Our guts are unbelievably complex. As more light is shed on this complexity by an ever-expanding body of scientific research, we are finding compelling evidence of links between the gut and a multitude of other bodily functions and features.
Numerous studies have found such links between gut health and mental health, skin conditions, the immune system, your general mood, and even cancer.
Once thought to be relatively simple in function, our guts are proving to be important catalysts for overall body health and normal functioning.
This incredibly intricate network of interaction is due to what is referred to as the gut microbiome.
Basically, your gut microbiome refers to the hundreds of different species of bacteria and yeast that live in your digestive tract. Many of these are wonderfully beneficial to our human bodies and some are, in fact, necessary for a healthy, functioning physiological system.
By looking after the health of your gut, you’re taking care of the good bacteria that reside there and impart beneficial effects on the rest of your body.
Here we are going to take a look at some of the ways in which you can detect if your gut health is struggling.
We will then talk about some of the benefits of maintaining good gut health and, finally, we’ll suggest some ways in which you can increase your chances of having the healthiest gut possible.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
Modern life is, as expected, not great for our gut health.
Many key features of today’s society result in many, if not most, people living with high-stress levels, operating on too little sleep, taking antibiotics, and eating highly processed foods.
None of this bodes well for the gut health of modern humans as poor gut health has a knock-on effect on many other aspects of your general health with your brain, heart, immune system, hormone levels, and mental health all susceptible to an increased likelihood of problems occurring.
Poor gut health can manifest itself in several ways.
Here are some common signs that may give you an indication that your gut is in need of some TLC.
1. Food Intolerances
Different from food allergies, food intolerance is the result of the difficulty in digesting a certain food (as opposed to the immune system reaction in food allergies).
Research indicates that this is due to the poor quality of gut bacteria. Ways in which this can manifest physically is through bloating, gas, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and nausea.
2. Upset Stomach
General stomach disturbances such as those mentioned in the previous point, all point to something gone awry in your gut health. Constipation and heartburn are some extra signs indicating that your gut is having difficulty processing food and getting rid of the necessary waste.
3. Unintentional Weight Changes
The important word to take note of here is “unintentional”. If you are losing or gaining weight without changes in your diet or exercise routine, you may have a sign of an unhealthy gut on your hands.
When your gut health is suffering, your body will have a reduced ability to effectively absorb all the key nutrients from foods, regulate your blood sugar, and store fat.
Weight loss may be caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), while weight gain can be caused by insulin resistance or a nagging urge to overeat due to insufficient nutrient absorption.
4. Irregular Sleep Patterns and Nagging Fatigue
Insomnia and low sleep-quality may be the result of an unhealthy gut. Serotonin, largely produced in your gut, plays a large role in your mood regulation and sleep.
Therefore, an unhealthy gut may result in poorly regulated serotonin production thereby affecting your sleep quality.
How to Maintain a Healthy Gut
Now that we have taken a closer look at some of the real negative aspects of having poor gut health, let us look at how to improve and maintain good gut health.
Some of these may sound easy while others may challenge your willpower somewhat.
Start with at least a few and slowly work your way up if implementing all of them at once is a little overwhelming.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy balanced diet results in lower gut inflammation and xhelps the gut microbiome thrive.
2. Avoid Smoking
While this may be a no-brainer to some, it is worth listing here.
Smoking is bad for you in every way, including your gut health.
Smoking negatively affects one’s gut microbiome by increasing the number of potentially harmful microorganisms while decreasing the levels of beneficial bacteria.
Consequently, those who smoke have an increased risk of developing intestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
3. Take Probiotics and Eat Fermented Food
Some research suggests that regularly taking a probiotic, found in health food stores and pharmacies, can support a healthy gut microbiome and that it may even serve as a preventive measure for developing gut inflammation and other intestinal problems.
For those who want to ingest one less, not one more, pill a day – look towards foods that are a natural source of probiotics. Consuming fermented vegetables, kombucha, sauerkraut and miso regularly may improve gut health significantly.
4. Eat More Prebiotic Fibre
Non-digestible carbohydrates are referred to as prebiotics and they are essential for the generation of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Well, probiotics feed on this prebiotic fibre which, in turn, help grow and maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Research has also shown that prebiotics may help probiotics become more tolerant to certain environmental conditions such as changes in PH and temperature.
5. Reduce Stress
One of the chief villains contributing to an unhealthy gut, stress, or the lack thereof rather, is very important for keeping your gut microflora healthy and happy.
Psychological stressors have been shown to have disruptive effects on the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria, even if the stress is temporary.
The solution is to find ways to manage your stress so that your gut microbiome is less susceptible to sudden changes due to temporary stress.
Chronic stress is even worse highlighting the case for its mitigation.
Some key stressors that affect your gut health include sleep deprivation, environmental stressors such as extreme noise pollution and intense temperature changes, and general psychological stress.
A few useful habits or activities worth looking into for the sake of reducing stress include meditation, deep breathing exercises, and focused muscle relaxation.
For the sake of completeness, it’s important to remember that simply sticking to a sleep schedule and exercising regularly can do wonders for lowering your stress levels.
6. Take Antibiotics Only When Absolutely Necessary
The overuse of antibiotics is a significant public health concern that may eventually lead to antibiotic resistance.
Apart from that, however, antibiotics are, by very nature, damaging to gut bacteria with research showing that the gut can lack the beneficial bacteria even up to six months after antibiotic use.
Always consult with your doctor about the necessity of taking an antibiotic so that alternative options may be discussed if they are available and effective.
Our gut microbiome is incredibly complex with interactions among trillions of bacteria, yeast, and viruses affecting us in a multitude of different ways from our mental health, immune system response, and even our propensity for developing cancer.
While modern life makes it terribly easy to pepper our gut with unhealthy effects, there are beneficial means at our disposal.
By combining a conscious diet choice with good sleep, regular exercise, and stress-reducing habits, we are able to cultivate an environment for our gut that results in healthy gut bacteria thriving and harmful bacteria dying.
To learn more about the complexity of your gut and the opportunity for you to contribute to the scientific pursuit of gastrointestinal knowledge, visit our Cape Town office or peruse our website.
We are gastroenterologist experts using patient-focused GI treatment and procedures in Cape Town.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.
© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town
Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.