What’s an Unhealthy Gut? How Gut Health Affects You
Gut health has become one of the biggest health topics over the last couple of decades. Every year, more and more studies come out that show us just how important our gut health is–even affecting our weight and mental health.
So, what happens when your gut health is poor? You might expect gastrointestinal issues, such as bloating, constipation, and maybe even severe stomach aches. While all of those are possible symptoms of poor gut health, there are a few more insidious consequences of not paying attention to your gut.
An unhealthy gut involves an imbalance of healthy bacteria in our intestines that prevents us from properly digesting our food. This can result in poor absorption of essential nutrients, which can lead to debilitating diseases such as IBS, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer.
If you’re worried about how poor gut health can impact your life, then this blog post is for you. Keep reading to learn more about poor gut health, the symptoms of an unhealthy gut, and what you can do to treat gut problems.
What Does an Unhealthy Gut Mean?
An unhealthy gut means that the gut flora is not diverse enough to fully digest the food we consume. When our gut flora is imbalanced, our body is unable to digest all the food we consume. This leads to gastrointestinal issues, which can lead to more severe illnesses like IBS or cancer.
Our gut microbiome is composed of anywhere from several hundred to a few thousands of different species of bacteria. These bacteria help us digest certain foods that our intestines wouldn’t otherwise be able to digest, most notably plant fiber.
Furthermore, the enteric nervous system (ENS) is located in our gastrointestinal tract and hosts over 100 million nerve cells. These nerve cells regulate digestive functions by releasing enzymes and controlling blood flow for optimal nutrient absorption. An unhealthy gut will prevent the ENS’s ability to facilitate digestion.
What Causes Poor Gut Health?
Poor gut health is usually caused by lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, inadequate sleep, and alcohol abuse. The number one indicator of a healthy gut is plant diversity, so an absence of different types of fruits, vegetables, and legumes in your diet can deteriorate your gut health.
Some of the most common causes of poor gut health are:
- Lack of plant diversity in diet.
- Lack of sleep or chronic fatigue.
- Frequent consumption of alcohol.
- Not eating enough prebiotic foods.
- Chronic or frequent antibiotic use.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Not exercising on a regular basis.
- Chronic stress.
Changing your lifestyle to avoid or reduce all of these causes can help you prevent an unhealthy gut.
9 Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
If you suspect that you have an unhealthy gut, you should pay attention to the following symptoms.
1. Stomach Problems
Stomach and gastrointestinal issues are some of the most easily-identifiable symptoms of unhealthy gut flora. When your microbiome is in dysbiosis, your body will be unable to digest and process the food you eat.
This can lead to stomach issues like:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Upset stomach
If the gut microbiome is in dysbiosis for too long, it can also lead to more serious bowel disorders, such as IBS.
2. Weight Fluctuations
Although weight fluctuations are normal, drastic or sudden changes in weight can be a sign of an unhealthy gut. If you notice that you lost or gained weight without making any dietary or lifestyle changes, it might mean that your gut microbiome is in dysbiosis.
When you don’t have a balanced microbiota, your digestive system will not be able to optimally absorb your food, which could lead to unexplained weight loss. It may also impair your body’s ability to store and burn fat and regulate blood sugar, which could lead to weight gain.
3. Autoimmune Diseases
An unhealthy gut can lead to autoimmune diseases due to systemic inflammation. New evidence suggests that a gastrointestinal microbiota in dysbiosis can cause inappropriate inflammatory responses from the body, which can lead to autoimmune diseases like:
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative colitis
If you have any of these autoimmune diseases, you may have an imbalanced gut microbiome.
4. Food Intolerances
Developing food intolerances is a telltale sign that you are experiencing gut health issues. Our digestive tract is full of different species of microbes, each capable of digesting different types of food.
When we don’t have a wide variety of bacteria in our intestines, we won’t be able to digest a wide variety of food. Thus, an imbalanced microbiome could lead to new sensitivities to certain foods.
Note that food sensitivities are different from food allergies, although the link between gut health and allergies is being studied very closely. New research suggests that gut health may be directly tied to food allergy sensitivity, although further research is needed to determine whether gut health can have a causal impact on food allergies.
5. Sleep Issues
New studies are showing evidence that gut health can have a direct impact on sleep. Although lack of sleep has long been considered a cause of bad gut health, evidence now suggests that an imbalanced gut can also lead to improper sleep hygiene.
Findings from a study conducted by the University of Tsukuba in Japan suggest that an imbalanced gut can have a significant impact on physiological processes that affect sleep, such as the regulation of chemical messengers and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
6. Skin Conditions
Gut health can have an impact on the appearance and health of your skin. If you suffer from skin conditions like rosacea or eczema, an unhealthy gut can exacerbate these issues through increased inflammation.
Although the link between skin conditions and gut health is still being studied, there are a few well-documented links between the gut and the skin.
Studies have found that people with rosacea are ten times more likely to also have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which is a gastrointestinal illness that is caused by gut bacteria. The study suggests that rosacea happens because of SIBO, as patients with rosacea in the study experienced an almost complete regression of rosacea once SIBO was eliminated.
Similarly, gut conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease have been linked to skin conditions. A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego, also found a positive link between ustekinumab and Crohn’s disease. Ustekinumab is an antibody that is typically used to treat psoriasis, which may indicate a possible relation between skin conditions and bowel disease.
7. Extreme Food Cravings
A healthy gut helps prevent food cravings by regulating blood sugar through the endocrine nervous system. When your gut microbiome is imbalanced, your body will struggle to regulate your blood sugar. Food cravings are often caused by sudden drops in blood sugar.
Additionally, a diet high in sugar and processed foods can increase the number of bad bacteria in your gut and decrease the number of good bacteria. This imbalance can often lead to cravings for more sugar, which will increase the number of bad bacteria present in your intestinal tract.
This vicious cycle can be hard to break, as the presence of bad bacteria will increase cravings for sugar and processed food.
8. Frequent Migraines
The link between migraines and gastrointestinal issues is well-documented. Several studies have shown that migraines are often linked to gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as IBS and celiac disease.
Internal inflammation is one of the main reasons why GI issues can cause migraines. As the gut microbiome is often responsible for systemic inflammation, keeping your gut healthy is one of the best things you can do to prevent frequent migraines.
9. Drastic Mood Changes
Perhaps one of the most surprising relationships is the one between our gut and our mental health. The gut-brain axis refers to the ongoing communication between the central nervous system (CNS) and the ENS.
Though it was previously known that the CNS had a direct impact on the ENS, it wasn’t until recently that evidence for bidirectional communication was found. With this new information, we now know that our gut also has a direct influence on our brain.
If you experience drastic and unprovoked changes in mood, it may be related to your gut’s diminished ability to properly regulate serotonin and dopamine production. Sharp increases in dopamine or serotonin levels may be triggered by an improperly functioning ENS.
Similarly, GABA mRNA has been shown to be significantly impacted by probiotic consumption. This neurotransmitter is one of the most closely related to mood and overall mental wellbeing. GABA mRNA is also related to anxiety and depression, so these mental health issues may also be signs of an unhealthy gut.
How Can I Check if My Gut Is Healthy?
The easiest and most accurate way to check if your gut is healthy is by doing a gut health test. Now, you can order a gut health test kit directly to your home and get a detailed report on the status of your microbiome in as little as one week.
At OSbiome, we have developed an affordable test kit to help everyone discover their own unique formula for a healthy gut. By ordering our kit and downloading our app, you will be able to see a detailed breakdown of your gut health, along with 15 proprietary wellness scores to let you know exactly which parts of your gut health are lacking.
How Can I Improve My Gut Health?
Improving gut health necessarily involves implementing lifestyle changes. Since diet and poor lifestyle choices have the biggest influence on gut health, it’s important to be aware of how our decisions can impact our gut (and overall) health.
Here are some ways you can improve gut health:
- Increase plant diversity in your diet. Eating more fruits and vegetables is important for overall health and wellbeing, but increasing the diversity of your diet is the number one indicator of a healthy gut. Try focusing on eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies for better gut health.
- Consume more prebiotic food. Most people may think of probiotics when it comes to gut health, but prebiotics are just as if not more important. The difference between probiotics and prebiotics is that probiotics are the actual bacteria that live in your intestines, while prebiotics are the foods that help these good bacteria grow. Consume more prebiotic food like beans, legumes, nuts, and vegetables for healthier gut flora.
- Consume more probiotic foods. Probiotic foods help introduce new bacteria to your digestive tract. Try increasing your consumption of probiotic foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh.
- Get more sleep. Getting an adequate amount of sleep can prevent disruptions in your microbiome composition. This happens because of the gut-brain axis, as sleep deprivation impacts CNS performance, which in turn impacts ENS functions.
- Exercise regularly. Because exercise is proven to have a positive impact on gastrointestinal functions, it can also help improve gut microbiota composition.
- Avoid antibiotics. Certain infections will require a course of antibiotics to go away. However, you should try to minimize your reliance on antibiotics to treat mild diseases.
Correct Your Gut Health Problems With an OSbiome Gut Health Test Kit
Whether you are trying to fix an unhealthy gut or simply want to improve your gut health, the best thing you can do is order a gut health testing kit from OSbiome. Getting a complete report on the status of your gut microbiota is as simple as ordering an inexpensive test kit, returning it to our labs, and letting us run our tests.
Once complete, we will deliver a detailed report on your gut microbiota as well as personalized instructions on how to improve your gut health. With our actionable recommendations, you won’t have to waste any time trying out different things that may or may not work for you. Order your gut health test kit today and start working on your gut health in as little as one week!
Still have questions? Check out our product FAQs to learn more about our kits.