Find out which lifestyle choices affect the bacterial balance in your digestive system
The balance between the beneficial bacteria and bad bacteria living in your digestive system is influenced by a number of factors, including the foods you eat, the medications you take, and the environment you live in. Lifestyle choices and circumstances that promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria include:
- Eating a diet low in fiber and high in refined carbohydrates. Both of these habits slow bowel transit time and help provide fuel for harmful bacteria strains.
- Excessive use of antibiotics. As opposed to probiotics (which means "for life"), antibiotics (which means "against life") indiscriminately destroy all bacteria in the body as a way of eliminating disease. Don't get me wrong: Antibiotics can be lifesavers. When used prudently and properly—when nothing else will work—they can be very effective. But most people who take antibiotics never make any effort afterward to re-populate their body with beneficial bacteria.
- Consuming chlorinated water. Drinking chlorinated water can make it almost impossible to maintain ideal bacterial flora in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract because chlorine kills all bacteria, regardless of whether they are good or bad.
- Using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. NSAIDs can promote stomach and intestinal bleeding as well as increase the permeability of the entire GI tract. When the GI tract is more permeable, larger proteins, bacteria, and toxins are able to enter the bloodstream. This situation results in allergic reactions (food allergies), increased stress on the immune system, and the spread of toxins throughout the body. Researchers have also found that continued use of NSAIDs for rheumatoid arthritis can disrupt the intestinal mucus lining and flora and may even contribute to the continuance of the disease!
- Problems at birth. Under normal circumstances, infants are exposed to beneficial bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. These beneficial bacteria go on to establish themselves in the GI tract. However, this process does not always happen as it should. Particularly in the case of Cesarean deliveries, infants are not exposed to an adequate level of beneficial bacteria. This can result in inadequate levels of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract, which can be carried into adulthood. (Read more about beneficial bacteria development in infancy.)
- Unhealthy environments. Being exposed to toxic metals, pollutants, or radiation can all greatly increase your chances of having problems sustaining the proper bacterial balance in your digestive system.