It is said that the gut is the second brain of the body. When you have an unhealthy gut, it can affect your entire body. To understand why this happens, it helps to know how the gut is supposed to function properly.
What is good gut health
Your gastrointestinal tract starts at your mouth and ends at your anus. Its role is to absorb food, digest it, absorb nutrients and excrete the remaining waste products. But how do you know if it’s working?
A healthy bowel usually functions properly when you have a bowel movement once or twice a day with well-formed and easy-to-pass stools. These daily bowel movements should be free of symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation and loose stools. Other signs of a healthy gut include the absence of rectal symptoms such as hemorrhoids and abdominal symptoms such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain.
In other words, the gut just works. With a well-functioning digestive system, you do not react to food or external inputs such as stress or environmental factors. You are also less prone to diseases such as skin diseases, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory reactions and other health problems.
9 Common Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
An unhealthy gut can be associated with a number of symptoms throughout the body, including:
1 Stomach pain and discomfort
If your stomach is often irritated with symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain, these may be symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is a common condition that affects the colon. An imbalance of gut bacteria, called dysbiosis, may play a role in the development of IBS in some people.
A study published in April 2017 in the journal Microbiome showed that people with chronic fatigue syndrome may have an imbalance in their gut microbiome. It usually consists of bacteria, microorganisms, fungi and viruses present in the digestive tract. Half of people with fatigue also have IBS.
Eating too much sugar can lead to an abundance of “bad” bacteria in the gut and dysbiosis. One way to change your eating habits is to change what’s in your microbiome.
4 Unintentional changes in weight
Research has revealed differences in the gut microbiomes of lean and obese people. A study published in July 2016 in the journal Nutrition Today suggests that a Western-style diet high in fat and refined carbohydrates may promote obesity-related gut bacteria.
5 Skin irritation
Research has also shown a link between an unhealthy gut and skin problems such as acne, psoriasis and eczema. A review published in July 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology showed that the gut microbiome affects the skin through complex immune mechanisms. Probiotics and prebiotics can help balance the gut and thus prevent or treat these inflammatory skin problems.
Another review published in July 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology found that an unhealthy gut can play a complex role in allergic conditions, including respiratory allergies, food allergies, and skin allergies. The gut microbiome can thus influence nutrition, the skin and even the lungs.
7 Autoimmune disease
A study published in August 2018 in the journal Clinical & Experimental Immunology showed that a particular gut bacterium, called Bacteroides fragilis, produces a specific protein. It can trigger the onset of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis.
8 Mood problems
There is a well-documented connection between the gut and the brain. The influence of the gut can also extend to your mood. A September 2017 study published in the journal Clinics and Practice found that gut disorders and central nervous system inflammation may be potential causes of anxiety and depression, and that probiotics may help treat these conditions.
The connection between the gut and the brain may also affect migraines. There is also a link between migraines and other conditions related to gut health, including IBS.
How to balance gut health
Do you have any of these different symptoms? It’s best to get checked by a doctor to determine if your symptoms are caused by an unhealthy gut or other factors. From there, you can also consult a doctor or naturopath who specializes in gut health. The very first step in gut healing is to identify and eliminate offending foods and restore healthy gut flora. If you stop eating foods that affect the intestinal wall, it may give you a chance to heal.
From there, your naturopath will likely recommend appropriate foods and supplements that can help repair your gut, including probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes, glutamine, fish oil, and more.
It can also be helpful to look at your lifestyle habits. Balancing other aspects of health can keep your gut functioning optimally. For example, by assessing your stress or sleep quality.