7 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut & 7 Ways to Improve Gut Health
Feeling off? An unbalanced gut microbial community, also known as dysbiosis, can wreak havoc on your health. Your gut is home to around 100 trillion microbes, and most of these little critters are good for you.1 However, not all microbes provide the same health benefits. When potentially harmful bacteria have stronger effects than your good bacteria, it can negatively affect your health.
Here are 7 signs that your gut could use some love:
Has your skin been suffering from breakouts? An unbalanced gut might be the culprit. Recent studies have revealed a link between reduced bacterial diversity in the human gut and acne.2 Acne affects up to 50 million people in the United States and is the nation’s most common skin condition.3 What can you do to fight back against stubborn blemishes? Take a close look at your diet. Research has identified a link between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and acne.2 An overabundance of saturated fats, dairy products, and refined carbohydrates leaves Americans undernourished and can contribute to the development of blemishes.2 Omega-3 fatty acids are also in short supply in the SAD; supplementation with omega-3s has been shown to help reduce acne.4
Feeling down? The bacteria living in your gut could be partially to blame. You’ve probably heard of the gut-brain connection; many studies have shown a relationship between mood and the gut.5 Via the vagus nerves, your thoughts and moods send signals to your digestive tract (and immune system) and vice versa.6 Recent studies suggest that a high-quality probiotic may help to improve mood and cognition.7-10
Too many trips to the porcelain throne? Losing friends to flatulence? Confounded by occasional constipation? These annoying symptoms could be signs of dysbiosis.11 To address these issues, a good place to start is to look at your medications and supplements to see if any may cause occasional diarrhea or constipation. Additionally, an elimination diet can be a good way to help determine if certain foods might be contributing to your symptoms. Your poop could be telling you a lot about your health, so keeping tabs on your bathroom visits is important.
70% of your immune system resides in your gut.12 A healthy balance of gut bacteria helps support a sufficient immune response.
Are you counting sheep by the thousands, yet sleep is still elusive? The critters living in your gut could be partially to blame. A recent study showed that better and longer sleep is associated with microbiome diversity.13
If you often find yourself craving sugary treats, this could be partially due to the microbes in your gut.14 For example, the bacteria in your gut may signal that they would like a bacon maple doughnut, even though you planned to have a salad instead. The most effective way to turn down the volume on the signals for sugary snacks? Starve those nasty bugs by changing up your daily diet. You can improve your guts microbiome by favoring vegetables, fruits, and fermented foods. Over time the cravings can diminish.
Are you struggling to maintain a healthy weight? The bacteria in your gut could be a major player. Everyone’s microbiome is unique—made up of various strains of bacteria and protozoa (a group of single-celled microorganisms)—some of these gut dwellers have been shown to influence weight and even overall health. If you are experiencing sudden weight loss or unusual changes in your bowel habits, you should contact your healthcare practitioner.
7 ways to improve gut health
The more diverse your diet, the more diverse your microbiome! Eat the rainbow by loading up on a variety of different-colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources like fish and legumes. Another great way to support your gut is by eating fermented foods. Building a rich microbiome is a fantastic way to care for your health and immune system. Additionally, here are 5 foods to reduce to support your gut health.
High-quality probiotics can be a fantastic way to support your gut health. When you have a rich and diverse “forest” of good bacteria, the harmful bacteria are crowded out. This increase of good bacteria and the resulting reduction in harmful bacteria can improve your digestion and ability to better absorb macronutrients and micronutrients. Two important things to remember when selecting a probiotic: 1. Different strains for different gains, meaning different probiotic strains support specific health goals. 2. Not all probiotics are created equal. Here are six things to look for in a probiotic.
Remember to feed your good bacteria! The good bacteria in your gut live on prebiotics. Prebiotics resist digestion so that they can reach the good bacteria living in your colon. Your good bacteria then ferment (eat) the prebiotics. So, probiotics and prebiotics go together like…well, probiotics and prebiotics!
Many supplements are formulated to support a healthy gut and a strong digestive tract. Some great options are glutamine, inner leaf aloe, and zinc-carnosine. Additionally, recent studies have shown the benefits of vitamins C, B2 (or riboflavin), and D on the digestive tract and microbiota of the human gut.15-17
Need another reason to exercise? Studies have shown that exercise can increase microbiota diversity within the gut.18 So find your favorite way to break a sweat and get moving. Your gut will thank you! Developing a yoga practice may be a great place to start, as studies have shown that yoga has proven benefits for relieving intestinal distress.19-20
Drink up; the gut’s mucosal lining is 98% water!21 Water not only helps to expel toxins through urine and stool, but it also helps to prevent occasional constipation. It’s important to support the mucosal lining of your gut; this lining helps shield your gut’s inner epithelial walls from undesirable microbes.21
The gut and brain are in constant contact via the vagus nerves. Relaxation has been found to positively impact gut health.22 Here are six simple ways to reduce stress.
If you think your gut may be the source of your symptoms or just needs some love, reach out to your healthcare practitioner to create a plan of action to reach your best gut health. Unusual GI symptoms can be a sign of a more serious health concern.
- Guinane CM et al. Role of the gut microbiota in health and chronic gastrointestinal disease: understanding a hidden metabolic organ. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2013;6(4):295-308.
- Deng Y et al. Patients with acne vulgaris have a distinct gut microbiota in comparison with healthy controls. Acta Derm Venereol. 2018;98(8):783-790.
- American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions/skin-conditions-by-the-numbers. Accessed May 15, 2019.
- Jung JY et al. Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: a randomised, double- blind, controlled trial. Acta Derm Venereol. 2014;94: 521–525.
- Liu Y et al. Proteomics analysis of the gut–brain axis in a gut microbiota-dysbiosis model of depression. Translational Psychiatry. 2021;11(1):1-8.
- Breit S et al. Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:44.
- El Dib R et al. Probiotics for the treatment of depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical nutrition ESPEN. 2021;45:75-90.
- Bravo JA et al. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011;108:16050– 16055.
- Kim CS et al. Probiotic supplementation improves cognitive function and mood with changes in gut microbiota in community-dwelling older adults: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. The Journals of Gerontology Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2021;76(1):32-40.
- Petra AI et al. Gut-microbiota-brain axis and its effect on neuropsychiatric disorders with suspected immune dysregulation. Clin Ther. 2015;37(5):984-995.
- Cao H et al. Dysbiosis contributes to chronic constipation development via regulation of serotonin transporter in the intestine. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1):10322-10412.
- Vighi G et al. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):3-6.
- Smith RP et al. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS One. 2019;14(10):e0222394.
- Alcock et al. Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays. 2014;36(10):940-949.
- Pham VT et al. Effects of colon-targeted vitamins on the composition and metabolic activity of the human gut microbiome- a pilot study. Gut Microbes. 2021;13(1):1-20.
- Choi Y et al. E (α-tocopherol) consumption influences gut microbiota composition. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2020;71 (2):221–225.
- Chatterjee I et al. Vitamin D receptor promotes healthy microbial metabolites and microbiome. Sci Rep. 2020;10:7340.
- Clarke SF et al. Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut. 2014;63(12):1913-1920.
- Dalton A et al. Exercise influence on the microbiome-gut-brain axis. Gut microbes. 2019;10(5):555-568.
- Schumann D et al. Effect of yoga in the therapy of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016;14(12):1720–1731.
- Hansson GC. Role of mucus layers in gut infection and inflammation. Curr Opin Microbiol. 2012;15(1):57-62.
- Househam et al. The effects of stress and meditation on the immune system, human microbiota, and epigenetics. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. 2017;31(4):10-25.