals and pollutants are you exposed to in your environment and through your diet? Once you have an idea of where your stress is coming from, you can make small changes that add up to a big difference.

Perhaps you swap your CrossFit or boot camp class for restorative yoga once a week. Try eating fewer processed foods, or switch your cleaning products to a more natural brand (you can check out the Environmental Working Group’s top picks here). If nothing else, we recommend you make a concerted effort each week to carve out some You Time. It can be as little as one hour, but during this planned time let yourself indulge in something purely for your own enjoyment. Take a bubble bath while reading The National Enquirer, marathon videos of red pandas playing in the snow, get an adult coloring book – it doesn’t have to be productive or even make logical sense, just as long as it makes you smile.

 

  1. ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

If you’re over the age of 20, chances are you’ve consumed an artificial sweetener at one point in your life. These chemicals gained enormous popularity in the 1990s based on the notion that, as long as a food or beverage was “sugar-free,” people could eat as much as they liked and never gain weight. Unfortunately, this theory turned out to be exactly what it sounds like: WAY too good to be true.

In an ironic twist of fate, research has since revealed that artificial sweeteners appear to change the population of intestinal bacteria which, in turn, affect metabolism.

Consuming calorie-free sugar substitutes may actually result in weight gain.

To make matters worse, artificial sweeteners became so popular that they are now included in millions of different food products from ice cream and chewing gum to English muffins!

 

What to do about it:
Try and stick to a diet of foods that don’t come in boxes or bags. If you’re eating a packaged food, steer clear of the word “light,” and read the ingredient label. Some other names for artificial sweeteners include acesulfame K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose. If you’re ordering a prepared food or beverage that is sweetened, ask that they use real sugar or honey. For more info about sugar and why we choose to use organic Fair Trade cane sugar in SmartyPants read here.

 

  1. LACK OF SLEEP

When it comes to health advice, everybody’s got a different piece, but there is one practice that no one can deny, and that’s sleep. Sleep is the time when our bodies get to rejuvenate, and scientists are now discovering that sleep and our gut bacteria have a symbiotic relationship. Research shows that an imbalance of gut bacteria can affect hormones that regulate sleep. On the flip side, animal studies show that lack of sleep can lead to negative changes in gut bacteria.

Sleep affects our gut bugs and our gut bugs affect our sleep.

What to do about it:
When something is important you make time for it, like getting to the gym, or your in-laws for brunch, or your kid’s performance in the Nutcracker for the 5th year in a row. Research proves that sleep is vitally important, so it’s time to start making time for shuteye. We recommend that you begin by winding down at least an hour before bed. The easiest way to do this is by ditching your devices. Electronics with screens – this includes smart phones, computers, Kindles, and TV screens – emit blue light, or, light with blue wavelengths that can be disruptive at night. According to research, exposure to blue light causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that gives your body the “time to sleep” cue.

Of course, we realize that a nightly digital detox, while ideal, may not be realistic for everyone. So, in the off chance that you should come in contact with a screen once or twice after sundown (wink, wink), try downloading f.lux to your computers and activating the Night Shift mode on iPhones. These two apps automatically adjust your displays so that they give off warmer, less blue light.

 

  1. SMOKING

Like stress, smoking is another “S” word that we know is bad for many reasons including the health of our gut bacteria. A research team in Germany found that mice exposed to cigarette smoke experienced a shift in the composition of their gut bacteria as well as changes to their intestinal lining. Conversely, a 2014 study showed that smokers who gave up smoking experienced significant changes in the diversity of their gut bacteria.  

 

What to do about it:
If we had the answer to this question, we’d be kicking back on a yacht with Richard Branson and Oprah. Quitting smoking is a difficult battle, but not impossible. Nearly 1.3 million people do it successfully every year. You can try the patch, hypnosis, the step-down approach, cold turkey, or a multitude of other options. Don’t get caught up worrying about which one is best (stress is bad, remember?) Just pick one, and, if that doesn’t work, keep trying until you find one that does!

 

  1. ALCOHOL

Okay, you are free to sling insults at will. But, before you exit the page, we want you to know that we’re not complete and total Debbie Downers. We like to have a good time just like everybody else, and there definitely has been legitimate research illustrating that certain kinds of alcohol, in moderation, can have health benefits. That said, it’s important to know that alcohol can alter the balance of our gut bacteria and weaken the integrity of our gut lining.

What to do about it:
We’re not going to tell you that you can never partake in an adult beverage ever again, but, like stress, we recommend that you perform a quick inventory of your alcohol consumption. Is there any time or place where you can cut down? If so, give that a try. Then support your good gut bacteria in other ways, such as reducing stress, cleaning up your diet, getting more sleep, eating probiotic foods, and trying a probiotic supplement. You can read more about how to get more probiotics into your diet and how to choose the right probiotic supplement here.


Know anyone who’s gut bugs are in danger? Share this with them!

Any questions? Thoughts? We’d love to hear in the comments!

 

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Posted on November 18, 2016