Gut health is something that wasn’t widely talked about a few decades ago, but in recent years, it’s become more of a topic of conversation—and a focal point of research—within the medical community. So, what is gut health? Many microorganisms are living in your intestines and digestive tract. Some are “good” and benefit the body, while others are not. Scientists have begun to link this “bad” bacteria to several conditions and diseases, such as autoimmune conditions, mood, and mental health disorders, endocrine disorders, and other diseases. Studies have shown that a healthy gut can improve mood and immune system function, as well as support health in other ways. Read on to learn about the five signs of a healthy gut and how you can support your gut health.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut: Upset Stomach and Stomach Pain
Everyone gets an upset stomach or stomach pain from time to time, whether from eating foods that cause gas, menstrual cramps, or a passing virus. However, persistent upset stomach pain or other stomach disturbances, such as bloating, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation can all be indicators of an unhealthy gut. While this can be somewhat connected to the food you eat, it is more due to the imbalance in your gut. You are experiencing pain because the stomach is having trouble digesting food and eliminating waste. Because of this struggle, you’re experiencing GI upset.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut: Constant Fatigue
If you’re feeling constantly tired no matter what you do, this may also be a sign of gut trouble. You may have heard of the neurotransmitter serotonin. All body systems are interconnected, and while serotonin is activated in the brain, the majority of it is produced in the gut. Serotonin affects mood and sleep, and if your gut is unhealthy, you may be experiencing poor sleep or insomnia, which can leave you feeling exhausted and fatigued daily.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut: Autoimmune Conditions
Newer research has suggested that an unhealthy gut is linked to the development of autoimmune conditions. An autoimmune condition is a disease where the body becomes confused and attacks itself. Studies have linked unhealthy gut bacteria to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), type 1 diabetes, and celiac disease.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut: Irritated Skin
Unhealthy bacteria in the gut can not only affect you internally but externally as well. If the gut is inflamed or irritated, proteins can “leak” from the gut and into the skin, which can cause irritation and itching. An unhealthy gut can also lead to skin disorders such as eczema.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut: Sudden Changes in Weight
If you find that your weight has suddenly changed and it is an unintentional loss or gain, this may be connected to unhealthy gut bacteria. A gut that is in a state of imbalance may interfere with the body’s ability to store fat, absorb nutrients, or regulate blood sugar, which can lead to weight gain or loss. If you have unintentionally lost weight, this may be caused by SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and if you have unintentionally gained, this can either be caused by the feeling that you need to overeat because you’re not getting enough nutrients or insulin resistance.
Why Is Gut Health Important?
At one time, doctors did not focus much on gut health and considered the digestive system a simple one. But after a few decades of research, it’s highly suggested that you pay closer attention to your gut health to improve your overall health and to ward off the propensity to develop certain diseases. The best way you can improve your gut health is through your diet, but there are other things you can do to improve gut health.
How to Improve Gut Health: Eating the Right Foods
The first thing you can do to improve gut health is to be mindful of your diet. Some suggestions include:
- Eat a diverse diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes. These foods are high in fiber, which is essential for “good” bacteria growth in the gut (Bifidobacteria). Some key foods to target include raspberries, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, green peas, and artichokes.
- Eat foods that are fermented. Fermented foods contain lactobacilli, which is beneficial for gut health. These include sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. While it is beneficial to avoid a high-sugar diet for your gut health, artificial sweeteners don’t benefit gut health, either. In fact, a study conducted on rats found that when they were given artificial sweeteners, the rats had large numbers of Clostridium and Enterobacteriaceae in the intestines, which are associated with disease.
- Choose whole grains. Whole grains are beneficial for the gut flora and promote the growth of Bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and Bacteroidetes, all of which are beneficial for the gut.
- Opt for meatless Mondays. Choosing a more plant-based diet is more beneficial for the gut, as animal-based meat diets can promote “bad” bacteria in the gut. Some small studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets can improve the microbiota.
How to Improve Gut Health: A Healthy Lifestyle
Beyond food, there are a few other things you can do to improve gut health. Taking probiotics as a daily supplement can help improve your gut health. However, not all probiotics are created equally, and you may want to discuss with your healthcare provider which one may be right for you. Those with SIBO should not take a probiotic.
Eating slowly and not gulping your food down can also help maintain a healthy gut. Eating too fast can lead to conditions such as heartburn and an upset stomach. Staying hydrated is also linked to having a benefit on the mucosal lining of the gut. You should drink at least half your weight in water, if not more. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should be drinking 90 ounces of water daily.
If you make all these changes and are still experiencing symptoms of an unhealthy gut, you may want to ask your healthcare provider to have you checked for food intolerance or sensitivities. Sometimes the avoidance of a certain food can help restore balance in the gut. If you need more information on how to maintain a healthy gut or would like to be seen by a physician, contact us at carolinadigestive.com today. Our GI specialist team can help with any concerns you may have.