Is Too Much Screen Time Compromising Gut Health?

We are addicted to our screens. Like most addictions (such as drinking alcohol and binge-eating), excessive screen-time can be harmful to our gut health. Too much screen time can ravage the gut biome for several reasons, including being too sedentary, depression, and electromagnetic radiation to our stomach bacteria. Kids and adults alike run the risk of too much screen time ruining their gut health. Here’s what to do about it!

What is Screen Time?

Before figuring out what is too much screen time, let’s get a clear consensus of what we’re talking about here. In this article, the words “screen time” describes how we consume media. We’re describing the act of someone looking at a screen to receive information, entertainment, or to find a hot date.

too much screen time
Screens are sucking us in

So, screen time includes:

  • Smartphone
  • Computer
  • Tablet
  • Television
  • eBook
  • Social Media
  • Video Games

These sort of gadgets are run on LED lights and are powered by Wi-Fi signals. Sure, these devices are convenient, but they’re turning to be a real inconvenience for our system as a whole.

Coopervision funded a poll to determine how much of our day we spend looking at screens. The results are rather astonishing.

Pollsters OnePoll reported,

“A new survey of 2,000 people into the screen time habits of Americans revealed that whether it’s our phones, laptops, TVs, or tablets, screens are a significant element of everyday life. Assuming the average American gets eight hours of beauty rest a night, that means they spend six hours and 43 minutes a day looking at a screen, or 7,956 days of their life [1].”

OnePoll via Coopervision

Unfortunately, so many of us are regulated to screens all day. Whether we’re students learning on a tablet, office workers at a computer from 9 to 5, or a family watching TV at night, too much screen time seems inevitable! Here are some of the reasons too much screen time might be ruining your gut health.

Too Much Screen Time and Lack of Exercise

Exercise is essential for optimal wellness. Sure, we attribute a buff bod to getting up and moving. However, exercise also has a profound impact on the microbiome.

One analysis looking at exercise and the gut biome found,

“Exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbial species, enrich the microflora diversity, and improve the development of commensal bacteria. All these effects are beneficial for the host, improving its health status [2].”


– Oxid Med Cell Longev.

While exercise is amazing for us, the majority don’t seem to embrace this activity very much. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in three people is overweight [3].

A meta-analysis looked at the long-time relationship between too much screen time and obesity. That’s right; too much screen time isn’t a new problem. It’s one that’s plagued us since televisions became commonplace in the household.

This research report stated,

“The relationship between screen media exposure and obesity has been widely studied. Starting in the mid-1980s, many epidemiologic studies have revealed associations between screen time and obesity. For example, in 1 longitudinal cohort study of a nationally representative sample of US 10- to 15-year-olds, there was a strong dose-response relationship between the number of hours per day children viewed television and the prevalence of overweight, and as much as 60% of the 4-year incidence of overweight was estimated to be attributable to excess television viewing [4].”

Pediatrics

When people are glued to their screens, they’re sitting on the couch, train, or at their desk. Unless they’re watching TV during cardio, chances are their smart device would be an audio companion instead of a visual one. Being on a screen for over six hours per day means we are most certainly not exercising.

Snacking in Front of Screens

Too much screen time lends itself to more snacking. For one, we aren’t paying attention to the food we’re eating. So, it’s not triggering to our brain that we’ve eaten. Plus, snacking fills a void while you’re zoning out on the screen.

One analysis was alarmed, stating,

“Teens who sit for hours watching TV, using the computer or playing video games while eating unhealthy snacks are at increased risk for a cluster of risk factors including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that elevate the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes [5].”

The Endocrine Society

Naturally, these are all life-threatening situations. Suffice to say; microbes in your gut biome can’t be doing too well in these sorts of conditions, either. All of these conditions are triggered by inflammation. Therefore, probiotic bacteria get killed off due to a sedentary lifestyle of snacking cultured by too much screen time.

Too Much Screen Time and Depression

Our screens do a lot of things to us on a psychological level that we may not even be aware of. There are so many layers to how too much screen time affects our mental state.

too much screen time and gut health
Is this happiness?

For one, there’s the pressure of always being connected.

Whether it’s old-fashioned Facebook, the 24-hour shelf-life of Snapchat, or six seconds of shenanigans on Tik Tok, the spotlight is always on.

CNN recently analyzed a poll conducted by Common Sense Media.

Their conclusions showed how deep teenage addiction to smartphones run.

Results found,

“Nearly 80% of teens in the new survey said they checked their phones hourly, and 72% said they felt the need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages. Thirty-six percent of parents said they argued with their child daily about device use, and 77% of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention when they are together at least a few times per week [6].”

CNN

Too much screen time doesn’t allow us to process our thoughts about real-life events. We get lost in a web of information overload. In turn, it’s causing us to disconnect from one another, reality, and our microbes!

What is Addicting Us to Our Devices?

Children and adults alike feel dependent on their smartphones for two things:

  • Keep Them Entertained
  • Build Their Brand

Whether you’re a child leading the roast on a group chat or a middle-aged single trying to put your best life out on Insta, we have so much pressure on us. This pressure is from both society and our own expectations. We feel this unnecessary need to flaunt the best parts of our lives at all times, even if we have to fabricate these stories a little.

social media
How many of us have posed for a “candid?”

Think about it, who hasn’t posed for a “candid” photo where you pretend you didn’t know someone was taking your picture? We’re all guilty of it, just some more than others. At times, our reality is no less scripted than the Kardashians. We just have a smaller budget.

The reason we live like this is that each notification, like, or retweet we get sets off neurotransmitters in our brain, most specifically dopamine [7].

This hormone provides us with a rewarding feeling. However, too much screen time is doing anything but bringing rewards. We spend so much time trying to recapture that rewarding feeling that we become addicted to our screens.

Phone Addiction and Depression

A recent study looked at how social media can cause alterations to our brain pathways. Shockingly, our dependency on this platform is destroying parts of our grey matter.

One analysis found,

“Our findings lend support to the idea that the composition of key brain regions of the dual-system of reasoning, the amygdala and ACC/MCC (anterior cingulate cortex and midcingulate cortex), but not the NAc (Nucleus Accumbens) , is associated with SNS addiction. We specifically show that the GMV (grey matter values) of the amygdala is negatively associated with SNS addiction scores. Hence, people with high SNS (social network site) addiction scores have a pruned amygdala, which is presumably involved in generating strong impulsive behaviors [8].”

Sci Rep

What is interesting and alarming about these statistics is the interaction between social media and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and midcingulate cortex (MCC). These are the areas of the brain that regulate self-control and impulses. Therefore, social media feed these parts of the brain that crave clicking a red notification on your Facebook globe or a blue bell on your Twitter feed.

too much screen time
Feel the dopamine?

Scarily enough, social media doesn’t trigger Nucleus Accumbens (NAc). This is a telltale area of the brain that dictates how we process rewards.

The NAc of the brain weighs the pros and cons of motivation for addictive behaviors.

So, while the NAc may prompt an alcoholic to have a drink, it doesn’t play a role in our social media addictions. That suggests we may be making new alterations to the brain we never have before.

That is further evidenced by damage to the amygdala. This part of the brain plays a pivotal role in how we process emotions. Therefore, people addicted to their screens are more likely to act irrationally or depressed.

Too Much Screen Time and Sleep Problems

50 to 70 million have sleep problems [9]. A big reason for this is due to our dependence on screens. A majority of the screens are made with blue Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights.

too much screen time
LEDs wreak havoc on sleep patterns

LED lights mimic the blue light that the sun projects when it rises in the morning. That sunlight has been generating our biological clock (circadian rhythm) since the day we were born. The sun does this through our pineal gland, situated behind our eyes.

Two hours before bed, the pineal gland excretes melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. This process gets prompted by the sun going down. We then enter a dark room and go to sleep. As the sun rises and comes through the window, the pineal gland gets charged through the eyelids. As a result, this gland stops secreting melatonin and slowly brings in hormones like dopamine and serotonin. Now, we’re ready to start our day!

Unfortunately, research shows excessive exposure to blue LED lights disrupts our circadian rhythm [10]. Therefore, too much screen time makes us miss out on sleep.

When we sleep, that’s when our body makes hormones. After all, its hormones that wake us up in the first place. In addition to hormones, our body makes immune cells. So, when we miss out on sleep from too much screen time, we compromise our immune system as well.

Too Much Screen Time, Electromagnetic Waves, and Gut Bacteria

All of the negative effects of too much screen time may seem obvious. However, there is a silent gut killer lingering in these screens.

Are we cooked?

Our devices are made of electromagnetic waves.

Yes, the same things that can also cook our foods in record time.

Now, imagine the size of a microbe compared to the size of a leftover lamb chop.

Can you imagine just how quickly these waves can zap something so minuscule? Well, it’s happening.

Harmful Stomach Bacteria That Like Electromagnetic Waves

One study saw that electromagnetic waves increased levels of Escherichia coli (E.coli) in the gut biome [11]. While many of us give E.coli a bad rap, this stomach bacteria is still essential for the digestion of food. It’s when E.coli increases that we have an issue.

Not only does too much E.coli cause gastrointestinal distress, but smartphones can enable this overgrowth to happen.

Research shows,

“The exposure of E coli ATCC 25992 to the magnetic field of 2 mT at the frequency of 50 Hz caused significant alterations in the morphology, growth curves, structural parameters, and the sensitivity to certain antibiotics such as nalidixic acid, amoxicillin, and erythromycin [11].”

Sage Journals

Under magnetic radiation, pathogens can grow larger. Plus, these waves can make them antibiotic-resistant. This combination can be a catastrophe for gut health.

Probiotic Gut Bacteria That Don’t Like Electromagnetic Waves

Not only do our devices affect E.coli, but they also can have implications for healthy stomach bacteria. However, these interactions are negative. Probiotics don’t seem to enjoy the effects of electromagnetic radiation.

Lactobacillus
Lactobacillus is one of the
top probiotic strains for gut health.

Lactobacillus is a species of stomach bacteria that help fight off allergens, digest food, and repair a leaky gut barrier. Unfortunately, they can’t withstand the power of magnetic waves.

One study exposed Lactobacillus Plantarum and Lactobacillus Rhamnosus to radio frequencies of 6.41 GHz, 7.5 GHz, and 7.62 GHz.

Results found,

“Electromagnetic radiation affects the growth rate of bacteria, produce free radicals due to which the growth decreases and sometime it also inhibit the growth. Cell permeability also affected by the radiation. From the data it can be easily decuced that the cellular membrane of microorganism affects by the electromagnetic radiation [12].

Upcoming 5G services are going to be around the 6 GHz to 100 GHz frequency [13]. So, who knows what kind of damage will be done over the next decade or two?

What is Too Much Screen Time?

Before getting overly concerned about too much screen time, let’s figure out what’s constitute as “too much screen time” in the first place. Figuring this number out is hardly objective.

too much screen time
Try to limit screen time

A good number of people are in denial about their own screen habits. Meanwhile, others may be overly sensitive to notions that their child is partaking in too much screen time.

In their minds, this might be an attack on how they parent.

With all these factors at play, it’s hard to pinpoint a clear-cut number as to what is a healthy amount of screen time.

For children, the Mayo Clinic offers some suggestions. That way, you can gauge your child’s habits with their physical and emotional responses.

According to the MayoClinic,

“The recommendations are really to minimize screen time in children before age 2. Between ages 2 and 5, we would recommend you keep the screen time to one hour or less per day. And in children that are older than 5, we recommend trying to minimize a recreational or enjoyment-related screen time to two hours or less per day. Two hours or less a day applies to teens, as well. But the recommendations do not include educational-related screen time [14].”

Mayo Clinic

While it may seem inevitable for your gut health to be compromised by screen time, don’t feel defeated. Here are some tips to help you reclaim your gut health in this digitized world.

How to Lessen Screen Time and Improve Gut Health

You may seem handcuffed to your device, but you’re not. You can actually live without it. Here are a few tips for disconnecting and for rejuvenating your gut health.

Leave the Phone at Home

Life existed before smartphones. We promise it will go on without them, too. Next time you step out somewhere familiar, leave your phone at home. That is especially true if someone else has their phone with them. The fewer opportunities you have to pull your phone out, the less likely you will miss your device in the long run.

Stop Checking Work Emails

Part of the problem is that we made ourselves too available. We put this pressure to be on at all times. It’s unrealistic, and you need to set boundaries. Post work hours and be done. Don’t check your work email at home. Let home time be home time.

Don’t Eat and Screen

Let’s face it; we’re going to end up in front of a screen. Don’t let that be the time we eat. Set a time to eat away from a screen. That way, your mind can process the fact you ate. You will be less likely to eat empty calories that will ruin the acidity of your gut biome.

Microbiome Testing

Think your gut bacteria may be prompting you to make impulsive decisions to pick up a screen? Find out for sure. Get an at-home gut test. We can send you everything you need to figure out which stomach bacteria are in your system. Based on the results, we formulate personalized probiotics. With these supplements, your microbiome may find balance, which might help you manage symptoms of device addiction.

Thryve Probiotics Gut Health

Resources

[1] “Americans Spend Nearly Half of Their Waking Hours (42 Percent) Looking at a Screen, It’s Been Revealed by New Research.” CooperVision®, 13 Aug. 2018, coopervision.com/our-company/news-center/press-release/americans-spend-nearly-half-their-waking-hours-42-percent.

[2] Monda, V., Villano, I., Messina, A., Valenzano, A., Esposito, T., Moscatelli, F., … Messina, G. (2017). Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity2017, 3831972. doi:10.1155/2017/3831972

[3] “Obesity and Overweight.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 16 Feb. 2018, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight.

[4] Robinson, T. N., Banda, J. A., Hale, L., Lu, A. S., Fleming-Milici, F., Calvert, S. L., & Wartella, E. (2017). Screen Media Exposure and Obesity in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics140(Suppl 2), S97–S101. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1758K

[5] “Screen Time plus Snacking a Risk for Metabolic Disorder in Teens.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 25 Mar. 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190325080404.htm.

[6] Wallace, Kelly. “50% Of Teens Feel Addicted to Their Phones, Poll Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 July 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/05/03/health/teens-cell-phone-addiction-parents/index.html.

[7] Scudamore, Brian. “The Truth About Smartphone Addiction, And How To Beat It.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 30 Oct. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/brianscudamore/2018/10/30/the-truth-about-smartphone-addiction-and-how-to-beat-it/.

[8] He, Q., Turel, O., & Bechara, A. (2017). Brain anatomy alterations associated with Social Networking Site (SNS) addiction. Scientific reports7, 45064. doi:10.1038/srep45064

[9] “The State of SleepHealth in America.” SleepHealth, www.sleephealth.org/sleep-health/the-state-of-sleephealth-in-america/.

[10] Tsai JW, Hannibal J, Hagiwara G, Colas D, Ruppert E, Ruby NF, Heller HC, Franken P, Bourgin P. Melanopsin as a sleep modulator: circadian gating of the direct effects of light on sleep and altered sleep homeostasis in Opn4 (−/−. mice. PLoS Biol. 2009;7:e1000125. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=19513122&dopt=Abstract

[11] Taheri, M., et al. “Evaluation of the Effect of Radiofrequency Radiation Emitted From Wi-Fi Router and Mobile Phone Simulator on the Antibacterial Susceptibility of Pathogenic Bacteria Listeria Monocytogenes and Escherichia Coli – M. Taheri, S. M. J. Mortazavi, M. Moradi, S. Mansouri, G. R. Hatam, F. Nouri, 2017.” SAGE Journals, 23 Jan. 2017, journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1559325816688527.

[12] Vasistha , Sharsti, and Akshay Garg. “Effect of Electromagnetic Radiation on Lactobacillus Species .” Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, 2016, 8(7):123-126 , journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1559325816688527.

[13] Coates, John. “5G Network Uses Nearly Same Frequency as Weaponized Crowd Control Systems.” RF (Radio Frequency) Safe, 8 Oct. 2018, www.rfsafe.com/5g-network-uses-nearly-same-frequency-as-weaponized-crowd-control-systems/.

[14] “Mayo Clinic Minute: How Much Screen Time Is Too Much for Kids?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-how-much-screen-time-is-too-much-for-kids/.