Signs You Have an Unhealthy Gut (and How to Fix it)
Gut health is a trendy topic. But there’s so much more that goes into having a healthy gut than just drinking kombucha and getting a colonic.
If you’ve ever dealt with poor digestion or other issues with your gut, you know how miserable and disheartening having an unhealthy gut can be.
But, how do you know when your digestive upset is simply from a night of too much sushi and drinking, or if it points to a deeper issue?
In this article, I’m going to walk you through some of the main signs that can tell you you’re gut is actually unhealthy.
And because I want to help you break free from the heavy burden than having gut issues can bring, I’m also going to give you some of my best tips for healing your gut and getting back on the road to ideal health!
So, if you’re ready to learn some signs that your gut is unhealthy, let’s go!
Sign That Your Gut is Unhealthy #1: Food Sensitivities
If you’ve recently found that food you used to eat and enjoy with no problem is all of a sudden making you feel sick, your gut might be unhealthy.
The development of food sensitivities or intolerances is a big indicator that there’s an underlying gut issue at play.
Unfortunately, food sensitivities can be caused by a variety of root conditions. So additional testing and detective work is often necessary to pinpoint exactly what’s going on in your gut.
One cause of food sensitivities that could be affecting your gut health is a bacterial imbalance.
Any imbalance in your gut microbiome, from SIBO to a pathogenic overgrowth, could be behind your inability to tolerate certain foods.
In SIBO, bacteria invade your generally sterile small intestine. There they have the ability to digest certain foods that they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to in the large intestine.
Bacteria easily digest short-chain carbohydrates. So if you’re reacting to foods like onions, broccoli, apples, or avocados (all known as a class of foods called FODMAPs), SIBO could be to blame.
Oftentimes removing the FODMAP containing foods that cause symptoms is enough to provide relief, but getting to the root of and treating the SIBO is the best way to be able to eat those foods again symptom free.
The bacteria don’t necessarily have to be in your small intestine to be causing food sensitivities. Simply having an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in your large intestine can cause symptoms when certain foods are consumed.
Bacterial imbalances can increase gut inflammation, as is evident in studies that have been able to link microbiome disruptions and inflammatory bowel diseases like Chron’s and Ulcerative Colitis.
This increase in intestinal inflammation can lead to a condition called leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. When your gut becomes leaky, the cells of your intestines are no longer joined together properly.
This allows large molecules, like undigested food particles, to pass into your bloodstream. And when food particles enter your bloodstream, food sensitivities can develop.
How to Fix It
Getting tested for any gut imbalances is the first and most important step in eliminating your food sensitivities.
But, while you’re waiting for you test results, there are some intermediate actions you can start taking in an effort to reduce those unpleasant symptoms.
Making sure you’re using a high-quality probiotic is a great defense against food sensitivities. Good probiotics will help to modulate your immune system, which plays a huge role in the development of food sensitivities.
This probiotic, which I use personally, also can act as an antioxidant in your gut. Which means that it can track down and start to kill any pathogens that may be hanging out in your large intestine.
So if the results of your testing shows that you do have a bacterial imbalance, these probiotics are already one step ahead of any protocol that your practitioner might put in place to get rid of the overgrowth.
Integrating prebiotic containing foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi are also great ways to help crowd out any gut infection that might be behind your food sensitivities. Just make sure that you’re not eating any probiotic containing foods that you might be sensitive to!
While all of these techniques can be helpful, the surefire way to eliminate any food sensitivities that indicate an unhealthy gut is to get to the root cause. Whether that root cause is a bacterial overgrowth, or just leaky gut, figuring out why you’re reacting to foods in the first place is the best way to be able to eat them again soon with no reactions!
Sign That Your Gut is Unhealthy #2: Digestive Issues After Eating
Digestive issues like gas, bloating, and constipation/diarrhea can be one-off occurrences that happen after a bad meal or one too many drinks.
But, if you’re experiencing these symptoms more often than not, it’s likely that you have an unhealthy gut.
These non-specific digestive issues like gas, bloating, and a change in bowel habits can be a result of so many gut imbalances and conditions.
Low stomach acid is one gut condition that actually affects more people than you would think. And it can be a cause of all of these unpleasant gut symptoms.
Another prominent symptom of low stomach acid is belching, acid reflux, and feeling full after eating.
So if these symptoms of an unhealthy gut sound like you, low stomach acid could be to blame. Having low stomach acid is also a common root cause of gut bacterial imbalances like SIBO. So working to correct this stomach acid imbalance is an important step towards a healthy, thriving gut!
Along with low stomach acid, a general lack of digestive enzymes can cause these common gut symptoms like gas and bloating.
Digestive enzymes are critical catalysts that help digest the food we eat and ensure that we’re pulling all of the vitamins, nutrients, and calories from it that we can.
But without a sufficient amount of these enzymes that are produced all throughout our digestive tract, our food particles can’t get broken down and our gut has a more difficult time moving them through our system. This can result in additional symptoms like gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
How to Fix It
Again, finding a good practitioner and getting tested is your best bet for overcoming these digestive issues for good.
But, there are some steps you can take to start the gut healing in the meantime.
Both stomach acid and digestive enzymes aid our digestive organs in the actual digestion of our food. So when these chemical means of digestion are lacking, our physical digestive system has to pick up the brunt of the work.
Using digestive bitters is also another gentle, yet very effective way to get your digestive juices flowing. You can take them in water about 30 minutes before a meal to help kickstart your digestion and get your gut ready to digest food.
Another huge factor to help you digest your food better is to make sure you’re in a rest-and-digest state before and during meals.
Our gut and our brain are intimately connected. So if we’re stressed, watching an upsetting television show, or eating on the run, our brain is telling our gut that digestion is not very important. This can lead to our bodies not producing adequate stomach acid or digestive enzymes, getting us in this vicious cycle of symptoms and gut issues.
Sign That Your Gut is Unhealthy #3: Unexplained Skin Issues
Skin issues like acne, eczema, or dry skin may not immediately seem like they stem from gut issues. But, experiencing unexplained skin issues can be a big sign that you actually do have any unhealthy gut.
Just like the gut and the brain are intertwined, there’s also something called the gut-skin axis that explains the connection between our gut health and our skin health.
Many of the skin issues that stem from an unhealthy gut are tied back to the health of the microbiome.
Acne, specifically, has been linked to gut bacteria imbalances and increased inflammation.
Another study showed that up to 40% of people with acne also had low stomach acid.
So, if you’re dealing with any skin issues that just don’t seem to get any better no matter how much you treat them topically, an unhealthy gut could be to blame.
How to Fix It
Skin conditions are so often indicative of an imbalance elsewhere in the body. So in order to resolve the skin flare-up, it’s important to dig deeper than just surface level and find out what’s going on in the gut.
If you’re struggling with skin issues that just won’t go away, working with a nutritionist or functional doctor who can dive deeper into resolving gut issues is your best bet.
In the meantime, getting into the habit of living a gut healing lifestyle definitely won’t hurt your chances at improving your skin.
Refined sugar, dairy, and gluten are all big triggers for increasing systemic inflammation. And inflammation, unfortunately is a primary driver of gut-mediated skin issues.
You could try cutting out these food groups for a period of time to see if your skin improves at all. Unfortunately, our skin is usually the last organ to respond to change. So it might take a few months of dedication to your gut-healing diet to see any changes.
But, it’s likely that these dietary changes could also positively affect your gut. So if you find that your gut health is improving without eating gluten, sugar, or dairy, you’re probably on the right track to healing your skin as well!
Sign That Your Gut is Unhealthy #4: Anxiety or Depression
Anxiety and depression are not symptoms to be taken lightly. And if they’ve seemingly appeared out of nowhere or correspond with an increase in gut symptoms, they could actually be a result of having an unhealthy gut.
Nope, anxiety and depression definitely aren’t all in your head. The gut-brain axis is at play again here. And imbalances in your gut can certainly lead to imbalances in your brain.
Your gut bacteria play a large role in not only your gut health, but more and more research is showing that they’re key players in your mental health as well.
One study showed that stress early in life may alter gut bacteria in such a way that can increase the risk of developing anxiety later in life.
We definitely don’t know all there is to know about the connection between our gut health and our mental health. But, if you’re dealing with sudden, unexplainable anxiety or depression, there could be a solution that lies in your gut.
If you’re suffering from symptoms of either of these conditions, it's important to work closely with a trusted medical professional. Under their guidance they’ll be able to support you in finding the root cause of your mental health struggles and get you back to full, vibrant health.
The Bottom Line
An unhealthy gut can have far reaching effects into many of our body systems. Ones that we might not even think of having a relationship to our gut.
Everything from whether or not we develop food sensitivities, to the health of our skin, to our mental health can be influenced by what’s going on in our gut.
So if you’re struggling with any host of symptoms, from digestive to your skin, teaming up with a practitioner who will help you get to the root cause is key.
And just remember, your symptoms are not all in your head. Our gut truly is connected to our entire body. And if there’s an imbalance or issue going on there, it’s likely that were going to feel out of balance elsewhere too.
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