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"At least you've got your health" is a familiar phrase of reassurance you would give to someone who'd seemingly lost it all.
But what happens when you don't even have that? Sometimes prevention is better than the cure, and maintaining your gut health can help tremendously with your wellbeing.
The gut is an organ that does much of the body's heavy lifting.
What goes into our bodies will eventually pass through our intestinal system, so what you choose to ingest will have a big impact on your overall health.
Additionally, the health of your gut is a good indication of your health overall. Here, we look at different signs that you are suffering from an unhealthy gut.
But first, why is gut health so important?
The gut is an incredibly complex part of the body and its importance cannot be overstated. The gut is a long tube that processes, absorbs, and then excretes food, but this is only part of the story. Some statistics about the gut include:
There are about 100 trillion bacteria that reside in the gut.
70-80 per cent of the body's immune cells are contained in the gut. 100 million neurons are present throughout the gut, producing neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
95 per cent of the body's serotonin is located in the gut. (1)
Evidently, the gut is essential to our physical and psychological wellbeing. The gut is the primary force in keeping our immune system sharp, promoting heart health, emotional wellbeing, brain health, and even preventing certain kinds of cancers and illnesses.
Below are signs that your gut may be in less-than-ideal shape.
Indigestion is a common illness that practically everybody will experience at some point in their lives. But what is indigestion?
It's an illness that is characterised by being bloated, excessive wind, nausea and general discomfort in the stomach area. Common causes include overeating, spicy foods, sodium, fats and even poor gut health.
This is usually the result of SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), a condition where excess amounts of bacteria are present in the upper part of the intestine (where they shouldn't be).
The gas produced here puts pressure on the stomach, enough so that acid moves upwards toward the oesophagus, leading to indigestion and heartburn. (2)
- Decreased psychological wellbeing
The impacts of gut health are not purely physical, but emotional and psychological too. Gut bacteria use the vagus nerve and circulatory system to communicate with the brain, and it's important to note that there are as many bacterial cells in the body, mostly found in the gastrointestinal tract, as there are human cells. (3)
When the gut is colonised by maladaptive microbes, this can lead to a state called microbial dysbiosis.
Microbial dysbiosis has been linked to some brain pathologies and neurodegenerative diseases like autism, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and also depression. (3) (4)
Constipation is a gastrointestinal disorder that is not entirely understood due to its range of multifactor causes. However, gut health has been found to have strong links.
The intestinal microbiota helps break down foods into absorbable nutrients, and compositional differences in this intestinal microbiota have been found to contribute to constipation. (5)
Despite requiring more research, good gut health workshops are being established to advocate the benefits of foods that promote gut health.
- Irregular sleep patterns and fatigue
If you are having difficulty sleeping, or find yourself excessively tired, this could stem from the condition of your gut.
Serotonin levels in the brain impact sleep and wake cycles, and 95 per cent of serotonin is found in the gut. Microbe depletion can similarly deplete gut-based serotonin, which can affect your sleep.
The good news is that foods that stimulate the development of gut bacteria can be an easy fix to your night time difficulties. (6)
- Skin rashes and irritations
The links between vital organs are becoming more well-known, and the gut and skin are no exception. It has been found that poor gut health can lead to excess proteins and amino acids converting into toxins like trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) and p-cresyl sulfate. These then leak from the gut, making their way throughout the body and to the skin, causing irritations. (7)
Some skin conditions that may be caused by this protein conversion and release include eczema, acne, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. The most effective way to counter this is by increasing your intake of dietary fibre, probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods with live bacteria in them.
The gut is a vast and complex organ that is synchronised with much of the body, and poor gut health can be an indicator of underlying health issues. Some signs of an unhealthy gut include indigestion, constipation, emotional and psychological instability, irregular sleep and skin irritations. A healthy gut can largely be maintained through healthier lifestyle choices and an emphasis on fermented foods.
- "The central role of the gut", Source: Nutricia Research
- "Norm Robillard PhD | Acid Reflux, GERD And The Fast Tract Diet", Source: Lynda Griparic
- "Unhealthy gut, unhealthy brain: The role of the intestinal microbiota in neurodegenerative diseases", Source: Science Direct
- "Current Perspectives on Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis and Depression", Source: NCBI
- "Intestinal microbiota and chronic constipation", Source: NCBI
- 'Gut microbes: a key to normal sleep', Source: EurekAlert
- "The Skin and Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Common Dermatologic Conditions", Source: NCBI