The gut plays a huge role in our everyday lives. Even if we’re not always aware of it, we can tell by the sheer number of gut-related idioms we use daily. How often have you heard someone say they had a “gut feeling” or that something felt like they got “punched in the gut?”
When someone is brave, we often say they “have guts,” and conversely, someone we think of as cowardly might even be called “gutless.” But the gut is more than just a symbol or metaphor.
What is the gut? The gut refers to the entire gastrointestinal tract, also called the GI tract. The digestive tract is part of the overall digestive system and extends from the mouth to the, well, bum. From start to finish, the GI tract includes:
- The mouth
- The esophagus
- The stomach
- The small intestine
- The large intestine
- The anus
Gut health is essential for preventing digestive diseases, but it’s a much more complex discussion than you might expect. For instance, you may be surprised to learn that digestive health also plays a significant role in mental health and the proper immune system function.
Digestive problems can cause unhealthy weight loss or weight gain, bringing a whole slew of other issues. In short, a healthy gut is vital to your health, from your head to your heart and beyond.
What are the symptoms of gut problems? Symptoms of gut problems include a wide range of issues from difficulty digesting to food intolerances or cravings and even mood imbalances. Here’s a breakdown of 10 signs of an unhappy gut.
1. Tummy Trouble
The first and most obvious sign of gut health dysfunction is the persistence of digestive problems. These may include:
- Abdominal Pain
- Irregular Bowel Movements
Some of these symptoms, such as gas and bloating, can be natural parts of digestion, so it’s essential to pay attention to the frequency and severity with which they occur.
If these symptoms are particularly severe and persistent, they may indicate a serious gastrointestinal disorder. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease.
Heartburn is caused by acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid goes back up into the esophagus. As with some of the above symptoms, occasional acid reflux or heartburn is normal and not necessarily a cause for concern. You should see a doctor if the condition becomes chronic and severe.
If you have heartburn more than one or two times a week, it may be a sign of a GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease. In that case, it’s time to seek counsel from your trusted medical professional. You may need to consider some dietary changes or even medication.
3. Sugar Cravings
Sugar can do a lot more damage than just weight gain. Simple carbohydrates and refined sugar can negatively impact the health of your gut microbiome. Everyone has bacteria and microbes in their gut, but some types of bacteria are good for you, and some are bad.
A piece of chocolate every now and then isn’t going to destroy your gut health, but eating too many refined carbohydrates can cause lowered levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps us stay calm.
Lowered levels of GABA can trigger sugar cravings. Eating the extra sugar can further reduce the good bacteria, creating an endless cycle of sugar consumption → bacterial imbalance → sugar craving. It can get out of hand!
4. Food Intolerances
Many people have food intolerances to a certain degree. Lactose intolerance, for instance, affects the majority of the world’s people. Food intolerances often manifest as digestive issues, such as gas and abdominal pain. Some intolerances can be reduced with digestive enzyme supplements, but others are more extreme.
One extreme example of food intolerance is celiac disease, an immune and digestive disorder. It causes the immune system to attack the small intestine in response to gluten consumption.
Not all food intolerances are so severe or pronounced. Many people experience food intolerances that go undiagnosed. It’s important to closely monitor your body’s reactions to different foods.
5. Unintended Weight Change
When your gut bacteria is out of balance, it can affect your weight. Your body could have difficulty absorbing nutrients. This can lead to uncontrolled and unintended weight loss. Conversely, you may overeat to compensate for the lack of nutrients you need or even crave unhealthy foods.
Note: Unintended weight loss or weight gain may also be a symptom of a hormonal imbalance. If you experience extreme weight change without much change to your diet, you should talk to your healthcare provider.
6. Fatigue & Difficulty Sleeping
The gut influences the majority of your body’s serotonin, a necessary hormone for sleep regulation. When your gut is out of balance, serotonin production may be affected. This can lead to insomnia or trouble sleeping, leading to further fatigue.
Other factors are a little easier to pinpoint. If you have GERD, you already know resting can be a challenge. Pain, gas, and acid reflux are all really good at disrupting a good night’s sleep.
7. Irritated Skin
When the gut is irritated or inflamed, it can sometimes leak substances into the body. This is commonly called leaky gut, and it can cause autoimmune issues, including skin irritation.
Skin conditions that can arise from an unhappy gut include eczema and psoriasis. A poor diet can also contribute to acne. According to FARE, nearly 200 foods can cause allergic reactions, including rashes and hives.
8. Autoimmune Disorders
The health of the gut biome significantly affects immune system function. If the wrong kind of bacteria is present in large amounts, it may lead to autoimmune issues. This causes the body to attack itself instead of harmful invaders.
Some proteins produced by gut bacteria have been linked to serious autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
9. Mood Swings
If your serotonin levels are affected, you may experience frequent negative moods. Inflammation in the gut and nutrient deficiency can also contribute to mood imbalances. High sugar diets can lead to mood crashes. For these and other reasons, an unhealthy gut can often lead to symptoms of mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
A comprehensive data review found that there may be an intrinsic connection between gut health and migraines or headaches. Participants of the study found that dietary and nutritional improvement reduced headaches. If you’re suffering from migraines, it may be worth taking a look at your daily nutrition.
The Good News: You Can Improve Your Gut Health
The gut is a complex system that is sensitive to a number of factors. Fortunately, that means there are lots of ways you might be able to improve your gut health. If you think your gut may be out of balance, consider some of the following:
- Get enough sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Reduce your stress
- Get enough exercise
- Eat the right foods!
A healthy diet is critical to maintaining proper gut health and keeping your gut clean. Consider adding the following to your diet:
- Probiotic foods such as kimchi, kefir, or sauerkraut
- Foods full of prebiotic dietary fiber such as garlic, onion, and asparagus
How do I prevent gut problems? A healthy diet, consistent exercise routine, and good stress management are all part of the package to keeping your gut – and your brain – healthy and happy.
If you’re already experiencing extreme or chronic symptoms of poor gut health, we encourage you to contact your healthcare provider.
Let’s Get Started!
Not sure where to start? We’re here to help! At Sano Health Club, we take a comprehensive look at the lifestyle and genetic factors that may be impacting your gut health, then we partner with you to work toward your health goals. Contact us for an appointment today.
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