10 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut and What to Do About It
- Digestive symptoms aren’t the only signs of poor gut health — they might not even be the first signs your gut is off.
- Mood issues, brain fog, acne, fatigue, food sensitivities, and hormone imbalances are all common but misunderstood signs of an unhealthy gut.
- Take action to heal your gut and balance your microbiome with dietary changes as needed, probiotic and/or postbiotic therapy (butyrate), and stress management as your foundation. You may find it helpful to work with a functional medicine or integrative health practitioner to figure out the root causes of your symptoms.
How do you know your gut is in distress? Searching through the various studies and symptoms on the internet can feel really overwhelming — and leave you with more questions than answers.
It seems impossible that so many illnesses could be connected to gut health.
But it’s not as far-fetched as you might imagine.
We’re just beginning to learn how devastating an unhealthy gut can be to your whole body. Your gut is home to 500 million neurons (yes, the same ones found in your brain!) and 100 trillion strands of bacteria that form your microbiome.
IBS, GERD, and acid reflux are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to common illnesses rooted in the gut. In fact, gut health can now be connected to depression and anxiety, as well as inflammatory illnesses and autoimmune diseases.
Table of Contents:
- What factors contribute to your gut health?
- What are the symptoms of an unhealthy gut?
- Mental health issues
- Difficulty waking up and staying alert
- Frequent heartburn
- Food intolerances or sensitivities
- Brain fog
- Regular breakouts
- Hormone imbalance
- Weight fluctuation
- Chronic constipation
- Enhance your gut health
What Factors Contribute to Your Gut Health?
Basic factors that contribute to your gut health include genetics, diet, exercise, and your overall lifestyle. Other factors may consider environmental toxins, chronic stress, and even the diet and lifestyle your parents had before they had you. Yep, certain aspects of gut health can be passed down through the generations.
The good news is, you have more power over your gut health than you think — and just a few simple changes can help you reverse your symptoms and feel healthier.
What are the Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut?
You may have heard that signs of bad gut health only include things like loose stool, gas, and diarrhea. While these are certainly symptoms you should investigate, they are not the only red flags you should be aware of.
The gut is home to most of your immune system — plus it breaks down food, absorbs vitamins and other nutrients, and secretes waste. When it’s not working properly, the whole body is affected.
These less common signs of an unhealthy gut may give you some insight into what your gut is telling you.
1. Mental Health Issues (Depression and Anxiety)
Although we associate most “happy chemicals,” like serotonin and dopamine with the brain, they are produced in the gut as well. In fact, the gut produces a whopping 95% of our serotonin!
Neurotransmitters in the brain and gut regularly communicate with each other — connecting the two in what’s called the gut-brain axis. When the gut is in chronic distress, the brain is almost always affected.
This is why we see cases of depression and anxiety so often in people with gut issues.
2. Difficulty Waking Up and Staying Alert
You jolt out of REM sleep at the dreaded sound of your alarm clock. Groggily you mumble to yourself, “five more minutes” and proceed to snooze the clock at least seven more times.
When you finally make it to work, you’re running on two giant cups of caffeine and still can’t manage to decipher the spreadsheet your boss assigned last-minute.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
Serotonin is key to quality sleep, and if the gut isn’t creating enough, you may experience an exhausting sleep/wake cycle. Additionally, slow digestion takes energy from your body that could be used to crawl out of bed — or conquer that spreadsheet.
3. Frequent Heartburn
Sure, you might get heartburn after eating too many acidic foods (even though chocolate is worth it). This may not be cause for concern, but frequent bouts could be a sign that more is going on in your gut. If you experience this uncomfortable symptom more than once a week, it’s time to look deeper into your gut health.
4. Food Intolerances or Sensitivities
You can’t imagine life before tacos. Are they really that unhealthy? It doesn’t matter. You’ve eaten the same carnitas tacos every Tuesday for as long as you can remember — and all of the sudden, they’re causing uncomfortable cramps and bloating.
The 100 trillion strands of bacteria in your gut (aka, your microbiome), is responsible for protecting your gut lining, regulating your immune system, and helping to control digestion. When this microbiome lining breaks or weakens, your stomach and gut lining is vulnerable to wear and tear. (The gut lining is only a single cell thick!)
If your gut wall begins to break down, it causes a condition called a leaky gut. Larger particles from your beloved tacos can then enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc on your immune system.
When leaky gut becomes an issue, foods you’ve enjoyed plenty in the past — especially those that increase inflammation, like gluten — may cause digestive distress.
5. Brain Fog
Do you ever find yourself staring at your computer screen wondering what in the world you just read? Maybe it’s already happened as you’ve been browsing this article (no worries!).
Forgetfulness and frequent bouts of brain fog may be linked to your gut. Not only are your gut and brain connected through neurological pathways, but your gut is in charge of sending nutrients and healthy fats to your brain. Without sufficient nutrients, you may find yourself struggling to remember words or keep your thoughts straight.
6. Regular Breakouts
If you suffer from unexplained acne that refuses to calm down no matter what expensive cream or treatment you try, it might be time to look at your gut. Acne has been associated with a gut disorder called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Leaky gut may also allow bacteria to travel outside of your gut, causing widespread inflammation and eventually seeking your skin as an exit point.
7. Hormone Imbalance
For women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Hashimoto's, and menopause, hormone imbalance is nothing new. Usually, hormone imbalances are diagnosed through blood tests ordered by your doctor.
If you struggle with any of these diseases, you know that maintaining healthy estrogen levels plays an important role in your overall wellness. But did you know the gut is responsible for some estrogen production?
Taking care of your gut and nourishing your microbiome may help to ease symptoms of estrogen dominance.
8. Weight Fluctuation
Rapid weight gain or loss can be caused by a lot of different things. But if you think your gut is in distress, and you’re experiencing weight fluctuation, it might be worth looking more into. Since your gut influences how your body stores nutrients, it has a lot of influence over your weight.
9. Chronic Constipation
Unless severe, constipation rarely raises alarm. But maybe it should.
To maintain healthy digestion, you should be pooping at least once a day. If less frequent, your body could quickly become overloaded with toxins. Healthy BM’s are a sign of a healthy you — so make sure you’re eating plenty of fiber to help your motility stay frequent.
Inflammation is always a hot-button topic in the holistic health world. And, it makes sense. Inflammation-driven gut diseases like Crohn’s disease, Lyme disease, and ulcerative colitis, to name a few, are on the rise. If you experience inflammatory symptoms like regular headaches, fatigue, and decreased appetite without a direct cause, it could be linked to leaky gut.
Enhance Your Gut Health with Bodybio
Gut symptoms are not only uncomfortable, they can also be embarrassing. But there’s no reason to feel ashamed about your body. Your stomach and digestive tract are smarter than you think — they want to heal. And, they’re using symptoms to raise your awareness of the problem.
Now that you understand the symptoms of an unhealthy gut, learn how you can reverse those symptoms and restore your health with prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics.
Conlon, M. A., & Bird, A. R. (2014). The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human health. Nutrients, 7(1), 17–44. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7010017
Eisenhofer, G., Aneman, A., Friberg, P., Hooper, D., Fåndriks, L., Lonroth, H., Hunyady, B., & Mezey, E. (1997). Substantial production of dopamine in the human gastrointestinal tract. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 82(11), 3864–3871. https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.82.11.4339
Bowe, W. P., & Logan, A. C. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future?. Gut pathogens, 3(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/1757-4749-3-1
Baker, J. M., Al-Nakkash, L., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2017). Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas, 103, 45–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.06.025
Xu, H., Liu, M., Cao, J., Li, X., Fan, D., Xia, Y., Lu, X., Li, J., Ju, D., & Zhao, H. (2019). The Dynamic Interplay between the Gut Microbiota and Autoimmune Diseases. Journal of immunology research, 2019, 7546047. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7546047
Khanijow, V., Prakash, P., Emsellem, H. A., Borum, M. L., & Doman, D. B. (2015). Sleep Dysfunction and Gastrointestinal Diseases. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 11(12), 817–825.