You’ve heard the term “gut health” circulating everywhere from your doctor’s office to your favorite blogs. If you don’t have a clue what your gut is and why you need to pay attention to its health, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ll help you understand the gut and how your digestive health is crucial to your overall wellness.
Why Is Gut Health Important?
Your gut is made up of the body parts and organs that aid in your digestion. In other words, everything involved with digesting the foods you eat (from mouth to rectum) makes up your gut.
Your gut is home to a vast array of microbiota (bacteria) that make up your resident gut flora. This flora is normally healthy and balanced, and helps you digest food properly. Gut flora also plays a vital role in immunity.
When your gut flora become unbalanced, your overall health can suffer.
What Are the Signs of an Unhealthy Gut?
Improper diet, illness, lack of sleep, and other bad lifestyle habits can all lead to an unhealthy gut. Symptoms of an unhealthy gut are often attributed to other possible causes. Here are some of the most common signs of an unhealthy gut.
A High-Sugar Diet
High amounts of processed foods and sugars can deplete healthy gut flora. Cravings for sweets can lead you to eat more sugary foods, which can further damage your gut health and lead to long term medical conditions like insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
Most of us won’t complain if we magically lose a few pounds, but if you lose (or gain) a significant amount of weight without making changes to your diet or exercise routine, there is always cause for concern.
Fluctuations in your weight can be a symptom of an unhealthy gut that is no longer able to absorb nutrients properly.
No one likes to discuss their digestive health, but if you find yourself constantly suffering from gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and/or heartburn, it can be a sign you have an unhealthy gut.
Trouble Sleeping or Chronic Fatigue
Chronic fatigue and feelings of lethargy can be related to numerous health issues, but if you aren’t suffering from any other notable disorder, it could be related to an unhealthy gut.
Serotonin is a hormone vital to supporting sleep, and 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. When your gut is unhealthy, serotonin production declines, which can negatively impact your sleep. Meanwhile, cortisol is a stress hormone, which can trigger during unexpected events, such as traveling anxiety, and is shown to hurt your gut health.
New research has discovered a notable link between gut flora and the skin microbiome. Many skin problems, like dermatitis, are now believed to be connected to an imbalance in the gut flora.
Food intolerances, or the inability to properly digest food comfortably, may be a result of unbalanced gut flora. If you’ve never had difficulty processing a particular food and suddenly find yourself unable to tolerate it, it could be a sign of an unhealthy gut.
Research shows that your gut health plays a major role in the prevention of inflammation in your body. Chronic inflammation is a key component of autoimmune diseases, and the link between proper gut health and lowering inflammation is important in understanding how the gut affects the immune system.
What Foods Are Bad for Your Gut?
Sometimes, we self-sabotage by eating foods that don’t support a healthy gut. Here are foods that are known offenders when trying to increase your gut health.
Aside from not doing you any favors if you’re already dealing with bloating and gas, beans contain lectins, which are thought to play a role in the development of leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome refers to a condition wherein tiny holes form in the lining of the intestines allowing intestinal fluid to escape the intestines and pass into other parts of the body.
If you suffer from an unhealthy gut, eating spicy foods can exacerbate your symptoms. It can be especially damaging to your gut (and your comfort level) if you suffer from heartburn, as spicy foods can make heartburn and reflux worse.
Fried foods tend to be harder for the body to digest, making them a bad decision for promoting gut health.
Fructose can be especially difficult for people with an intolerance to this sweetener. Digesting fructose can lead to gas, pain, bloating, and loose stool.
These vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, contain sugars that can be difficult for your digestive system to break down. If you are trying to heal an unhealthy gut, opt for different veggies until your gut is well.
Dairy is a common ingredient that can be difficult to digest. Ingredients in dairy products can negatively impact gut flora, change its composition, and leave your gut unhealthy.
You may reach for a peppermint when you have an upset stomach, but peppermint can cause your heartburn symptoms to worsen.
The high fiber content combined with the acidity of citrus fruits can lead to discomfort during digestion, especially if you are attempting to heal an unhealthy gut.
What Foods Are Good for Your Gut?
Want to use your food as medicine? Here’s what you can eat to help promote good gut health.
Fermented foods are the natural way to supply your gut with probiotics. Foods such as yogurt, kefir, and tempeh are excellent sources of good, healthy bacteria that your gut needs to remain healthy and balanced.
Extra virgin olive oil helps get rid of unhealthy, pathogenic gut bacteria, and help increase the production of short-chain fatty acids which aid in digestion.
Almonds are a source of prebiotics, which are excellent in supporting healthy levels of bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics feed healthy bacteria (probiotics) keeping them nourished and supported.
Sourdough also has prebiotic ingredients and has probiotic properties which make it a good addition to a healthy gut diet. However, if you have a gluten intolerance, you should avoid sourdough.
How Can I Improve My Gut Health?
There are several ways you can improve your gut health and balance your gut flora on top of eating the right foods.
Supplements are one of the most effective ways to promote gut health and get relief from unhealthy gut related symptoms at the same time.
WTHN’s Daily Digestion is a powerful blend of herbs you can take daily to help reduce gas, bloating, poor digestion, and support your overall metabolism.*
Making sure you get adequate sleep will help improve your gut health. While adequate sleep differs for everyone, the experts agree the sweet spot is somewhere between 7-9 hours per night.
We’ve all had to inhale our lunch before a conference call or Zoom meeting, but repeatedly eating too quickly can cause digestive discomfort. Chew your food slowly and take time eating to decrease gas and bloating.
Find Your Food Intolerances
If you feel you’re doing all the right things to promote your gut health but are still experiencing issues from time to time, try an elimination diet to determine if you have a food intolerance. If you do, you may not have to avoid the food completely, but you’ll know you need to be aware of how much you eat.
Take a Probiotic
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that support your gut flora. When your gut flora becomes unbalanced, taking a probiotic can help supply the gut with more healthy bacteria and bring the gut microbiome back into homeostasis.
Drinking enough water is beneficial to every aspect of your help, and it helps keep the mucous lining of your gut healthy. It’s also beneficial in balancing your gut microbiome.
Stress is more than just a mental condition, it has a negative impact on your gut health as well as your entire body. Practice yoga, schedule an acupuncture treatment, or meditate to help alleviate stress.
How Do I Know My Gut Health Has Improved?
The most notable sign your gut health has improved will be the dissipation of unpleasant digestive-related symptoms, like gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. You'll begin to experience better, more regular digestion, which will let you know your gut health has improved. Additionally, you’ll likely experience better sleep, higher energy levels, and improved mood.
The gut is important for digestion and for overall health. You can improve your gut health by taking herbal supplements, eating certain gut-healthy foods, and making changes to your lifestyle to ensure you get enough sleep.