A healthy gut is vital for overall health, as it is often referred to as the “second brain.” The gut and brain actually share the same chemicals and cells to digest nutrients and communicate with each other. Studies have also found connections between gut health and immune system function, mental health, endocrine disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disorders, and even cancer.
The complexity of the gut microbiome consists of about 200 different species of living microorganisms in your intestines (delicious, right?), including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. As long as all these critters are living in balance, all is well. But if any microbes start to grow out of their normal proportions, it can mean gut troubles.
First, let’s get familiar with some of the signs of an unhealthy gut.
Signs of a Gut Imbalance
Tummy Troubles: Chronic upset stomachs can be a telltale sign of a gut imbalance, including gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn.
More than Skin Deep: Skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema may present on the skin, but they actually find their roots in the gut. These conditions could be a result of an unbalanced gut microbiome, which in turn impacts different organs, including the skin.
Unrest in the Land of Autoimmunity: Studies have found that the autoimmune system and gut are intricately linked. A gut imbalance can lead to inflammation and disrupt the functionality of the immune system, causing the body to even attack itself instead of viruses.
Drastic Weight Changes: Extreme fluctuations in weight without intentionally changing up your diet or exercise routine can be a sign of an unbalanced gut, making it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, or store fat.
Unexplained weight loss may be the result of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, while weight gain could be caused by insulin resistance or inflammation.
You Are What You Eat: Food intolerances (different from food allergies) are a result of the body being unable to efficiently digest a certain food. Research suggests that food intolerances, like lactose intolerance, for example, could be caused by not having enough good bacteria circulating in the gut microbiome.
Gut Imbalance Triggers
So what can we do to make sure our guts are functioning at peak health? For starters, we can avoid some of the unhealthy gut triggers discussed below!
High-Sugar Diet: We all know we should be cutting back on processed foods and added sugars, but what exactly does all that junk do to your gut? Well, besides disrupting the variety of “good” bacteria in your gut microbiome, excess sugar can cause inflammation in the body, which is a precursor to many diseases, including cancer.
Not Enough Zzz’s: Research from the National Library of Medicine has demonstrated that chronic fatigue from insufficient, restless sleep can actually be the cause of an imbalance in gut bacteria.
Medications: Certain medications, like antibiotics, antacids, laxatives, sleeping pills, and even antidepressants, can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome. It’s important to consume fermented foods like yogurt or kimchi when consuming these medications to help nourish the gut.
Stress: Stress and depression can actually restructure the gut bacteria's composition through stress hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! There are a variety of ways you can combat an imbalanced gut and rid yourself of these unhealthy gut triggers for good.
- Lower your stress levels. Chronic stress is rough for the whole body, including the gut. Find a stress reliever that works for you such as meditation, exercise, or sauna bathing.
- Get enough sleep. Prioritizing your sleep can have a positive impact on your gut health. Aim for 7-9 hours per night for optimal gut health.
- Eat slowly and stay hydrated. Eating more slowly and chewing food thoroughly can reduce the chance of digestive discomfort while consuming enough water helps promote a healthy gut.
- Introduce a probiotic or prebiotic into your diet. Prebiotics act as “food” to grow the bacteria in your gut, while probiotics contain live good bacteria. Eat fermented foods daily such as sauerkraut or kimchi. Check out this easy recipe for delicious homemade sauerkraut.
- Check for food intolerances. You can discuss with your healthcare provider about undergoing some diagnostic tests to identify any food sensitivities and eliminate these from your diet.
- Drink bone broth. Bone broth is great for the gut because it’s super easy to digest and contains gelatin and amino acids that can help heal the mucosal lining of the digestive tract. The amino acids, including glutamine, are known to prevent and heal a “leaky gut,” which allows proteins to get into the bloodstream through leaks in the digestive lining. Leaky gut is linked to chronic disease, allergies, and inflammation.
This article is meant to be informational and should not be treated as medical advice. You should always consult with your physician for any personal concerns or when feeling ill and before starting any new supplements.