Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract or guts are incredibly complex with recent research suggesting its impact on our overall health. Recent studies have linked poor gut health to a variety of illnesses from depression, cancer, autoimmune conditions and more. So what does an unhealthy gut look like and why is it so relevant to our health?
What Our GI Tract Does
In its simplest of functions, our gut is the means of transportation for our food to be absorbed and excreted. Our brains communicate with our stomachs to release food from the stomach to the gut when it's ready where it passes through trillions of gut microbes. These microbes are bacteria of which, in a healthy gut, homes plenty of these good bacteria. During this process, the microbes make vitamins and send signals to our brain and immune function. Our gut contains 70-80% of our immune tissue, meaning that an unhealthy gut, also called dysbiosis, could lead to more than just feeling generally unwell. Scientists hypothesize that when a gut is unhealthy, it becomes more porous allowing more toxins to enter the bloodstream.
Signs of Poor Gut Health
There are a variety of factors that can affect our guts and alter our microbiomes, such as stress, too little sleep, antibiotics, and processed foods, or a high-sugar diet as they are linked to decreasing the numbers of good bacteria that should be present. This causes inflammation in the body which is the number one precursor to several diseases. As a result of some of these symptoms of an unhealthy gut may present themselves in one or more of these ways:
This is the easiest identifier of an unhappy gut. Having an upset stomach causes stomach or gut pain, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea all of which are indications that your gut is having trouble processing food and eliminating waste.
Sudden changes in weight
Gaining or losing weight unintentionally may also be a sign of an unhealthy gut. When our gastrointestinal tract is unbalanced it affects our ability to absorb nutrients as well as regulate blood sugar or store fat. Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can lead to weight loss while weight gain has the potential to cause insulin resistance. Further, it can also create urges to overeat due to low nutritional absorption.
Eczema and related skin issues may also be related to an unhealthy gut. Inflammation as a result of a poor diet can irritate the skin or cause food allergies.
Sleep and fatigue issues
Poor gut health can affect your sleep, such as sleep disturbances or insomnia. Serotonin, a hormone that affects moods and sleep, is produced in the gut meaning that an unhealthy microbiome has the potential to disrupt or impair your sleep.
Food intolerances mean that your gut has difficulty digesting and absorbing certain foods. This is an immune reaction and it is thought that food intolerances may be caused by an unhealthy gut.
How To Take Care of Your GI Health
For optimal gut health and overall health, it’s important to have a diverse number of bacteria in your gut which can easily be achieved with diet and lifestyle.
Eat a well-balanced diet rich in prebiotic foods
This includes plenty of fibrous vegetables and leafy greens along with omega-3 fatty-acid rich foods like salmon.
Limited intake of simple carbohydrates and red meats
Simple carbohydrates are low in fibre making it hard for the GI tract to digest and absorb, instead focus on eating complex carbohydrates that are high in fibre. Red meat has been associated with increased inflammation so it is best to keep consumption at a minimum.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and yogurts with live cultures are full of probiotics to help keep the good bacteria in your gut thriving. They may also help you digest better resulting in reductions in bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
A probiotic supplement may also help support your GI tract and immune systems.
Exercise helps to promote good bacteria by keeping your stress in check and by helping produce endorphins.