If your gut is in trouble, there’s a good chance your health and well-being are also in jeopardy. That’s because the gut extends way beyond the digestive tract and is linked to mental health, mood, endocrine disorders, autoimmune diseases, and skin conditions. The fact is, your gut contains trillions of bacteria, which have a huge impact on the health of your entire body. So, by fixing your gut health, you’re improving your overall health.
What exactly is gut health, and why is it so important?
Your gut starts with your mouth and ends at your bottom. In other words, your gut encompasses your entire digestive tract. Gut health has been a popular topic in the health community for a while now, and for a good reason — your gut health affects your overall health. It’s complex, but when we speak of gut health, we generally refer to the balance of microorganisms that thrive in your digestive tract. This is also referred to as your gut microbiome.
In the past two decades, many studies have found links between gut health and mental health, stress levels, mood, skin conditions, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, and even cancer. Therefore, it’s obvious that to improve overall health, you need to start with your gut. Here are six signs your gut is in trouble and what you can do to get it back in working order.
Your sugar cravings are through the roof
The average American adult eats 77 grams of sugar a day, according to heart.org. The bulk of sugar comes from sweets and snacks, and the remainder from sugary soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices, and even what you’re adding to coffee and tea each day. No matter how you spin it, whether it’s honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, turbinado sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or dextrose, it’s all sugar. Spoonful by spoonful, mouthful by mouthful, it adds up. The result; a decline in the amount of “good” gut bacteria, which causes increased sugar cravings, therefore damaging your gut health even more. It’s a vicious cycle. But when your sugar cravings are out of control, you know your gut is in trouble.
Unintended weight gain
Weight sometimes fluctuates; it’s a fact of life. But when you’re gaining weight without making any changes to your diet or activity levels, then there’s a good chance your gut microbiome is out of whack. A study on gut microbiome and its role in obesity found that the bacteria in the gut of an obese person is not the same as the bacteria found in a lean person. And, the Western diet, which is full of fat and refined carbs, may actually increase the intestinal bacteria linked to obesity.
Addicted to stress
If you don’t think your brain and gut interact, think about how your gut aches during stressful moments. But that doesn’t mean the stress is all in your head, says Harvard Health. Your brain actually works together with physical factors to cause pain, which is why when you feel stress, your gut often reacts by cramping. Stress can affect digestion, and digestion can affect stress. Stress makes intestinal walls weaker, allowing gut bacteria to enter the body. It particularly affects those who suffer from chronic bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, suggests the American Psychological Association. This is likely due to changes in gut microbiota, gut nerves being more sensitive, changes in how fast food moves through the gut, and changes in gut immune responses.
Your sleep is out of whack
An unhealthy gut often contributes to disturbed sleep, causing insomnia or wakefulness throughout the night. Naturally, this can lead to chronic fatigue. This is because most of your body’s serotonin (the hormone that affects sleep and mood) is created in your gut. According to research, evidence shows that gut health affects sleep patterns through the microbiome-gut-brain axis. In fact, poor gut health plays a substantial role in the progress of mental and sleep disorders such as depression and insomnia.
You’re experiencing skin problems
A study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology found that the gut microbiome is intrinsically linked to the skin via the gut/skin axis. This means that certain skin conditions, such as eczema, may be related to poor gut health, which is, in turn, caused by Inflammation in the gut. Gut inflammation may be caused by a poor diet or food allergies that encourage certain proteins to leak into the body. The result, skin responses such as eczema.
Gas, bloating, and food intolerance
Food intolerance and gut microbiota may be closely linked, leading to gas, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. Intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. Food allergies are caused by your immune system’s response to certain foods. Intolerances, on the other hand, may be caused by poor gut health.
To balance microorganisms in your digestive tract, consider making the following diet and lifestyle changes:
Limit your intake of processed, high-fat, and sugary foods
Instead, eat a variety of plant-based whole foods and lean protein. A healthy diet equals a healthy gut.
Add a few fermented (probiotic) foods to your diet
Foods that naturally boost gut health include fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles, tempeh, kefir, kombucha, and miso.
Add nondigestible prebiotic foods to your diet
Prebiotic foods that feed probiotics and encourage useful bacteria to grow include asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions, and whole grains.
Manage your stress
A study published in the journal BMC Microbiology found that stress can upset healthy microorganisms in the intestines — even if your stress is only brief.
Limit your antibiotic use
You may need antibiotics, but if you don’t really need them, then don’t take them. Not only are we turning into an “antibiotic-resistant” nation, but we’re also damaging our gut microbiota. Research suggests that even six months after taking antibiotics, the gut is still missing several types of useful bacteria. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says American doctors prescribe approximately 30 percent of antibiotics needlessly.
Get enough sleep
A study published in PLOS one found that poor sleep habits negatively affect the gut flora, which leaves you open to inflammatory diseases.
Consider supplementing with probiotics
An unbalanced gut, teaming with unhealthy levels of certain bacteria, can be restored back to balance with probiotics, suggests Harvard Health. In fact, it’s been shown that probiotics secrete a protective substance that may prevent pathogens from growing out of control, thus creating severe disease.
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As you can see, there are several things you can do to fix a gut that’s in trouble. It’s not complicated, but it does take some dedicated lifestyle and diet changes.
-The UpWellness Team