Your gut health is a direct reflection of your overall health. When you have an unhealthy gut, it can take a toll on your entire body, but it can be confusing to understand why. Many factors can contribute to an unhealthy gut including high stress levels, insomnia, processed and sugary foods or even prescribed antibiotics. We spoke to Tim Goodwin, Founder of Lean Greens, who outlines the warning signs of an unhealthy gut.
What are the symptoms of an unhealthy gut?
1) Stomach discomfort
Discomfort in your stomach can show up in the form of diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, heartburn, gas, and abdominal pain. Whilst these symptoms are common, they are not normal. A balanced gut should have no problem digesting foods and releasing stools. If you regularly experience these symptoms, it is best to check with your GP and nutritionist that you do not have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), a common disorder that affects the large intestines. They can advise you on what foods to avoid, as well what supplements to add to your diet.
2) Sugar Cravings
Sugar cravings is a surprising symptom of poor gut health. Essentially, the gut microbes release proteins that are like hunger-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin. This not only affects our hunger levels and cravings, but our mood too. If you eat a lot of sugar, the unhelpful bacteria will thrive off it and secrete more proteins to make you crave more. Improving your gut health can help your body to get rid of these unhelpful bacteria and improve your overall mood and health.
3) Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep can be caused by a variety of factors including mental health issues, hormonal abnormalities, pain, obesity, diabetes and more. Gut health can certainly be part of this- especially if you are consuming alcohol or sugary foods before bedtime. The majority of serotonin, also known as ‘the happy hormone’, is produced in your gut. So poor gut health can affect your sleep, and therefore your mood too. Find out the cause of your sleep disturbances by speaking with your GP, who will advise you on the next steps. It may be that you need to add more fibre in your diet, exercise regularly, avoid sugary foods or speak to a therapist about your mental health struggles.
4) Unintentional weight changes
Losing or gaining weight, without actively making changes to your diet or exercise routine, can be a sign of a bad gut. A balanced gut should be able to store fat, regulate sugars in your body and absorb nutrients easily. Bacteria that we get from our diets could indirectly change the guts behaviour and cause weight gain, whereas weight lost may be a sign of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. If you have had prolonged periods of rapid weight loss then gain, make sure to see your doctor to find out the best treatment for you.
5) Skin irritation
Itchy or painful skin conditions can provide insight into what’s going on with your gut. Rosacea, Acne, Dermatitis can all be inflamed due to food intolerances, poor diet, and inflammation in the gut. Leaky gut syndrome may be related to a damaged gut, and that the ‘leaking’ of certain proteins, germs or toxins can be absorbed into the body to create skin conditions and health issues.
When your body doesn’t receive enough good bacteria from the foods we eat, bad bacteria can thrive. Studies show that digestive issues can cause adrenal fatigue, which can in turn cause digestive issues as your immune system has to fight harder to get rid of bad bacteria in the body- a vicious cycle! Try detox your body of overly processed or sugary foods and opt for recipes that remove toxins and promote gut health. Banana, eggs, and chia seed pudding are a great morning option. For lunch, go for a Mediterranean chopped salad and in the evening, try a courgette and tomato lasagne or enchilada stuffed cabbage rolls.
7) Bad breath
Perhaps it was the garlic bread you had over dinner, or you forgot to rinse with mouthwash after brushing your teeth. However, bad breath can signal to poor gut health too. Anything that was unable to pass, which remains in your digestive system and ferments, can cause bad breath. Bad breath can also be a sign of a reflux issue like GERD, or a sign that bacteria in your stomach could lead to stomach ulcers. Whatever the root cause may be, it is best to check with your doctor to understand how your digestion could be contributing to bad health.
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Hettie is the editor and co-founder of DOSE. A keen runner, she’s also partial to a blast of high-intensity and hot yoga. A country girl at heart, she divides her time between London and the lush rolling hills of North Devon. When she’s not jetting off on her next adventure, Hettie can be found in a candle-lit alcove with a laptop, a spaniel and a full bodied Malbec.