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Climate Change Impacts Overall Gut Health

The effects of climate change on gut health are real, underestimated, and multi-faceted. A mini-review study published in the Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases found that climate change could be a key player in explaining increasing rates of some gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD – Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), GI cancers, liver disease, chronic dysbiosis (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – SIBO), and functional GI disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Based on researchers’ findings, climate change may negatively impact gut health through the following mechanisms:

  • Chronic stress associated with climate-related natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, and storms, can lead to functional GI-related disorders; stress alters the gut microbiome and can lead to acute and chronic dysbiosis which increases the risk of gut autoimmune diseases such as IBD and celiac disease.
  • Increases in C02 levels continue to impact soil health, lowering the richness and diversity of soil microbes, negatively affecting the nutrients in food, and finally, curtailing the health of the human gut microbiome – heightening the risk of gut-related disease.
  • Increasing temperatures and frequent flooding have led to a rise in water-borne and vector-borne diseases and infections, a problem in both developing and developed countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by the year 2050, 33,000 children worldwide will die from climate change-triggered diarrheal diseases.
  • While the relationship is not well understood (although the blog post Pollution Increases Autoimmune Disease may shed some light), there is a link between air pollution and gut-related diseases such as liver disease, IBS, IBD, cancers, and peptic ulcer. As air pollution due to climate change increases, so do GI diseases and disorders.

These findings remind us that the health of our external environment is closely linked to the internal environment in our gut. One way to optimize your gut health is by focusing on your surrounding environment. Here are three things that can help you do that:

  • Reduce chronic stress – While we can’t always control what happens in our lives, we can control how we react and allow it to affect our stress levels. Studies show that meditation, yoga and exercise can have an incredible impact on chronic stress levels, lowering cortisol levels and improving gut health and chronic disease.
  • Know your area’s air and water quality – Being well informed can help you make appropriate steps to improve your surrounding environment. If water quality is poor in your area, consider a water filter. While improving the air quality in your town may be out of your control, improving your in-home air quality may be within your reach.
  • Find a biodynamic and/or organic farm near you. Choosing food grown in environments that focus on the richness and diversity of soil microbes, as well as minimizing pesticides, will reduce the chemical load your gut receives from the food system and increase the nutritional and microbial composition of the food you consume.

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