Could Rural Living Be Better For Your Gut? How Built Environments Influence Your Health
When you think about gut health, geography may not be the first thing on your mind. However, it is a significant factor in your gut health.
Our local environment and its level of urbanization can impact gut health - which may leave you wondering, what exactly is influencing my gut microbiome, and what lifestyle habits can help me optimize my gut health no matter where I live?
Environmental Influence on Gut Health
The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms that line the intestinal tract. A healthy microbiome helps protect your body against invading bacteria, supports immune function, extracts nutrients, and maintains a healthy metabolism.
Geography influences the composition of the gut microbiome in two major ways: urbanization and regional diet patterns.
Urbanization can be defined as the process of developing cities by increasing the population of people who live in relatively dense areas. Cities can benefit health through improved economics, availability of health services, and higher quality of water and sanitation.
On the other hand, urbanization negatively impacts the diversity of microbes in the environment and your gut. City development destroys or breaks up the natural habitats of many plant, animal, and microbial species. As a result, studies find that urban areas have a lower abundance of microorganisms in the air and soil compared to rural areas.1
The loss of environmental biodiversity is linked to the loss of microbial diversity in humans, which in turn increases the risk of infectious and chronic diseases.2
Studies suggest that decreased gut microbe diversity can significantly impact your digestive health and disrupt your body’s natural defenses.3
Regional Diet Composition
Diets around the world are influenced by global food markets but are significantly shaped by locally available and culturally significant foods.
As a result, the composition of our gut bacteria changes to match what we eat. Different species of bacteria can be present in greater concentrations for certain regions depending on whether the majority diet is rich in fiber or rich in animal protein and saturated fats.4
Optimizing Your Gut Health in Your Environment
No matter whether you live in a densely-packed metropolis or a small rural town, there are ways that you can optimize your gut health.
Spend More Time in Nature
Even if you live in a busy city, your gut can still benefit from being outdoors. A recent study found that children who participated in outdoor nature activities had increases in beneficial gut bacteria.5
Diversify Your Diet
Eating fiber-filled foods and probiotics can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria and increase the diversity of gut microbes. A high fiber diet has many benefits for metabolism, colon health, and protection against oxidative stress and related health concerns.6
Reduce Tobacco and Alcohol
Alcohol intake reduces the total number and diversity of bacteria in the gut, especially with excess intake.7 Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure change the microbiome in the mouth, lungs, and gut while increasing inflammation.8 Stopping or cutting back on these habits can protect the diversity and resilience of your microbiome.
While your environment can have an impact on your gut health, there are several factors you can control to maintain microbe diversity no matter where you live.
Flies, E. J., Clarke, L. J., Brook, B. W., & Jones, P. (2020). The Science of the total environment, 738, 140337. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140337
Chen, Y., Martinez, A., Cleavenger, S., Rudolph, J., & Barberán, A. (2021). Microorganisms, 9(7), 1470. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms9071470
Young, H. S., Wood, C. L., Kilpatrick, A. M., Lafferty, K. D., Nunn, C. L., & Vincent, J. R. (2017). Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 372(1722), 20160124. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0124
Kriss, M., Hazleton, K. Z., Nusbacher, N. M., Martin, C. G., & Lozupone, C. A. (2018). Current opinion in microbiology, 44, 34–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mib.2018.07.003
Costea, P. I., Hildebrand, F., Arumugam, M., Bäckhed, F., Blaser, M. J., Bushman, F. D., de Vos, W. M., Ehrlich, S. D., Fraser, C. M., Hattori, M., Huttenhower, C., Jeffery, I. B., Knights, D., Lewis, J. D., Ley, R. E., Ochman, H., O'Toole, P. W., Quince, C., Relman, D. A., Shanahan, F., … Bork, P. (2018). Nature microbiology, 3(1), 8–16. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-017-0072-8
Sobko, T., Liang, S., Cheng, W., & Tun, H. M. (2020). Scientific reports, 10(1), 21993. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-78642-2
Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A., & Weickert, M. O. (2020). Nutrients, 12(10), 3209. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12103209
Engen, P. A., Green, S. J., Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., & Keshavarzian, A. (2015). Alcohol research : current reviews, 37(2), 223–236.
Huang, C., & Shi, G. (2019). Journal of translational medicine, 17(1), 225. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-019-1971-7