Signs Your Gut Is Unhealthy and Why You Should Fix It
By: Alison Moodie
March 23, 2020
- Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique. Certain combinations of microbes, and a diverse mix of them, define a healthy gut.
- Your gut health plays a role in everything from your mood to your immunity. Cleaning up your diet is the most powerful way to starve the bad bacteria and feed the good guys.
- For optimal gut health, eat more whole foods, avoid sugar, lower your stress and have more prebiotics.
Are you feeling down? Are you dealing with skin problems? Do you feel constantly bloated? All of these issues — and more — can be traced back to your gut health. It turns out that the tens of billions of microbes in your digestive tract are the master puppeteers of a healthy gut. Find out what makes these tiny bugs tick, and how you can keep your gut ecosystem healthy and thriving.
What is gut health?
Your body is home to trillions of microscopic organisms — bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes that inhabit almost every part of you. This busy ecosystem of microorganisms make up what’s known as the human gut microbiome.
Most of your microbes live in your gut. Bacteria are the most studied of the microbes — scientists have discovered over 1,000 species of bacteria in the gut. These bugs do a lot — they digest your food, keep your immune system humming along, protect your intestines, remove environmental toxins from the body, produce B vitamins and generate vitamin K, which helps your blood clot.
Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique, although certain combinations of microbes — and a diverse mix of them — are the hallmarks of a healthy gut.
Normal gut flora contains small amounts of “bad” bacteria. These are microbes that we don’t want to let get out of hand. That’s why keeping a good balance between the good and the bad guys is important. You want vibrant communities where the good bacteria thrive and the bad bacteria are kept in check.
Gut health starts young
You get your first dose of microbes as you’re being born, when you pass through your mother’s birth canal. From there, your microbiome changes during the first couple of years of life, influenced by microbes in breast milk, antibiotics and your first solid foods. Your gut microbiota stabilizes around the age of 3. This early development of intestinal flora is critical because it sets the tone for your gut health … for life.
Scientists have started taking a much closer look at the gut microbiome and its connection to almost everything in the body. A gut that’s out of balance can lead to all kinds of challenges. It’s actually tough to find a condition that’s not connected to gut health in some way.
What are the symptoms of an imbalanced gut?
When your gut bacteria is out of balance, your body isn’t able to digest food as well. If you’re feeling or noticing any of the following symptoms, you may have a gut imbalance:
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Digestive problems like occasional gas and bloating
- Weight changes
- Skin issues
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
What impacts gut health?
Your gut flora, your diet and the strength of your intestinal lining determine the health of your gut. Keeping your gut in balance is a delicate dance, and there’s a lot that can tilt it in the wrong direction. As an adult, the health of your gut microbiome shifts when you:
- Eat processed foods
- Get sick
- Drink alcohol or take drugs
- Experience stress
- Lose or gain weight
- Get older
- Travel overseas or to new environments
- Take medication that affects the microbiome
How can I improve my gut health?
Improving your gut health starts with what you eat. It’s the most natural way to support your good gut bacteria. They eat what you eat, so feed them well. Keep reading to learn how to nourish good gut bacteria.
What to eat for a better gut
- Quit sugar: If you make one change to improve your gut health, make it this. Bad bacteria love sugar and feed off of it. Cut back on sugar (that includes the fructose in fruit), low-nutrient carbs, conventional dairy and alcohol.
- Eat more whole foods: The hallmark of a thriving gut is a balanced gut microbiome. Have a hard time eating your greens? Here’s how to eat more vegetables.
- Up your fiber intake: We’re not talking about cardboard fiber cereal. Reach for leafy greens, nuts, root vegetables and prebiotics (more on that below). Learn more about how fiber supports a stronger gut.
Gut health supplements
Not all gut health supplements are the same. Some will help balance beneficial gut bacteria. Others might actually make you feel lousy. Here’s what you should know.
Have probiotics for gut health
Probiotic supplements help support gut health by adding beneficial bacteria to your gut microbiome. One caveat here — not all probiotics are the same. Some strains can increase your levels of histamine, the same chemical your body produces during an allergic reaction. Too much histamine causes inflammation in the body. Learn everything you need to know about probiotics, how they work and which strains to avoid.
Feed your good bacteria prebiotics
Probiotics need to eat. You need PREbiotics to feed your good gut bacteria. You can get prebiotics from vegetables rich in soluble fiber (like sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and asparagus), chocolate and prebiotic supplements. Also experiment with foods high in resistant starch, like plantain and green banana flour, raw potato starch and cooked and cooled white rice.
Get more collagen
Collagen is one of the building blocks of your GI tract. Eat collagen-rich foods such as bone broth and organ meats. Try Bulletproof Collagen Protein Gut Health, made with beneficial ingredients to support a healthy gut microbiome.†
Take activated charcoal
Activated charcoal is a form of carbon that has been used for thousands of years to detoxify the body and improve digestive health. Activated charcoal binds to toxins and chemicals in the gut. Read more about the benefits of activated charcoal and how to work it into your diet.
How to test your gut health
- Get to know your poop: It might sound funny, but becoming an expert on your own stools tells you a lot about what’s going on in your gut. Check out this handy poop chart to help you identify any problem areas. You want to look at the stool’s consistency, whether it floats or sinks, its color and how often you go (once or twice a day is a sign of strong digestion).
- Take a gut test: You can now send a fecal sample to a company like Viome. They send you a test kit in the mail, and you pay them a fee to analyze your stools. You’ll receive a detailed report with a list of all the bacteria in your gut, how your microbiome compares to other people’s, and how to keep your bacteria healthy with supplement and diet recommendations. You can test again to monitor your progress and see if any changes you made are working to heal your gut.
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This is an updated version of an article originally published February 2019.