9 Things Hurting Your Gut Health

From artificial sweeteners to stress.

Heart Around Stomach
Heart Around Stomach

You try to take good care of your gut—you eat healthy, you exercise, and you try to stay balanced.

That hard work can pay off: When good and bad bacteria are in balance, you are less likely to experience issues with your gut. (You can thank the gut-brain connection for that.) However, there are many factors in your daily life that can hurt healthy bacteria and cause an imbalance, which can cause gastrointestinal issues.1

Read on to learn more about what seemingly harmless things that could be affecting your gut:

1. Antibiotics

Antibiotics are meant to help kill bad bacteria, but they can also kill the good bacteria that exist naturally in your gut.2 Some antibiotics can impact your stomach’s natural bacteria—called the intestinal microflora—by suppressing it. This can impact gut function and alter bowel movements, most often leading to diarrhea or constipation.3

2. Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

NSAIDS—non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—might help with inflammation for body pain or a headache, but they could cause inflammation elsewhere.4, 5 In order for NSAIDS to do their job, they work by inhibiting certain enzymes.6 These enzymes play a role in normal gut function. For example, acetylsalicylic (more commonly known as aspirin) was created with the intention of blocking enzymes related to pain, but it can also block the enzymes that provide protection of the stomach and lead to damage of the stomach lining.6

3. Antidepressants

Certain SSRIs—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—can cause physical side effects. Gastrointestinal disturbances are the most frequently reported side effects with SSRIs.7 Stomach distress, such as nausea, and gastrointestinal trouble, such as diarrhea, are some of the most frequently reported.7, 8

4. Stress

Your stomach and brain work together to keep the body functioning properly. For instance, when you eat, signals are sent to your brain to tell your body when it’s full. So if your stomach is upset, it might be because you’re upset—stress can help trigger nausea or diarrhea and may be contributing to cramps or loose stools.9

5. Lack of Sleep

Not getting enough sleep and sleep abnormalities can contribute to gastrointestinal diseases that can alter the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Therefore, sleep supports gastrointestinal health including a healthy microflora.10 A lack of sleep can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as heartburn, acid reflux, and changes to the bacterial balance.11

6. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin can lead to bloating and irritate the GI tract, while excess use of alcohol sugars like sorbitol can cause diarrhea.12, 13 You may find them in diet sodas, sugar-free candy, gum, yogurt, coffee syrups, and snack bars.12, 13

7. Alcohol

Alcohol may cause heartburn and acid reflux in some by increasing acid secretion and by reducing the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter and esophageal motility.14, 15 Alcohol, particularly wine, can also have a negative effect on bacteria in the gut, which can lead to diarrhea and malabsorption.15

8. Menstruation

When menstruating, women may feel more than just uterine cramps. According to one study, women may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea before and during their period, as well as bloating during their period.16

9. Fiber Intake

Your diet influences gut health, and though fiber offers a health benefit, it can cause constipation if too much is consumed.17, 18 If you’re under 50 years old, experts suggest sticking to 25 grams of fiber a day for women and 38 grams for men.19*

*According to the Institute of Medicine, it is recommended that, in adults 50 or younger, women should consume 25 grams of fiber daily and men 38 grams. In adults 51 or older, women should consume 21 grams of fiber daily and men 30 grams.

Show ReferencesHide References

  1. Zhang, Yu-Jie, Sha Li, Ren-You Gan, Tong Zhou, Dong-Ping Xu, and Hua-Bin Li. "Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases." International Journal of Molecular Sciences. MDPI, Apr. 2015. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425030/.
  2. Kohanski, Michael A., Daniel J. Dwyer, and James J. Collins. "How Antibiotics Kill Bacteria: From Targets to Networks." Nature Reviews: Microbiology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2010. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896384/.
  3. S., Baron. "Microbiology of the Gastrointestinal Tract." Medical Microbiology. By Sherwood L. Gorbach. 4th ed. Galveston: U of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, 1996. N. pag. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 01 Jan. 1996. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7670/.
  4. H., Süleyman, Demircan B., and Karagöz Y. "Anti-inflammatory and Side Effects of Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors." Pharmacological Reports. U.S. National Library of Medicine, May-June 2007. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17652824.
  5. Matsui, Hirofumi, Osamu Shimokawa, Tsuyoshi Kaneko, Yumiko Nagano, Kanho Rai, and Ichinosuke Hyodo. "The Pathophysiology of Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug (NSAID)-induced Mucosal Injuries in Stomach and Small Intestine." Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. Mar. 2011. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3045681/.
  6. FA, Fitzpatrick. "Cyclooxygenase Enzymes: Regulation and Function." Current Pharmaceutical Design. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14965321.
  7. Ferguson, James M. "SSRI Antidepressant Medications: Adverse Effects and Tolerability." Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc., Feb. 2001. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181155/.
  8. "What Are the Real Risks of Antidepressants?" Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, June 2009. Web. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what_are_the_real_risks_of_antidepressants.
  9. "The Gut-Brain Connection." Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, Mar. 2012. Web. http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.
  10. Dallas, Mary Elizabeth. "Sleep Loss Tied to Changes in Gut Bacteria." WebMD. N.p., 9 Dec. 2016. Web. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20161209/sleep-loss-tied-to-changes-in-gut-bacteria.
  11. Ali, Tauseef, James Choe, Ahmed Awab, Theodore L. Wagener, and William C. Orr. "Sleep, Immunity and Inflammation in Gastrointestinal Disorders." World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG. Baishideng Publishing Group Co., Limited, 28 Dec. 2013. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882397/.
  12. Spencer, Marisa, Amit Gupta, Lauren Van Dam, Carol Shannon, Stacy Menees, and William D. Chey. "Artificial Sweeteners: A Systematic Review and Primer for Gastroenterologists." Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. Korean Society of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, Apr. 2016. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4819855/.
  13. Magee, Elaine. "The Dirty Little Secret of Sugar-Free Products." WebMD. N.p., 1 Mar. 2010. Web. http://blogs.webmd.com/healthy-recipe-doctor/2010/03/the-dirty-little-secret-of-sugar-free-products.html.
  14. Chen, Shao-hua, Jie-wei Wang, and You-ming Li. "Is Alcohol Consumption Associated with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?" Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B. Zhejiang University Press, June 2010. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2880354/.
  15. L., Bujanda. "The Effects of Alcohol Consumption upon the Gastrointestinal Tract." The American Journal of Gastroenterology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2000. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11151864.
  16. Bernstein, Matthew T., Lesley A. Graff, Lisa Avery, Carrie Palatnick, Katie Parnerowski, and Laura E. Targownik. "Gastrointestinal Symptoms before and during Menses in Healthy Women." BMC Women's Health. BioMed Central, 2014. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901893/.
  17. Fields, Lisa. "How Fiber Helps Your Digestive Health." WebMD. Ed. David Kiefer. 24 July 2015. Web. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/fiber-digestion.
  18. Ho, Kok-Sun, Charmaine You Mei Tan, Muhd Ashik Mohd Daud, and Francis Seow-Choen. "Stopping or Reducing Dietary Fiber Intake Reduces Constipation and Its Associated Symptoms." World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG. Baishideng Publishing Group Co., Limited, 07 Sept. 2012. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435786/.
  19. "Fiber: Daily Recommendations for Adults." Mayo Clinic. N.p., 22 Sept. 2015. Web. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983?pg=2.
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