3 Factors That Affect Your Digestion — Other Than Food — From A Gut Health Expert
When we think about our digestion and the factors that affect it, we probably think of times a certain meal upset our stomach or a particular food left us bloated. But according to gut health expert Megan Rossi, Ph.D., R.D. (aka The Gut Health Doctor on Instagram), there are three other sneaky things that can affect our digestion under the radar as well. Here's what to know:
Sleep and gut health go hand in hand.
Sure, sleep affects our energy levels and even mood, but according to Rossi and a number of existing studies and research reviews1, the relationship between sleep and gut health may be reciprocal. As in, sleep influences the gut, and gut health influences sleep.
As one 2019 study in PLOS One2 notes, "Growing evidence suggests that the gut microbiome can influence sleep quality. We found that total microbiome diversity was positively correlated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time."
And as a holistic nutritionist and gut health expert, Lindsay Boyers previously wrote for mbg, "Research shows that a lack of sleep contributes to stress, which can lead to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. On the flip side, getting enough sleep (around seven to nine hours per night for adults3) can help you manage the physical effects of stress, promoting healthy gut balance."
Less stress makes for a happy gut.
Speaking of stress, Boyers' aforementioned point holds true even if it's not sleep-related stress, Rossi says, noting that any stress can affect our gut microbiomes.
And the existing research shows this, with a 2011 research review published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology4 supporting findings that exposure to stress results in alterations of the gut-brain axis.
"Stress can impact the digestive process. It can also cause stomach discomfort," licensed psychotherapist Gina Simmons Schneider, Ph.D., previously wrote for mindbodygreen, adding that stomach upset can increase the environment for the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut. "Harmful bacteria trigger a discordant cascade of unpleasant side effects," she adds.
Our gut microbiomes love movement.
Last but not least, getting sufficient movement is super beneficial to your gut. Not only is it going to help you get better sleep and feel less stressed, for what it's worth, but research even shows exercise positively influences the gut.
As a 2017 review published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity5 explains, numerous studies point to exercise enhancing the number of beneficial microbial species, enriching gut microflora diversity, and improving the development of commensal bacteria. "All these effects are beneficial for the host, improving its health status," the review authors note.
What to do about it.
If any of these three factors are awry in your life and you think your digestion might be feeling the effects, there are a number of things you can do to check all three boxes.
According to Boyer, aiming for 2.5 to five hours of exercise per week is great for your gut, and it will help you de-stress and sleep better, too. Maybe it's a calming yoga flow before bed or a hike on your nearest trail that's sure to have you sleeping like a baby later.
Along with getting quality sleep, finding ways to decompress, and having an active lifestyle, you can support your gut health—and digestion—with a quality probiotic, like mindbodygreen's probiotic+. The unique formula features a combination of four clinically studied strains, which help ease bloating, aid digestion, and holistically support your gut microbiome.*
As Rossi tells mbg, "Indeed sleep, stress, and exercise—all independent of diet affect—our gut microbiome." And that means quality sleep, less stress, and more movement are the name of the game. When those bases are covered, our gut health, and digestion, are sure to benefit.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.