Research over the past two decades has revealed that gut health is critical to overall health, and an unhealthy gut can contribute to a wide range of health issues including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune conditions, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and mental health concerns.
"Gut health is critical to overall health."
This is all well and good. But how do you know if this applies to you?
If you don’t suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, have bloating or gas, are there other signs you should be aware of?
Let's jump in!
8 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
1. Digestive issues like bloating, gas or diarrhoea
These are the hallmark symptoms of gut dysfunction. In large, this is due to the health; both number and diversity, of the bacteria living inside your gut, intestines, stomach and colon. These bacteria are called your microbiome and symptoms such as bowel irregularity or gas occur when the balance of bacteria is not right.
"The number and diversity, of the bacteria living inside your gut impact your overall health and wellness."
Gas in particular is a sign that food is fermenting in your gut as you have insufficient stomach acid or an imbalance of bacteria to break down the food you’ve eaten.
2. Sugar cravings
Scientists have found that gut bacteria actually secretes special proteins that are similar to hunger-regulating hormones; leptin and ghrelin. These proteins affect both our food cravings and mood.
To sum it up, the bacteria 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 a vicious cycle.
"To sum it up, the bacteria try to get us to eat foods that they thrive on."
It’s also somewhat of a relief. It’s not a lack of willpower that contributes totally to your weakness for the sweet stuff. Fixing your gut can eradicate the bacteria that cause you to crave these foods in the first place.
Over time you can actually reduce these cravings.
"Over time you can actually reduce these cravings."
3. Bad breath
Chronic bad breath is called halitosis. In most circumstances, halitosis stems from odor-inducing microbes that reside in between your teeth and gums, and on your tongue. It can also be caused by bacteria linked to gum disease.
A healthy digestive system is crucial for optimal overall health. The ratio of good and bad bacteria is a crucial indicator of the condition of your health.
"Bad breath is a sign your gut flora isn't optimal."
If you suffer from food intolerances such as gluten or dairy, this is almost always a result of leaky gut. The gut barrier is your gatekeeper that decides what gets in and what stays out.
"The gut barrier is your gatekeeper that decides what gets in and what stays out."
When you think about it, our gut is a system that operates entirely on it's own. It is a sealed passageway from our mouth to our bottom. Technically, the scope with which it interacts with other organs in our body is somewhat limited.
Anything 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.
When the intestinal barrier becomes permeable i.e. leaky gut syndrome, large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream. Since these proteins don’t belong outside of the gut, the body mounts an immune response and attacks them. This immune response shows up as food intolerances.
5. Moodiness, anxiety and depression
Part of the reason micronutrient deficiencies affect mental health is because of compromised gut function. Even if a person with mental heath associated issues did have access to appropriate nutrition or levels of micronutrients, a leaky gut may mean they are unable to absorb them.
A compromised gut will affect your ability to use serotonin and dopamine—your happy hormones—and vitamin D within your body."
A compromised gut will affect your ability to use serotonin—your happy hormone—and vitamin D within your body."
The majority of serotonin and about half of your dopamine is made in your gut. If you have leaky gut, your body will lose much of the serotonin and dopamine it produces. Treating any gut dysbiosis will be critical for supporting mental health.
The inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.
6. Skin problems like eczema
A common sign of food intolerance is eczema. Take a look at this article on what's driving your eczema which investigates the link between the health of your microbes and eczema conditions.
Research is now showing the health of your microbiota can give clues as to whether or not you have type two diabetes. Recently, four Russian researchers studied differences in the changes in the microbes of the large intestine, reporting their findings on the link between gut bacteria and type two diabetes in the journal of Endocrinology Connections.
In the study, gut microbial composition and glucose level were analysed in 92 patients including 20 with type 2 diabetes and 48 healthy subjects without any chronic disease. An additional 24 subjects showed signs of pre-diabetes.
The scientists compared the presentation of intestinal microbes among the groups in the study participants, as well as differences in diet. In doing so, they were able to link the level of glucose intolerance with the presence of three types of microbiota: Blautia, Serratia and Akkermansia bacteria. While all three are found in healthy people, their numbers are “greatly increased where diabetes is present.”
“The scientists concluded that one possible cause and effect between intestinal bacteria and diabetes is that certain bacteria incite an immune response. Within the intestinal bacteria population, there are microbes that form toxins that enter the gut and then cause inflammation throughout the body, including liver and fat cells that can affect overall metabolism and insulin sensitivity.”
The link between leaky gut and autoimmune conditions is huge.
8. Autoimmune disease and suppressed immunity
"I have not seen a client at the BePure clinic with thyroid disease who has not had leaky gut, in particular an intolerance to gluten."
Removing gluten for these people and healing their gut has made symptom management and disease reversal possible in almost every single case.
Our own clinical experiences are supported by the findings of experts in mucosal biology, like Dr. Alessio Fasano, who now believe leaky gut is a precondition to developing autoimmunity:
"There is growing evidence that increased intestinal permeability plays a pathogenic role in various autoimmune diseases including celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. Therefore, we hypothesise that besides genetic and environmental factors, loss of intestinal barrier function is necessary to develop autoimmunity."
You may also suffer from frequent illness or infections. Again the reason for this is due to a suppressed immune system. We have written a helpful blog about the link between gut health and immunity.
What can you do to help support a healthy gut?
There are many many more signs and symptoms of compromised gut function, this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Recently Ben was invited to the Les Mills International offices to present his top 10 tips on gut health to their team.
You can watch the full video here.