6 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut & How It Affects You
I wish I knew then what I know now about how much our gut affects our entire wellbeing. After my two pregnancies, I was left with a severely damaged gut microbiome - except I had no clue! I thought that everyone had an upset stomach and gas after lunch. I thought that everyone was irritable and cold in the middle of the day. It wasn't until I started losing my hair well after my daughter was born (so not the typical postpartum hair loss) that a big red flag was raised in my mind.
I mentioned all of these signs to my doctor who ended up running bloodwork to check my thyroid and my iron levels, my hormones and even got tested for chronic fatigue syndrome. All of my lab work was normal. But my hair was still falling out and I went to bed with a stomach ache at least 3 nights a week. The traditional doctors just didn't know how to help me. They gave me NO answers.
I can honestly say that it wasn't until I sought a naturopath that I finally got to the bottom of these symptoms. She was able to run more specific lab work and found the root cause - my gut microbiome. Low ferritin (a protein in iron) was her first clue that I wasn't absorbing the protein that I ate. And low ferritin is a major cause of hair loss!
My naturopath asked me the right questions regarding my digestion and sleep/energy patterns. She diagnosed me with a mild form of leaky gut syndrome. I had to go on a brief elimination diet for 2 weeks - got rid of processed foods, dairy, gluten and my nightly glass of wine. I started taking digestive enzymes and probiotics as well as drinking apple cider vinegar with lemon & cinnamon, among other healthier habits that I don't really remember much now. I never felt better, and my hair was slowly growing in!
It's now 6 years later, and I have unfortunately let some of these problematic habits creep back into my life which is motivating me to explore more gut healthy options.
What Does The Gut Affect, Exactly?
The busy mom's everyday life can lead to higher stress, too little sleep, eating too many processed foods and sugary treats. We joke that we "run on Starbucks" and never have a moment to sit down but that is having such a negative affect on our health! These factors can really damage our gut microbiome, especially if we have also been on a round of antibiotics. When our gut microbiome is unbalanced, it may affect other aspects of our health, such as our brain, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, ability to absorb nutrients - which was my exact experience after having my kids.
The complexity of what happens in the gut and how it affects the rest of our bodies is now studied exclusively. These studies have recently linked gut health and the immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders and skin conditions. We all have approximately 300 different species of bacteria in our digestive tract - but only SOME of them are harmful! Turns out, we NEED some of them, too. Having good bacteria in our gut can enhance our immune system, improve symptoms of depression and help combat obesity. It's been increasingly important to identify if we have the proper balance of good and bad bacteria living in our guts - and it's when we don't that we begin to see some warning signs.
Common Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
1. Upset stomachs
This one is obvious! Issues like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. When our gut is balanced we really shouldn't have difficulty processing foods or eliminating waste. Chronic upset stomachs are a big clue, although not the only one.
2. Too much sugar in our diets
A diet high in processed foods & sugars can decrease the amount of good bacteria in our gut - which actually can make us crave more sugar, we eat it, and this causes even MORE gut damage. Unless we are aware that this is happening, it's impossible to get out of this cycle. High amounts of refined sugars have been linked to increased inflammation in the body, which is often the precursor to a number of diseases.
3. Weight gain or weight loss
Gaining or losing weight without making changes to our diet or exercise habits may be a sign of an unhealthy gut. An imbalanced gut can impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat.
4. Disrupted sleep or constant fatigue
An unhealthy gut can contribute to insomnia or poor sleep & lead to chronic fatigue. The majority of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. So gut damage can impair your ability to sleep well.
5. Skin issues
Skin irritations like eczema may be related to a damaged gut due to inflammation caused by a poor diet. Food allergies may cause increased “leaking” of certain proteins out into the body, which can in turn irritate the skin and cause conditions such as eczema.
6. Food intolerances
Food intolerances are the result of difficulty digesting certain foods, different than a true food allergy it's just a sensitivity, which can really be a problem if that food is continued to be introduced in our diets on a regular basis. Food intolerances are likely caused by having poor quality bacteria in our gut, which can lead to difficulty digesting the trigger foods and symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea.
If you'd like to learn about what my plan is to fix my own gut issues this time, you can read about my 4 Week Gut Protocol that I am starting soon.
The goal? To identify foods that could be causing digestive sensitivities and include effective, no-impact exercise during the 4 weeks to give my body a break. Bringing awareness to these normalized symptoms is my goal here. No, it's not "normal" to feel like crap after you eat or to constantly feel tired all the time. So I'm going to go first and then provide some solutions to many others out there who are needlessly suffering. I am SO excited to figure out what my food sensitivities are and to learn how to eat right for my gut health!
Interested in joining me? Fill out the Gut Health Info Form and I will send you more details.