There is no longer any debate: the composition of bowel flora in the human gastrointestinal tract is a critical aspect of human health, both bowel health and overall health.

The status of bowel flora can spell the difference between having an autoimmune condition and not having an autoimmune condition, being diabetic or not being diabetic, being emotionally happy or not being happy, and developing colon cancer or not developing colon cancer. The composition of bowel flora and their ability to metabolize prebiotic fibers/resistant starches to butyrate and other fatty acids play important roles in insulin responses, nourishing and maintaining intestinal health, and intestinal permeability.

Problem: We are surrounded by factors that disrupt bowel flora, killing off beneficial species, reducing species diversity and allowing the proliferation of undesirable or pathogenic (disease-causing) species. Such disruptive factors can be in food, medications, and water. Being aware of such disruptive factors can begin your journey to regaining control over the health of your bowel flora.

Unfortunately, we cannot eliminate, only minimize, exposure to such factors. Our efforts to “seed” and cultivate healthy bowel flora can then have better chances for success.

Wheat and grain consumption–In addition to grain amylopectins that alter oral flora, the seeds of grasses contain multiple indigestible or only partially digestible proteins, such as wheat germ agglutinin and gliadin, that disrupt bowel health and digestion, thereby setting the stage for changes in bowel flora that have evolved over the 300 generations since humans made took this dietary detour.

Solution: eat no wheat or grains.

Antibiotic residues in factory farm-raised meats–Tetracycline, doxycycline, sulfonamides, and other antiobiotics, administered to livestock to accelerate growth and/or treat infections, can be encountered in most non-organic beef, chicken, and pork if the farmer allows the animal to be slaughtered before the recommended waiting period off antibiotics. (There is also the bigger problem of creating antiobiotic resistance with the agents used as growth accelerants.)

Solution: choose organic, free range meats whenever possible.

Chlorinated, fluoridated water–Despite the widespread addition of halogenated antibacterials in water, there are no clinical studies examining the bowel flora consequences of their ingestion. But, given their direct entry into the gastrointestinal tract and the potent antibacterial effects of chlorine, the more persistent chloramine, trihalomethanes that result from chlorine reactions, and fluoride, bowel flora effects are likely, particularly in the small intestine.

Solution: filter your water or drink water sources without added chloride and fluoride.

Bt toxin corn–We know that Bt toxin, a pesticide genetically engineered into corn, is absorbed by humans, such as pregnant mothers and fetuses and, if ingested, exerts damaging changes on the ileum. Bt toxin is regarded as among the more benign pesticides when applied to plants. But almost nothing is known about the effects of actual direct human ingestion of Bt toxin in the form of corn genetically modified to express Bt toxin, thereby yielding ingested pesticide in your sweet corn, grits, and taco shell. We know that Bt toxin has antimicrobial effects, as well, but unfortunately the logical and highly likely effects on the bowel flora of humans ingesting it have not been examined.

Solution: eat no corn.

Glyphosate and other herbicides/pesticides in food–While glyphosate in herbicides such as Roundup are promoted as being benign for human health, among the problems that are showing up in preliminary research are changes in bowel flora and in liver detoxification of environmental toxins. Glyphosate appears particularly lethal to beneficial bacterial species, while permitting proliferation of undesirable species. Glyphosate and other agricultural chemicals are ubiquitous, our exposure only reduced by relying on organic foods.

Solution: eat organic vegetables and fruits whenever possible, or grow them yourself.

Prescription antibiotics–An obvious connection, antibiotics have been prescribed fairly liberally for decades. Like many other facets of bowel flora issues, this practice has not been fully studied, but it is clear that bowel flora do not return to the their pre-treatment state and can have implications for a lifetime, such as increased potential for obesity and diabetes if administered to young children.

Solution: only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary but continue your probiotic/prebiotic program even while taking them.

Emulsifying agents–These common processed food ingredients (such as carboxymethylcellulose) that keep components from separating, have potential to change bowel flora and disrupt the protective mucous lining of the intestinal tract. This research remains preliminary but one with some very broad and concerning implications. Total avoidance is, however, not practical, as there are natural emulsifiers in otherwise healthy foods, such as eggs (due to lecithin) and mustard can have emulsifying properties.

Solution: minimize (absolute avoidance is tough) exposure to carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate-80, sodium steroyl lactylate, carageenan, and others.

Prescription drugsAcid reflux drugs and anti-inflammatory NSAIDS are among the drugs that, by altering intestinal pH, increasing intestinal permeability, and direct damage to the intestinal lining, change bowel flora. There are probably plenty of other prescription drugs that change bowel flora, but this is typically not an issue that is explored and very little data exist.

Solution: follow the Wheat Belly wheat/grain-free lifestyle, along with the nutritional supplements that make up for the deficiencies of modern life, such as vitamin D, fish oil, and magnesium, and you will slash your need for drugs.

Artificial sweeteners–Specifically aspartame, saccharine, and sucralose modify bowel flora, helping explain why sugar-free soda drinkers are no more slender, perhaps heavier, than sugared soda drinkers.

Solution: avoid anything sweetened with aspartame, saccharine, or sucralose