by Rachel Stuck, RDN
It is becoming more commonly understood that the gut is an important, if not the most important, piece of overall health and wellness. What is a little tougher to understand is its close connection with just about every system in the body: emotional well-being, the immune system, chronic illnesses, sleep health, and the list goes on. Science continues to identify common symptoms, disorders, and illnesses that are directly linked to gut health.
If you are unfamiliar with what the gut is, let’s clear that up first. The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that line the gastrointestinal tract. Although the organisms are not visible to the human eye, they make a huge impact on our health. But how do we know if our gut needs some extra attention? Below is a list of common symptoms that are directly connected to a messed-up gut.
By reviewing the list below, you will be able to determine if your gut needs some attention. If you are struggling with more than one of these symptoms, it is time to take more intentional steps to support your gut health. Not sure where to start? Consider testing your gut with the Ixcela gut health test to learn how your gut is functioning.
1. Inconsistent Bowel Movements
Bowel movement inconsistency is the first indicator of poor gut health. Although there is not a certain number of bowel movements you should have in one day or even a certain time that you should go, healthy individuals typically find that they go to the bathroom at the same time every day and about one to three times per day. If you fluctuate between constipation and diarrhea, or feel that you never know when a bowel movement will occur, your gut may need extra attention.
2. Abdominal Pain and Bloating
Bloating and stomach ache are common after a large meal, but if you experience unexplained bloating or consistent discomfort, your gut may be trying to tell you something. The gut is home to a variety of organisms, specifically bacteria. When food enters the gut, bacteria begin breaking down and digesting the food. Although this is a normal process, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut can lead to an overproduction of gas, slowed digestion, reflux, and a variety of other uncomfortable symptoms.
3. Skin Issues (acne, intermittent rashes, flaky skin)
Acne, eczema, rosacea, dry skin, psoriasis, and even sagging skin can all be linked to the gut. A damaged gut can cause an inflammatory response that leads to skin inflammation that presents in a variety of ways. For example, you may notice acne flare-ups or a stubborn pimple after a weekend of unhealthy eating and poor sleep. If you struggle with skin irritation and inflammation, consider reviewing the other signs of a damaged gut. If you struggle with another common sign on this list, gut health may be the missing piece of the puzzle.
4. Sleep Trouble
Gut bacteria have an intricate relationship with sleep. We are confident that a healthy gut supports sleep and that a consistent sleep pattern supports gut health. Serotonin, known as the happy chemical, is the precursor to melatonin, the sleep hormone. The gut is responsible for about 90% of the body’s serotonin production. Our gut bacteria also support our sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm. If you have long considered yourself a bad sleeper, it is time to get serious about your gut health.
5. Physical or Mental Fatigue
The breakdown and utilization of nutrients is one of the gut’s most important jobs. When nutrients are not adequately broken down and absorbed in the gut, it can lead to reduced energy and poor athletic performance. Many of us have felt but not realized the strong connection between the gut and the brain. Whether it was the upset stomach when feeling nervous or the lack of concentration that comes from constipation, the connection is real!
6. Sugar Cravings
Do you reach for sweets, chocolate, or caffeine at 2:00 p.m.? This craving might be related to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut. Believe it or not, bacteria can affect our food cravings, blood sugar, and our ability to fight the urge to overindulge.
7. Food Sensitivities or Intolerances
When the body reacts to a food and creates symptoms like swollen lips or abdominal pain, this is an immune response. A majority of the immune system is located in the gut, and food sensitivities can indicate that the gut is “leaky.” This happens when the beneficial bacteria in the gut aren’t doing their job to maintain the intestinal barrier. When the barrier gets loose, it can allow particles to leak through the intestinal wall and present as symptoms similar to food allergies.
8. Inability to Manage Stress
The gut-brain axis has long been a mysterious connection, but researchers are starting to understand just how important a healthy gut is for a healthy mind. The gut helps to facilitate the production of chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which support feelings of well-being, the ability to manage stress, and initiative-oriented behavior. When the gut is unbalanced, it can affect how well the gut supports the production of neurotransmitters, making it challenging to work through stressful situations.
9. You Have Been Diagnosed with Thyroid Disorders
Gut bacteria support the breakdown and production of thyroid hormones. When the gut is inflamed, it can further exacerbate thyroid disorders and the troublesome symptoms connected to hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. By supporting the gut with a healthy diet, you can better manage thyroid disorders.
10. Bad Breath
When certain strains of bacteria populate the gut, they can cause halitosis (bad breath), and increase the risk of dental cavities and gum disease. If you wake up in the morning with a foul taste in your mouth, or your partner has politely told you to brush your teeth, consider taking steps to support your gut health. A high-fiber diet and a multi-strain probiotic, like Ixcela Biome Support, can help improve bad breath. Crunchy, raw vegetables have been called nature’s toothbrush because they naturally clean the teeth while chewing, and as a bonus the fiber will support a healthy gut!
The fascinating thing about each of the signs and symptoms listed above is that they not only reflect a messed-up gut, but also many of them can damage the gut. For example, if you are chronically stressed, follow a poor sleep schedule, or eat high-sugar foods daily, you will struggle to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Talk about a vicious cycle! The challenge is breaking the cycle, and that is where testing your gut will help. Ixcela will help you to understand which nutrition practices, lifestyle habits, and targeted supplements will support your gut health so you can start feeling better.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rachel Stuck has a background in culinary arts and nutrition counseling. Rachel takes a positive approach to nutrition: she avoids recommending restrictive diets and instead focuses on helping people choose foods that promote health and well-being. She is passionate about empowering and assisting Ixcela members as they develop their unique, gut-healthy lifestyles.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Interested in learning more about Ixcela? Check out Ixcela’s microbiome test, personalized nutrition and fitness plans, and other tools to help you optimize your health.