Is your gut in a rut? 5 signs of an unhealthy gut and 5 ways to fix it
This post is sponsored by New Chapter, maker of whole-food vitamins & supplements. All opinions are my own.
Gut health has been trending more than the Kardashians lately. So, you’ve probably heard about the importance of “gut health” to your overall health and well-being. But why should you care about a healthy gut? I’m here to answer all things gut.
Get this – around 70% of Americans suffer from digestive issues, like gas, bloating, and more. Looking beyond these uncomfortable digestive symptoms, why is a healthy gut SO important? For starters, a healthy and happy gut can extract the nutrients you need from food without causing pain, discomfort, or distress, and is usually the sign of a healthy microbiome.
Micro what now? The gut microbiome is the vast community of trillions of microorganisms living in our digestive tract, and these little guys have more power over your day-to-day life than you even realize. In addition to supporting digestion, they help control weight, fight infection, regulate sleep and mood, and so much more. An imbalanced microbiome can impair your body’s ability to do these things.
Dysbiosis, a fancy word for imbalanced gut bacteria, occurs when the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut is out of whack. This can change the environment of the gut, leading to a whole host of digestive issues.
5 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
How do you know if your gut’s in a rut? It’s more than just a “gut feeling”. Here are the top 5 signs of an unhealthy gut:
- You’re gassy and bloated: Digestive issues like gas and bloating are the hallmark symptoms of gut imbalance. Although it is normal to experience some gas and bloating on a regular basis, if you’re experiencing it frequently it may be the sign of an imbalanced gut. If the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut is out of whack, this can ramp up microbial byproducts like methane and hydrogen, which are two major gas and bloating triggers.
- You’re tired: The relationship between sleep and our microbiome is seen as a two-way street. Our gut microbiome seems to influence how we sleep. Sleep disturbances may be associated with a decrease in amounts and types of beneficial bacteria. In turn, sleep and our circadian rhythms appear to affect the health and diversity of the important bacterial world that lives in our gut.
- You’re getting sick often: 60-80% of your immune system is located in your gut. So, it makes sense that an imbalanced and unhealthy gut can increase your risk of getting sick. A recent study even found that taking antibiotics, which can deplete your gut of beneficial bacteria, may reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
- Your skin is suffering: Contrary to popular belief, beauty is not only skin deep. What’s happening with your skin can be a reflection of what’s going on in your gut. Although research is still in its infancy on this, there is some evidence to suggest a potential link between an imbalance in the gut microbiome and skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.
- You’re moody: The gut is often referred to as the second brain. Which makes sense since about 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. A compromised gut will affect your ability to use serotonin (the happy hormone) and can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
5 Ways to Improve Gut Health
Now that you know what to look for, what steps can you take to support a healthy microbiome and improve gut health? Lifestyle behaviors and diet are two of the leading causes of dysbiosis, aka an imbalanced gut microbiome. Let’s take a deeper dive into how you can make changes to restore balance and a healthier gut, and ameliorate digestive distress.
P.S. If you’re feeling digestive discomfort immediately after waking up, all day, or it’s associated with pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, cramping…stop right here and go see a doctor. This could be a sign that the digestive discomfort you’re experiencing is a result of something more serious like a chronic condition.
1) Rule out a food intolerance
Good ol’ food intolerances – they are far too common, and often go undetected. Why? Because it can be pretty hard to pinpoint what food/foods may be causing the issue, especially if your symptoms are delayed. A food intolerance or sensitivity occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food, and this can lead to uncomfortable digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, and mild pain.
It’s thought that food intolerances could be triggered or worsened by an imbalanced microbiome. Some of the most common food intolerances are to dairy, gluten, and FODMAPs (a group of carbohydrates poorly absorbed by some people). Following an elimination diet under the supervision of a dietitian can help you pinpoint any food intolerances.
2) De-stress and get some sleep
To get zen, engage in relaxation techniques regularly, especially before bed. There are many options, including meditation and guided imagery (there are free guided meditation tracks on your music and podcast apps), yoga, and even simple breathing exercises.
Two hours before bed, tone down the blue light, turn on your lavender diffuser, put those cell phones away, and read that book you’ve been meaning to read for years. Instagram will be there tomorrow. Also, try to avoid eating two hours before bed. Eating right before bed can lead to poor sleep and hormone disruption.
Hydration has shown to have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines, as well as on the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Water also helps move matter through the digestive tract and aids in eliminating metabolic waste, creating a healthier environment for your gut bacteria. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces, and always chug a glass right when you wake up (your body hasn’t had any water in hours!). To kickstart your digestion, try adding some freshly squeezed lemon juice.
4) Supplement with probiotics
Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live in our gut to aid the absorption and digestion of food. Supplementing with probiotics can help restore balance to your gut microbiome and ease GI distress.
Not all probiotic supplements are created equally. Some supplements try to deliver as many probiotics as possible, and more doesn’t necessarily equal better. So, it’s important to choose a quality supplement. My go-to supplement is New Chapter’s Probiotic All-Flora, because it’s been clinically studied and DNA tested to deliver the right strains and in the amounts you need to make a difference you can actually feel.
Bacteria aren’t the only organisms in your gut, yet most probiotic supplements only contain bacteria. Our gut is home to yeast as well, which is why you want a supplement with both friendly bacteria AND yeast for complete gut support. New Chapter’s Probiotic All-Flora delivers 5 billion CFUs (colony forming units) each of beneficial bacteria and yeast. Plus, it’s got prebiotics too, which act as fuel for the probiotics so they can do their job.
5) Give your diet a makeover
Diet plays a crucial role in gut health. Sticking to a diet rich in plant-based foods, fiber, and fermented foods has been shown to support a healthy gut microbiome.
The fiber you eat helps feed billions of good bacteria in the gut, keeping them happy and your gut happy. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole/ancient grains (my favorites are sprouted bread and quinoa). Aim for 25 – 30 grams of fiber per day. Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are natural sources of probiotics (aka the good guys for digestion). Check out this recipe for Easy Kimchi Fried Cauliflower Rice.
Reducing intake of alcohol and processed and high-sugar foods is also key to maintaining optimal gut health. Too much boozin’ can lead to irritation of your GI tract, so try to limit yourself to a few alcoholic drinks per week, and go red! Red wine may have prebiotic benefits, but be sure to keep it dry (less sugar).
The added sugars in high-sugar foods feed the bad bacteria and reduce the good bacteria, which can offset the balance and lead to dysbiosis – you know, where your gut bacteria balance goes out of whack. Try to limit intake of added sugars by choosing fruit as a sweet snack when possible and using fruit to sweeten baked good recipes.
The Bottom Line:
There’s no denying that a healthy gut is important. If you’re experiencing digestive discomfort and other symptoms like fatigue or moodiness and have ruled out a more serious issue, it may be time to make some diet and lifestyle changes, like destressing and adding more fiber to your diet. And be sure to up your intake of probiotics (the “good guys”) through food or choosing a quality supplement, like New Chapter’s Probiotic All-Flora.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease