7 surprising things that harm your gut bacteria

Keeping your digestive system happy is more than having a good diet. Continue reading to find out seven surprising things that may be harming your gut bacteria without you realising it.

Smoking and alcohol

Factors such as smoking or alcohol influence the variety of microorganisms that colonise our large intestine, causing some to increase and others to decrease, depending on how long we have had the habit. These changes can lead to an increase in pathogens and can produce physiological disorders, such as alterations in gastrointestinal transit, inflammation and pain.

Lack of exercise

We have always known that exercise such as walking or swimming is good for us, but recent studies suggest that it may even alter gut bacteria and improve gut health. Higher levels of fitness have been associated with a higher abundance of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that is important for general health, and butyrate-producing bacteria. They have also been associated with Akkermansia muciniphila, which has anti-inflammatory effects and could be used to prevent obesity and type-2 diabetes.


Antibiotics work by killing bacteria or preventing them from multiplying and have saved millions of lives. However, they affect both good and bad bacteria. Even a single antibiotic treatment can cause harmful changes in the composition and diversity of gut flora. These changes may be short-term or long-term, depending on the type of antibiotics and the amount taken.


Being healthy is more than just diet, exercise and sleep. When under stress, the body releases cortisol. This hormone affects the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, producing alterations in the large intestine that affect the intestinal flora and cause inflammation, which can lead to pain and food intolerances and allergies. Our gut bacteria also influence serotonin levels in the blood.

Lack of variety in diet

A lack of diversity in gut bacteria limits recovery from exposure to infection or antibiotics. A diet consisting of a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can lead to a more diverse gut flora. This is because the foods you eat provide nutrients that help bacteria grow. A diet rich in whole foods provides your gut with a variety of nutrients that help promote the growth of different types of bacteria.

Lack of sleep

Good sleep is very important for overall health. Your body has its own internal clock, called the circadian rhythm, which affects your brain, body and hormones. It seems that the gut also has a daily circadian rhythm. Disrupting this through lack of sleep or eating late at night can have harmful effects on gut bacteria. These changes may be linked to weight gain, obesity and type 2 diabetes.


Making long trips in a relatively short amount of time can temporarily affect our gut bacteria. This is probably also linked to our circadian rhythm. These disruptions cause certain microorganisms to increase and others to decrease, possibly leading to inflammation. Recovery from this can take up to 48 hours after travelling.

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Written by

Tamsin Brown

Originally from London, Tamsin is based in Malaga and is a local reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering Spanish and international news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]


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