How is your gut health? This is a question we’re fast finding is one worth asking ourselves as research continues to mount up on the very important role our good gut health plays in our overall health, and how an unhealthy gut can be linked to a wide range of health concerns.
We may immediately think of bloating, food repeating on us and painful digestion when it comes to gut health, but new research shows connections between our gut obesity, mental health challenges, food sensitivities, skin health, energy and more!
When Hipocrates said ‘All disease begins in the gut’ over 2500 years ago, well, he wasn’t far off from the truth.
"Gut health is an influencer of overall health, including mental health".
So, how do we know if an unhealthy gut applies to us?
Extremes of an unhealthy gut can show up as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or bloating or gas, but there are other lesser known signs to be aware of. Some of these signs you may have been experiencing for your whole life without realising they were related to your gut, or that there are ways to support and manage them, or even be rid of them!
Let's jump into each of the 8 signs in more detail below...
Signs of an unhealthy gut:
1. Bloating, burping and bad breath
Bloating and food repeating on you and bad breath is a hallmark sign that something is up with our gut.
Firstly, bloating and burping can happen for a number of reasons, but mostly it’s the result of what and how we eat or drink. Bloating is a sign of excess gas in our digestive system. When we eat or drink and we don’t have enough digestive enzymes in our stomach to break it down for further digestion, our food will ‘repeat on us’ in an attempt to add more digestive enzymes in and break it down again. It can also be related to a food intolerance, which we’ll learn more about below!
When it comes to bad breath, this is more related to the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut and this bad bacteria making home in our mouth. The technical term for chronic bad breath is halitosis. In most circumstances, halitosis stems from odour-inducing microbes that live in between our teeth, gums, and on our tongue. It can also be linked to bacteria found in gum disease. Having these ‘bad bacteria’ living in our mouth doesn’t paint the most pleasant picture for us and is quite a motivator for getting rid of them!
HOW TO SUPPORT IT
Give your stomach acid levels a boost with some added digestive enzymes, apple cider vinegar or lemon water to help break down and digest your food. Also keep a food diary on what foods trigger bloating, food repeating on you and flatulence the most and start to avoid them. And to love your gut, add in probiotics to build a stronger microbiome for digestion, good breath and healthy bowel movements.
2. Sugar cravings
Scientists have found that gut bacteria actually secretes special proteins that are similar to the hunger-regulating hormones; leptin and ghrelin. These proteins affect both our food cravings and mood.
Bacteria are clever and try to get us to eat foods that they thrive on. So, if you eat a lot of sugar you feed the unhelpful bacteria that love it and they secrete the proteins to make you crave sugar more. It’s quite smart of them but not that helpful for us.
HOW TO SUPPORT IT
Nourishing the right bacteria with a quality probiotic filled with the ‘good guys’ or other gut loving probiotic foods can help to eliminate the bacteria that causes us to crave unhelpful foods. Once we stop craving them, we then stop eating them and reduce ongoing challenges with weight.
3. Constipation, diarrhoea and gas
Whether our bowels are ‘all go’, or we have a constant feeling of being constipated and ‘clogged up’, or it’s a mix of all of the above, irregular bowel movements are a sure sign of an unhealthy gut. When our gut is healthy the ‘perfect poop’ should ideally be around 30cm long a day and a nice soft and long ‘sausage’ shape.
This is important because if we’re passing food too quickly in our stools, we miss out on absorbing important nutrients from it, and if we’re constipated and food stays in us too long, it can create toxicity in our body.
A lot of this is largely related to the diversity and health of our microbiome. When the microbiome is imbalanced - meaning we have too many ‘bad’ and not enough ‘good’ bacteria - we can notice irregular bowel movements and sensations like diarrhoea and gas. The number and diversity of bacteria living inside your gut impact your overall health and wellness.
As you’ll read in the next point also, what we’re eating can trigger irregular bowel movements if we have allergies or food sensitivities and intolerances.
Gas in particular is a sign that food is fermenting in our gut. This happens when we have insufficient stomach acid or an imbalance of bacteria to break down the food we’ve eaten.
HOW TO SUPPORT IT
There are a few different ways we can support having the best bowel movements for our health or the ‘perfect poop’ but some quick wins is to start keeping a food diary, notice how certain foods affect your bowels. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. Eat probiotic rich foods and/or take a quality probiotic for a healthy microbiome and lower digestive system and add in digestive enzymes such as lemon water, apple cider vinegar or a digestive enzyme supplement to help break down your food.
4. Food intolerances and sensitivities
Food intolerances and sensitivities are often felt in our gut. When we eat certain foods we may feel immediately bloated or our bowels may suffer.
Most common food intolerances include gluten, dairy, nuts and the nightshade family of foods. If you experience food intolerances, it is almost always a result of leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is when your gut barrier is compromised, which is not ideal, as your gut barrier is the gatekeeper that decides what gets in and what stays out of our digestive systems.
Anything that goes in the mouth and isn’t digested will pass right out the other end. This is, in fact, one of the most important functions of the gut: to prevent foreign substances from entering the body and bloodstream.
When the intestinal barrier becomes permeable (which happens when the junctions of the gut lining separate) this is leaky gut syndrome. Large food protein molecules can then escape into the bloodstream. Since these proteins don’t belong outside of the digestive tract, the body activates an immune response and attacks them. This immune response shows up as food intolerances and sensitivities.
HOW TO SUPPORT
Common food intolerances include gluten and dairy and are a great place to start when testing avoiding foods to improve your unhealthy gut symptoms such as bloating or indigestion. However, if you’re wanting to go deeper on understanding food intolerances we highly recommend reaching out to our BePure Clinic and learning about our signature food intolerance testing to see how we can support you.
5. Unstable mood and mental wellbeing
Part of the reason nutrient deficiencies can be linked to our mental health is because of an unhealthy gut. The gut brain axis is now common knowledge alongside links to depression, anxiety and mood imbalances with our gut health. Even if a person with mental health challenges did have access to appropriate nutrition or levels of micronutrients, a leaky gut, lack of good gut bacteria, or off-kilter levels of stomach acid may mean they are unable to absorb these precious nutrients.
An unhealthy or imbalanced gut will affect our ability to use serotonin and dopamine—our happy hormones—and vitamin D within our body.
The majority of serotonin and about half of our dopamine is made in our gut. If we have a leaky gut, our body will lose much of the serotonin and dopamine it produces. So, we’re looking to increase our happy hormones and support a more stable mood. It again comes back to our stomach acid and good bacteria levels in the gut.
In a nutshell, the inner workings of our digestive system don’t just help us digest food, but also guide and balance our hormones and emotions.
HOW TO SUPPORT
It may feel like repetition, but avoiding gut harming foods such as alcohol, coffee and sugar and adding in lots of gut loving probiotic rich foods, alongside a quality probiotic and digestive enzymes is a sure way to support our gut and our mood. Getting good sleep and drinking plenty of water to allow our gut (and our body) to rest, restore and detoxify is also hugely helpful for our gut and mind health.
6. Poor immune health
Did you know 80% of our immunity is found in the gut? This is because it’s where we create antibodies that fight disease and also because whenever we eat, our digestive and immune systems are assessing if the food we eat is posing a threat.
When we eat foods that our body doesn’t agree with - either because of allergies and sensitivities, or because they place added stress on our digestive system (for example, alcohol and sugar) - our immunity takes a back seat to dealing with the more ‘urgent’ issue of the ingested food and is less poised and ready to go when it comes to things like fighting off bugs, viruses and bacteria.
HOW TO SUPPORT
The good news is that when we support our gut, we’re supporting our immunity - and vice versa. We know that fermented foods like sauerkraut or kombucha are loaded with good bacteria for our gut and that onions, garlic, and legumes are natural probiotics so top up on plenty of these and try to avoid gut harming foods such as sugar, coffee and alcohol or any foods that create inflammation in your body.
7. Skin problems like eczema and acne
Because poor skin health is often linked to inflammation, which primarily starts in the gut, nurturing our gut health and ultimately our ‘beauty from the inside out’ is a great place to start for glowy, healthy skin.
A common sign of food intolerances is eczema. This article on what's driving your eczema investigates the link between the health of your microbiome and eczema conditions and explores common intolerances like gluten and dairy.
The link between leaky gut and autoimmune conditions such as eczema is significant. Within the BePure Clinic we have seen multiple cases where this is true.
When our body marks a molecule as foreign invader our immune system is activated and will attack it, trying to clear it out of the body. To do this 'invaders' are passed to the lymphatic system where they will then be eliminated from the body as toxins.
If the lymphatic system is unable to process these toxins completely, it may try to eliminate them through the skin. This then causes many common skin conditions, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
HOW TO SUPPORT
Nurture your gut lining by drinking plenty of gut loving bone broth or taking a quality collagen product to reduce gut permeability and leaky gut syndrome. Topping this up with some anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, high in DHA/EPA will also help you soothe and heal the skin.
8. Poor sleep & low energy
Having a healthy gut is vital to a good night’s sleep and having a good night's sleep supports a healthy gut. This is because we need a healthy gut to ensure our sleep hormone, melatonin, and our awake hormone, cortisol, are ebbing and flowing in the right amounts and at the right time.
We also need a healthy gut in order to absorb the nutrients we ingest every day. If we can’t absorb those nutrients, then our body doesn’t have the right fuel to give us that get-up-and-go energy that we need each day.
An unhappy gut disrupts the quality of your sleep, just as your sleep pattern impacts the trillions of little bugs in your microbiome. When you improve one, you improve the other at the same time!
HOW TO SUPPORT
The first step in getting a healthy gut is to balance our microbiome. Taking a high quality probiotic every day gives us a daily dose of good bacteria which will dominate the bad bacteria. ‘Bad’ bacteria leads to craving food that is less nutritionally dense and makes it harder for our bodies to absorb the nutrients that give us energy. In addition to this, including gut-loving foods in our diet - fermented foods like sauerkraut or probiotic foods like yoghurt and bananas - keeps the ratio of good bacteria high.
What does this mean for you?
It’s understandable that we might experience any of the above signs and not realise they have any link at all to our gut. Things like craving sugar seem like a normal part of life, which in some cases can lead to us berating ourselves for a biscuit at the 3pm slump. But once we start to understand the role our gut plays in our health and diet, we can then start to nourish our gut health, improve our gut microbiome, increase our stomach acid, heal our gut lining and start to improve our overall well being.
While a lot of what we’ve touched on here is related to the gut health of adults, a lot of it is also relevant to children, but there are more specific gut related experiences such as colic that babies and children experience, and plenty of ways you can boost and nourish your kids gut health also.
- Take our Gut Health Questionnaire here and learn about your specific concerns.
- Nurture your gut with a broad-spectrum probiotic and some gut-loving nutrients. You can also help your body digest food with a high-strength digestive aid.
- Heal our gut lining with gut loving foods such as bone broth or taking a quality collagen supplement