Stress is an important factor that is sometimes overlooked when it comes to gut health. It is now well recognised that stress can affect our digestion. When we’re feeling stressed this signal travels to our gut and can manifest in a variety of common gut symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea, pain, and bloating. Unsurprisingly, digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers can be negatively affected by increased stress. It’s therefore important for our gut health that we reduce and manage our stress levels as much as we can5.
Becoming more active appears to improve gut health by increasing the diversity of our gut microbes6. Having a sedentary lifestyle; where movement is limited for large portions of the day, can result in reduced stimulation of our gut muscles which, in turn, results in the slowing down of digestion. It’s therefore important to try and increase our movement in order to optimise our gut health. Raising your heart rate for 30 minutes most days can make an important difference6.
There is emerging evidence to suggest that poor quality sleep can negatively affect our gut microbes. Lack of quality sleep can also cause increases in stress hormones and inflammation. It affects the levels of our hunger and fullness hormones we produce, which is why when we’re tired, we crave certain foods and can affect how much we eat, all of which will have a knock-on effect on digestion7. As a general rule, we should aim for 7-9 hours’ sleep per night. You can help to improve your quality of sleep by limiting caffeine intake at least five hours before your bedtime8 and establishing a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down.
You may have heard of probiotic drinks and yoghurts that contain live bacteria and are designed to help improve gut health. These products will help increase the specific strains of bacteria that are contained within them but only while you continue to take them3.