Have you been feeling a little “off” lately, a little bloated, fatigued, maybe experiencing some joint pain? These are just a few issues that can arise when your gut health is out of balance. Why is it important to keep your gut healthy, you may ask? You may have heard that your gut is referred to as your body’s “second brain,” and with good reason.
Our brain and gut have an important connection. You may have experienced having a “gut feeling” about something or someone may have told you to trust your “gut instinct.” This mind-gut connection is not just a metaphor…our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones that constantly provide feedback on whether you’re experiencing stress, whether you’re hungry, whether you’ve ingested a dangerous microbe, and more. This informational superhighway is called the brain-gut axis, and it provides constant updates on your body’s current state1 (Sonnenberg, 2015). For example, that sinking feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when you look at your credit card bill after a vacation is a clear example of the brain-gut connection. Your gut immediately knows when you’re stressed.
Gut health clearly matters…a lot. There are over 100 trillion bacteria in your body, and most are located in your intestines. What you eat determines what kind of bacteria enters your gut. This is why it is important to realize that what you eat can have a direct impact on your body and your gut health. The health of your gastrointestinal system is very important to you and your well-being. Largely responsible for the critical functions of the body’s digestive and immune systems, beneficial bacteria in your digestive system have the capability of affecting your body’s vitamin and mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response, and ability to eliminate toxins, not to mention your overall mental health2 (Elerick, 2017).
There are several signs to look for, that can alert you that you may have an unhealthy gut:
- Upset stomach: Stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. A balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste.
- Unexplainable weight changes: Gaining or losing weight without making changes to your diet or exercise habits may be a sign of an unhealthy gut. An unbalanced gut can impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat. Weight loss may be caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, while weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance or the urge to overeat due to decreased nutrient absorption3 (Sethi, 2018).
- Sugar Cravings: A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the amount of good bacteria. This imbalance can cause increased sugar cravings, which can damage your gut even more. High amounts of sugar can also cause increased inflammation in the body.
- Sleep disturbances or constant fatigue: An unhealthy gut may contribute to sleep disturbances like insomnia, or just poor sleep in general, and all of this can slowly lead to chronic fatigue. The majority of your body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. So having an unhealthy gut can definitely affect your sleep.
- Food intolerance: Food intolerances result from your body being unable to properly digest certain foods. It is thought that food intolerances may be caused by poor quality of bacteria in the gut. This can lead to difficulty digesting “trigger” foods, and unpleasant symptoms like bloating and gas.
If you are experiencing some (or all) of the issues described above, fear not! There are many things you can do to get your gut health back on the right track, like: getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, working on lowering your stress levels, reassessing your diet and taking a quality probiotic. Taking a few positive steps can heal your gut and improve your overall wellbeing.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.