4 Things That Are Wrecking Your Gut Health

Author and Professor of Medicine By Terry Wahls, M.D.
Author and Professor of Medicine
Terry Wahls, M.D. is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Iowa, where she conducts clinical research on the use of diet and lifestyle to treat brain-related problems. She received her master's in medicine from The University of Iowa, as well as her master's in business administration from the University of St. Thomas.
4 Things That Are Wrecking Your Gut Health

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A healthy gut is critical to achieving optimal health. Most people understand that the food we eat determines the health of our gut. Eating junk food leads to declining gut health while eating more vegetables leads to better gut health. And avoiding sugar is especially helpful in shifting the gut bacteria mix toward more health-promoting bacteria.

But what many people do not realize is that gut health can be influenced by more than just food. The largest factors that influence gut health are the medicine, vitamins, and supplements that people take each day. Here's what you need to know.

1. Antibiotics

Every time you take antibiotics, you kill the majority of the bacteria living in the bowels. Yeasts are not killed by antibiotics that target bacteria. The result is that when you take antibiotics, yeasts are likely to multiply. And so the balance between bacteria and yeasts shifts toward yeasts. This shifts which metabolic functions will be supported by the yeasts and bacteria living in one's bowels.

Too often, the antibiotics that are prescribed in the United States are not for bacterial infections. More often, they're prescribed to prevent a potential bacterial infection or for a viral infection that would resolve without antibiotics. Don't take antibiotics unless necessary.

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2. Acid-lowering medication

The acidity in the stomach kills bacteria and shifts which bacteria can live in our bowels, increasing the number of lactobacillus species. When we take medication that lowers stomach acidity, the lactobacillus species are reduced. As other species thrive, we are more vulnerable to having disease-promoting bacteria overtake the health-promoting bacteria.

3. All vitamins, medicines, and supplements.

Everything you put into your gut will fertilize different bacteria and yeasts, causing a shift in the mix in the bacteria.

For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs block the prostaglandin pathways and may create bleeding in the stomach and small bowel. They also increase the "leakiness" of the gut. There are tiny "gates" between the cells that line the small bowel. When these gates are open, incompletely digested food interacts with our immune cells. When this happens in someone who is genetically susceptible, they are primed to develop food sensitivities.

Prednisone and other steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can cause bleeding in the stomach and small bowel. They also stimulate the growth of sugar-loving yeasts and bacteria in the bowel.

Antipsychotic medications that are associated with weight gain are also associated with creating a shift in the gut bacteria.

How many of the adverse health consequences from long-term use of medication are due to the change in the mix of bacteria that occur as a result of the medication? No one knows for sure. The unknown impact on your bacteria is a reason to minimize and preferably avoid long-term medication use.

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4. Lifestyle factors.

Your physical activity level, social connections, underlying mood, stress levels, exposures to daylight, family connections, presence of pets, and exposure to nature are all other factors that can affect your gut health.

Restoring the health and vitality of your gut depends mostly upon the diet and lifestyle choices that we make every day. There is a lot you can do to restore your gut. To learn more, please check out my video class.

Terry Wahls, M.D.
Terry Wahls, M.D.
Terry Wahls, M.D. is a professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, where she conducts clinical...
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Terry Wahls, M.D.
Terry Wahls, M.D.
Terry Wahls, M.D. is a professor of medicine at the University of...
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