Gut health has garnered a lot of interest in the past few years - and for good reason. More and more evidence is emerging that Hippocrates was right over 2500 years ago: "All disease begins in the gut". So how do you know if your gut is contributing to your disease or putting you at risk of developing a disease down the road? I've put together a list of 7 common signs that your gut may be struggling to function as it should.
Digestive complaints - bloating, heartburn, IBS, irregularity - are not normal! These are clear signs of impaired gut function and could lead to additional issues if left untreated. Many practitioners simply call these symptoms IBS, and many people have been struggling for so long that they consider them to be normal. Because this topic isn't exactly a living room conversation for most people, I'm going to just go ahead and define diarrhea and constipation for you.
loose/watery stool; and/or
technically <3 BMs/week, but ideally you should be going daily
feeling of not fully eliminating waste and/or
struggling or straining to go
Bloating/Heartburn - if you feel bloated after eating frequently, have food repeating on you after meals, or experience frequent heartburn - this is not normal! This is a sign of impaired gut function and could lead to additional issues if left untreated.
Allergies & sensitivities - We are talking about "seasonal" that aren't so seasonal, or that get increasingly worse year after year (increased reaction + reaction to an increased number of allergens) as well as simple "sensitivities" - certain foods give you a minor rash (not anaphylactic reaction) or indigestion, you have to be really cautious about what you put on your skin, etc.
Skin/hair/nails - I always find it interesting to think that we are instinctually attracted to beauty for the sake of procreation. Take this a step further and ask what we are considering with beauty - it is normally physique, complexion, hair health, teeth - all of which are largely impacted by nutrients and inflammation. Our GI tract's main function is to let certain things into our body while it keeps other things out of the body. If that function gets impaired and we are either not absorbing the nutrients that we need or toxins and other harmful substances are allowed into the bloodstream that shouldn't be, it shows - everywhere. Dull skin, dry and brittle hair and nails, acne - are all external signs that perhaps your gut is not functioning as it should. On the contrary, have you ever noticed someone's skin seems to be glowing from the inside out? They likely have excellent nutrient status and gut health.
Impaired hormone function - hormones are our body's communicators. When one part of the body needs to communicate with another part of the body, hormones are released, travel through the bloodstream, and bind to receptor sites on cells, signaling a certain message and chain of events. The gut microbes are actually considered to be an endocrine system in and of themselves because they communicate with our bodies. Metabolites, or by-products, of bacteria in our gut (i.e. short chain fatty acids when fiber is metabolized by bacteria) have actually been shown to bind to hormone receptor sites in the human body, therefore acting as hormones. The full extent of the effects of our gut microbes on the human endocrine system is not completely understood, but there is a known relationship. If you have an endocrine disorder, it is worth looking closely at your gut health.
Reduced liver function - the gut and liver sit close to each other in the body and are also connected to each other via bile ducts. Remember that our liver performs many functions, but one of its most well-known jobs is to clean or detoxify our blood. Therefore, all blood flows into the liver via the portal vein to be cleaned before being spread throughout the rest of the body. If our gut function is impaired and allowing toxins to enter into the bloodstream, those toxins then flow into the liver and the liver must work harder to remove them, thus creating an additional workload on the liver. Couple this with the onslaught of environmental toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis as well as those we ingest (alcohol, high fat that accumulates in the blood, sugar, chemical pesticides, etc.) and it's no wonder that non-alcoholic liver disease is on the rise.
Autoimmune conditions - lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. are all caused by our immune system attacking itself. Over 2/3 of our immune system lies in our gut. If we can improve the health of our gut and ensure that the immune cells in our gut lining are working properly, we have already influenced the majority of our immune system in a positive manner.
Brain fog, mental fatigue, poor memory - much like our guts and livers communicate via the gut-liver axis, our brains and guts also communicate via the gut-brain axis. As I mentioned earlier in the hormone paragraph - metabolites of microbes in our gut have actually shown to function as hormones. These metabolites send message to our brain - in fact, for every 1 message that our brain sends to our gut, our gut sends 6 messages up to our brain. This communication pathway is largely through the vagus nerve - a nerve that connects to the brain and has multiple touch-points all throughout our digestive tract. Brain fog is becoming a fairly frequent complaint, and the first place I encourage my clients to look is at their gut.
There you have it! The 7 signs of an unhealthy gut. What information was new to you? Is there anything about your own body that you would like to explore further? I would love to hear!