Signs Your Gut Is Unhealthy and Why You Should Fix It
By: Alison Moodie
Are you feeling down? Do you have joint pain? Are you dealing with itchy eczema? Do you feel constantly bloated? All of these issues — and more — can be traced back to your gut. It turns out that the tens of billions of microbes in your digestive tract are the master puppeteers of your health. Find out what makes these tiny bugs tick, and how you can keep your gut ecosystem healthy and thriving.
What is the gut microbiome?
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 micro-organisms make up what’s known as the human microbiome.
Most of your microbes live in your gut, mainly in your intestines and colon. 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 from infections, remove environmental toxins from the body, and produce B vitamins and 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 — microbes that cause disease when they overgrow. That’s why keeping a good balance between the good and the bad guys is important — too much bad bacteria makes you sick and robs you of feeling your best. You want vibrant communities where the good and bad bacteria work together in harmony.
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 — 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 serious diseases, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, autism, heart disease, and asthma. It’s actually tough to find a condition that’s not connected to gut health in some way.
The signs your gut is unhealthy
If you’re feeling or noticing any of the following symptoms, you may have a gut imbalance:
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Digestive problems like gas and bloating
- Weight gain
- Skin issues like acne, eczema, and rosacea
- Mood swings
- Autoimmune disorders
- Difficulty concentrating
- Joint pain
When your gut bacteria is out of balance, your body isn’t able to digest food as well, which can lead to serious digestive conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut syndrome.
What impacts gut health
Your gut flora, your diet, and the strength of your intestinal lining determine the health of your gut. Using antibiotics too often disrupt your gut bacteria. When you’re sick, antibiotics help clear out the bad bacteria, but in the process they wipe out the good bugs too. Some studies have shown that antibiotics can permanently alter intestinal flora. 
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 other new environments
If you suspect you have imbalances in your gut, download Gut Check, a downloadable guide to troubleshooting your microbiome. You can take a quick quiz to find out what’s throwing you off, and get a clear action plan on how to fix it.
What to eat for a better gut
Cleaning up your diet is the most powerful way to starve the bad bacteria and feed the good guys. Read more on how to balance your gut flora. In the meantime, follow these gut-friendly diet tips:
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 out sugar (that includes the fructose in fruit), low-nutrient carbs, conventional dairy, and alcohol. Learn more about how to kick your sugar habit with Bulletproof-approved alternative sweeteners.
Choose a variety of foods: The hallmark of a thriving gut is a diverse mix of good bacteria. So eating a variety of low-toxin, anti-inflammatory foods ensures no one bacterial strain dominates over the others. Focus on vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fats. Read more about cleaning up your diet here.
Add MCT oil: Medium-chain triglycerides — the saturated fatty acids found in coconut oil — are strong antifungals, antibacterials, and antivirals. Try Brain Octane Oil — it’s the most potent extract of coconut oil. Use it in your Bulletproof Coffee, drizzle it over sushi, or blend it in a smoothie.
Feed your good bacteria prebiotics: Prebiotics are what good bacteria (aka probiotics) feed on. You can get prebiotics from vegetables rich in soluble fiber like sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and asparagus, as well as coffee and chocolate. Also experiment with foods high in prebiotic resistant starch, like plantain and green banana flour, cooked and cooled white rice, and raw potato starch. Not everyone can tolerate resistant starch, so start slowly and track how you feel (one tablespoon of potato starch a day is a good starting point).
Get more collagen: Collagen heals and repairs the gut lining, making it easier for your body to absorb nutrients. Eat collagen-rich foods such as bone broth and organ meats, or add a hydrolyzed collagen protein powder to your smoothie (try Collagen Protein.) You can also use Collagelatin to make puddings and jellies, or to thicken soups and sauces.
Other ways to heal your gut
Watch out for histamine: Taking probiotic supplements can be a good thing for your gut, but 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. Avoid probiotic supplements that contain Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. These histamine-producing bacteria are also present in so-called health foods like conventional yogurt and aged or fermented foods. Learn more about the best and worst probiotics.
Be cautious with antibiotics: Western doctors tend to over-prescribe antibiotics for illnesses like the common cold and ear infections that don’t even respond to these drugs. If you’re on a necessary course of antibiotics, learn here how to restore your gut after taking the drugs.
Hack stress: Stress can impact the gut in all sorts of ways. Learning to manage your stress is a powerful way to heal your microbiome. Carve out time each day to meditate — even just a five-minute meditation can calm your nervous system and give you a sense of wellbeing.
Take activated charcoal: Activated charcoal — a form of carbon — 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, stopping your body from absorbing them. Take it slowly — too much activated charcoal can give you constipation. Start with 1 or 2 capsules a day.
Ways to test your gut
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 be looking 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 — whenever you want really — to monitor your progress and see if any changes you made are working to heal your gut.
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