Have you ever had a ‘gut feeling’ about something? You had a hunch or just knew something to be the case even if you didn’t really have enough evidence to support it – but it turned out to be right! That ‘gut feeling’ is a great one, although it really doesn’t scientifically have anything to do with your gut. Some of us, though, struggle with that ‘other’ gut feeling, the one that tells us in uncomfortable, often painful ways that something isn’t quite right inside our GI tract, or our gut. That gut feeling is one that you don’t want. Unfortunately, many people experience tangible gut issues far too often. Clearly, this is no way to live, except…people do. Is it because they’ve just resigned themselves to it being a part of their life? Or, is it possible they don’t know that there are things that can be done to help improve the chances of having a healthy gut and thus an improved quality of life?
Before we address some simple things to improve gut health, let’s take a look at some of the signs that give you a ‘gut feeling’ that you have an unhealthy gut.
Signs and Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
Constipation occurs when your bowel movements occur infrequently enough that you have a hard time passing your stool. Typically, constipation is classified as having less than 3 bowel movements per week. Often, constipation is an early sign that you are not consuming enough soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is necessary for balancing water absorption in the intestines and ensuring the movement of the food bolus. Other conditions that may trigger constipation include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and poor water intake.
Diarrhea is another sign of an unhealthy gut and is characterized as loose, watery stool. When the water is not getting absorbed by your colon or when the intestines are secreting water into the lumen, diarrhea occurs. Diarrhea can occur for a number of reasons, including from bacteria, viruses, parasites, food intolerances, diseases, and even medicines to treat other conditions. In severe cases, diarrhea could be bloody, which indicates the irritation of the intestinal wall.
Bloating and Gas
Bloating and gas often occur when your gut microbiome loses balance. When gas-producing bacteria overgrow in the intestines, you can expect your abdomen to extend and release gas. Conditions that cause these signs include IBS, lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. In addition, certain foods can contribute to the cause, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and even beans.
Weight gain is something that people don’t often think about when it comes to an unhealthy gut, but it is actually a very accurate sign that something is amiss. The role of gut microbes is to optimize food digestion and get rid of toxins through feces. However, when the balance between healthy and harmful bacteria gets disrupted, you may face difficulties losing weight as your intestines may absorb more than it needs.
Similar to its counterpart, weight loss can be a sign of an unhealthy gut. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth Syndrome (SIBO) occurs when bacteria begins growing out of control in the small intestine. It is characterized by the overproduction of hydrogen and methane gas, which disrupts the normal function of intestinal villi (i.e., small, finger-like projections that absorb food). It causes diarrhea and pain which can ultimately lead to malnutrition if the bacteria start to monopolize the nutrients made for the body.
Problems with Sleep
People that struggle with sleep at night don’t often look toward their gut as a key contributor, but it is potentially the main issue. While the discomfort or pain from other GI issues may contribute and be a cause, another cause could be in the serotonin production, or lack thereof, that is occurring in the gut due to an imbalance in the microbiome. The vast majority of serotonin produced in the body is created in the gut, which could mean sleepless night if the imbalance is severe enough.
While these aren’t the only signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut, they represent many common issues those with gut health issues face. If you are experiencing these or other symptoms, there is hope, though! There are things you can do to improve your gut health which will lead to an improvement in your overall health.
How Can I Improve My Gut Health?
Eat Food That is Gut Friendly
The reality is that gut health and diet are closely linked. You can certainly feel the difference if you have been on a gut-friendly diet for a few weeks as opposed to when you have binged on fast-food and other highly processed foods for a few weeks. Your gut microbiome can feel the difference as well. As such, avoid processed food, foods with high and refined sugar, and also foods that are high in fat as much as possible. While they can be quite delicious, these foods are actually bad for your body. They kill the good bacteria that contributes to a healthy microbiome while promoting the development of damaging bacteria in the gut.
Eat foods that contribute to a healthy gut microbiome and balance, including collagen-boosting foods such as salmon and bone broth, garlic, onion, fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.), and foods high in fiber like peas, beans, berries, bananas, asparagus, and leeks.
Focus on Reducing Stress
Stress has a number of negative effects on your overall health, and your gut microbiome is not immune from it. If stress is a common occurrence in your life, try including activities that can lead you to calm, peace, and mental or physical rest. Those that incorporate walking, meditation, yoga, and even massages report having lower stress levels than those that do not. Take some time for yourself, even if it is just for a few minutes, to help reduce stress.
A lack of hydration is a key to a number of issues like headaches, skin tightness, constipation, and yes, an unhealthy gut (among other things). When you aren’t properly hydrated, the good bacteria in your gut can decrease. This allows the bad bacteria in your gut to grow more rapidly and create gut problems. Unfortunately, we talk to many people who simply don’t think about water or hydration until they are feeling the effects from it. If this is you, then you can try a few things that have helped others stay hydrated. Leave sticky notes around your house reminding you to grab a water. Use a food tracking app to track your water intake and set alarms in it to remind you of how much more water you need to stay properly hydrated. Leave water bottles around the house or office as reminders to get a drink. Get rid of sugary drinks in the refrigerator and replace them with pitchers of water, water bottles, or other drinks that hydrate and replenish the body.
Slow your roll, or in this case, your chew! This is often an overlooked aid in helping people overcome some of their gut issues. Chewing food slowly and purposely is essential for improved digestion and nutrient absorption. It makes it much easier for the food to be broken down in the stomach and used properly than food that is chewed and swallowed quickly. This will help in reducing digestive problems and help in maintaining a healthy gut.
Check for Food Intolerances
Many of the common symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, cramping, nausea, etc.) of an unhealthy gut could ultimately be coming from a food intolerance or sensitivity. If you believe you have a food intolerance that is impacting you, one way to investigate is to log the food you eat over the course of a few weeks. Monitor the days you experience digestive issues and then take note of what you have had to eat or drink those days. Exclude those things from your diet moving forward and see if that solves your problem. If you can’t figure it out on your own, there are tests that your doctor can conduct that may be able to identify these intolerances.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Yes, there is always something to do that begs us to stay up longer at night than we really should. However, if you want to prioritize your gut microbiome, and thus your overall health, you need to prioritize sleep. Adults should get a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, which in doing so will have a profound impact on your overall health. Sleep gives the body time to heal and relax. Sleep allows the mind to rest and recuperate. Sleep also allows for a time of fasting to occur, which has great benefits for gut health and balance.
While the human gut is a complex place that impacts the whole-body, there are also simple things you can implement in order to keep it in good health or even nurse it back. An unbalanced gut can lead to various health problems, while a healthy gut can benefit your heart, immune system, mood, brain, skin, and more. If you’d like to learn more about improving your gut health or have gut health issues that you’d like to get addressed, schedule a visit with us today. If your ‘gut’ is telling you it’s time for a visit, then that is probably the ‘good’ gut feeling talking, and it’s time to let us help you address your gut health.