Great Gut Blog

5 Everyday Things That Are Harming Your Microbiome

Posted by Brad Dennis, Ph.D. on

5 Everyday Things That Are Harming Your Microbiome

Today’s modern world is filled with so many things that have an influence on the state of our gut health and microbiome. Current research demonstrates that many aspects of our lifestyle affect the diversity, balance and functioning of the microbes living on us and inside us. These microbes play a profound role in physiological interactions and are an integral part in keeping us healthy. This is why it's important to have your human microbiome facts straight.

Unknowingly, most of us go about our lives without even realizing that there are some everyday factors that are negatively affecting our gut health and microbiome. Here are 5 everyday things that are harming your gut health:

  1. Food additives:
    • Emulsifiers are ever-present in processed foods and have been shown to be linked to metabolic conditions and inflammatory bowel disease in mice by altering the diversity and species of microbes in the large intestine.
    • Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin are also widely used in processed food products and drinks. Research has shown that consumption of such sweeteners that were once thought of to be a healthy sugar-alternative are now demonstrated to induce glucose intolerance in both humans and in mice, due to a shift in gut microbial activity.
  1. Bisphenol A: commonly known as BPA, is an estrogen-like compound contained in many commercially manufactured plastic products, in the lining of canned food products, plastic water bottles and other food packaging.  Its estrogenic effects interact with the body’s endocrine system and have been shown to have a correlation with such health conditions as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
    • In a study using mice that were fed a high-fat diet and a high-sucrose diet containing BPA, a comparison was made between the two controls and the results showed collectively that dietary BPA consumption influences gut dysbiosis and may be related to diseases attributed to an imbalance in gut microbes.  This can give us an insight into the negative impact BPA may have on the human microbiome.
  1. Heavy metals: Our food and our surrounding environment contain many heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium. Research has shown that our gut microbes play a role in helping to bind and detoxify these environmental pollutants that are harmful to our health.  However, these heavy metals have also been shown to impact the state of microbiota in a mouse study which demonstrated microbial imbalance, reduced presence of certain bacterial species and effect on intestinal homeostasis as a result of ingestion of oral cadmium and lead.
  1. Chemicals of Agriculture:  One of the most common herbicides used today in the farming of our food as well as in many households as a weed killer, is Roundup, which contains the active ingredient Glyphosate. Although Monsanto, the makers of Roundup claim that it is safe for humans, as the pathway that it affects (the shikimate pathway) is not present in animals, research is now showing otherwise.
    • The shikimate pathway is actually present in bacteria, and because humans are made of up to 100 trillion bacterial cells this poses a problem. The impact that Glyphosate has on our biological systems is extremely serious and includes impairment of amino acid synthesis, sulfate metabolism and transport, promotes gut dysbiosis and much more. It has been linked to various gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, as well as to such conditions as autism, cancer, obesity, infertility and Alzheimers, all of which are influenced by the state of the microbiome.
  1. Tap water:  The water running through our taps contains added chemicals that are intended to purify the water and make it “safe” for human consumption.  One such chemical additive is chlorine, which is used to kill any environmental bacteria.  The problem with this is that our microbiome contains bacteria.
    • One study performed on rats allows us to gain some insight into the ramifications of consumption of chlorine. Over a 12 week period, rats were given chlorinated water to drink and the results showed that they experienced impairment to functioning of their immune system. Given the close relationship of the human immune system with our gut microbiome, it is possible to gather that impaired immune function may be attributed to the negative impact of chlorine on the integrity of our gut microbes.

Takeaways – What you can do

  • Prioritize fresh, whole foods over packaged processed foods to avoid the consumption of food additives.
  • Minimize use of plastics, eating canned food products and food in plastic packaging. Where possible, use glass and stainless steel to store food and drinks in.
  • Heavy metals can be found in food such as some fish and other seafood, the lining of canned food products, general and travel vaccinations, air pollution, car exhausts and many other places. Minimize exposure where possible to these sources.
  • Glyphosate residue is primarily found in crops such as wheat, corn, soy and sugar. One of the best things you can do for your health is to avoid these, especially in processed foods where they are readily contained as cheap fillers.
  • It is worth finding a water filter for use at home that can filter out chlorine and other chemicals. A shower filter may also be a good option for the water you bathe in.


Gut Reaction: Environmental Effects of the Human Microbiota

Food Preservatives Linked to Obesity and Gut Disease

Dietary Emulsifiers Impact the Mouse Gut Microbiota Promoting Colitis and Metabolic Syndrome

Artificial Sweeteners Induce Glucose Intolerance by Altering the Gut Microbiota

A Bitter Aftertaste: Unintended Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiome

Chlorinated Water Modulates the Development of Colorectal Tumors with Chromosomal Instability and Gut Microbiota in APC-deficient Mice

Immunotoxicologic Evaluation of Chlorine-Based Drinking Water Disinfectants

Bisphenol A Alters Gut Microbiome: Comparative Metagenomics Analysis

Association of Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration with Medical Disorders and Laboratory Abnormalities in Adults

The Gut Microbiota: A Major Player in the Toxicity of Environmental Pollutants

Ecotoxicology Inside the Gut: Impact of Heavy Metals on the Mouse Microbiome

Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Disease

Glyphosate Induces Human Breast Cancer Cells Growth via Estrogen Receptors

The Effect of Glyphosate on Potential Pathogens and Beneficial Members of Poultry Microbiota In Vitro


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