You may often hear about the impacts of dietary factors on your gut health, but how could your living environment affect your gut?
It is no secret that a healthy diet high in plant-based foods is important for your gut microbiome and overall health. However, researchers are now using advanced microbiome analysis technologies to explore the impact of other environmental and lifestyle factors on the gut microbiome. These studies suggest that your environment may have more of an impact on your microbiome than your genetics1! Fortunately, there are simple changes you can make to improve the health of your gut microbiome.
1. Spend time in nature to improve your gut microbiome composition
A few recent studies have shown that direct exposure to nature, such as living in a rural area2 or suburb with more diverse yard vegetation3, is associated with signatures of a healthy gut microbiome. The microbiomes of individuals that had more exposure to nature had an increase in microbial diversity2 – a key characteristic associated with the gut microbiome of healthy individuals, as well as increased abundance of beneficial gut bacteria, such as Faecalibacterium and Bifidobacterium3.
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In Microba’s own data, we’re seeing that those who have a garden generally have a microbiome with higher microbial diversity. So, in addition to upping your intake of fibre to nourish your gut microbes, you could try spending more time in nature! In fact, individuals who spent at least 2 hours a week in nature reported higher levels of health and wellbeing than those who spent less time outdoors4. This could be one longer outing or several shorter visits – either way, it seems that just getting outside is what is important.
2. Escape air pollution to improve your gut microbiome
Spending time in nature has many benefits that could support a healthy gut microbiome, including the lower levels of air pollution outside of urban cities. In a recent study in southern California, researchers found that exposure to the air pollutants Nitrogen Oxide (NO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Ozone (O3) had a relatively large impact on the microbiome compared to things such as age, BMI and gender – factors that are well-known to affect the gut microbiome5. Exposure to O3 was also associated with lower microbial diversity.
3. Consider a tree change to live in a more rural environment
But pollution is not the only factor at play – the types of microorganisms found in rural vs urban environments might also be influencing your microbiome. When researchers analysed the indoor microbiome (via vacuum dust samples) in rural and urban classrooms, they found that urban schools had a higher number of potential pathogens and pro-inflammatory Proteobacteria while rural schools tended to favour beneficial short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) producing microorganisms6.
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4. Avoid smoking to improve your gut microbiome
Microba’s research also shows that the gut microbiomes of smokers generally have lower microbial diversity than in non-smokers. Adding to that, several studies have now found that smoking has a significant impact on an individual’s gut microbiome composition and function7-9. Those who smoke have been shown to have lower amounts of the beneficial butyrate-producing Coprococcus catus adding to growing body of evidence for the health damaging effects of smoking.
While diet and physical exercise are important tools for improving your gut health, there are plenty of other factors in your environment that may be influencing your microbiome composition and function. The good news is that the more that we learn about these factors, the more we can do to improve our environments for the good of our gut microbiome. For a start, spending more time in nature can be a great way to improve your microbiome health and overall wellbeing.
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Rothschild, D., Weissbrod, O., Barkan, E. et al. .
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Nature, 2018; 555, 210-215. . Doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25973
Das B, Ghosh TS, Kedia S, et al. .
Analysis of the Gut Microbiome of Rural and Urban Healthy Indians Living in Sea Level and High Altitude Areas. .
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Parajuli A, Hui N, Puhakka R, et al. .
Yard vegetation is associated with gut microbiota composition. .
Sci of the Tot Envi, 2020; 713(136707). . Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.136707
White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. .
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Air pollution exposure is associated with the gut microbiome as revealed by shotgun metagenomic sequencing..
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Fu X, Ou Z, Zhang M, et al. .
Indoor bacterial, fungal and viral species and functional genes in urban and rural schools in Shanxi Province, China-association with asthma, rhinitis and rhinoconjunctivitis in high school students. .
Microbiome, 2021;9(1):138. . Doi: https://doi.org/doi:10.1186/s40168-021-01091-0
Falony G, Joossens M, Vieira-Silva S, et al. .
Population-level analysis of gut microbiome variation. .
Science, 2016; 352(6285): 560-564. . Doi: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aad3503
Zhang W, Li J, Lu S, et al. .
Gut microbiota community characteristics and disease-related microorganism pattern in a population of healthy Chinese people. .
Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):1594. . Doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-36318-y
Zhernakova A, Kurilshikov A, Jan Bonder M, et al. .
Population-based metagenomics analysis reveals markers for gut microbiome composition and diversity. .
Science, 2017; 352(6285): 565-569. . Doi: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aad3369