Your gut is more than just the 15ft of small and large intestines in your belly. It’s also more than the entire digestive system that “merely” turns food into energy.
According to scientists, the gut is also a small-scale nervous system (if 100 million nerve cells can be considered small). It dictates emotional wellbeing, your response to stressful situations, and it might even be the part of your body that acts as your intuition. And that’s not all. According to relatively new scientific research, a large portion of our immune system is in the GI tract.
All things considered, it’s easy to conclude that poor gut health can pose a real problem if you’re trying to take better care of yourself. So, how do you recognize the signs of poor gut health? And is there anything you can do to improve it?
Signs of Poor Gut Health
One of the easiest ways to recognize that your gut isn’t in top condition is if you’re experiencing digestive issues.
Now, to be clear, having a response to the odd meal that just didn’t sit well, recent travel, or even a stressful episode doesn’t mean that you need to start taking action to heal your gut. (Although, due diligence and a consultation with your doctor won’t hurt).
However, if you frequently experience an upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or heartburn, taking better care of your gut might just be the solution.
Do you get sick all the time? Maybe you feel like your body is raging with systemic inflammation (the symptoms can include fever, joint pain, fatigue, skin rashes, etc.)? If that’s the case, you might want to start looking for ways to check and possibly work to improve your gut health.
One unexpected sign of poor gut health is poor mental health.
The GI tract is where your body absorbs essential nutrients. So, if something is wrong with your gut, chances are you’re not getting all the macro and micronutrients you need. And that means that your body isn’t fully capable of utilizing serotonin or dopamine, the hormones that make you happy.
So if you’ve been feeling anxious or depressed, it might be a good idea to check the overall state of your digestive system.
Unintended Weight Gain or Loss
This is a sign of poor gut health that most people notice and care about.
An unhealthy GI tract is incapable of optimizing the way we turn food into energy. Plus, it can also miss the mark when regulating blood sugar and storing fat. That’s why wasting precious nutrients (or craving more food than we really need) can signal that things aren’t working as they should.
Disordered Sleep & Fatigue
There are many reasons people might feel fatigued or experience disordered sleeping. Too much blue light exposure, insufficient exercise, stress, and even a poorly planned diet can all cause us to lose sleep. But, sometimes, it’s not a bad idea to look to gut health as a possible explanation.
This is because the gut produces serotonin, which affects our mood and our sleep patterns. So, having a damaged GI tract might mean that our ability to sleep is compromised.
Finally, some skin conditions could also signal poor gut health.
Eczemafor example, is often caused by a leaky gut, where food particles that leave the GI tract are targeted and attacked by the immune system, resulting in skin irritation.
How to Improve Gut Health
So, now that you know the expected and unexpected signs of poor gut health, you may be wondering: What can I do to improve it?
Well, there’s plenty you can do to heal and nurture your digestive system:
If you’re like most people in the world, chances are, there’s room for improvement in your diet. No, we’re not talking about going Keto or Paleo or doing intermittent fasting without consulting your primary care physician. Nor are we suggesting that you cut your favorite treats out of your diet. We’re talking about actively choosing to make 80-90% of your diet healthyideally based on whole foods, lean proteins, plenty of fiber, and healthy fats.
Learn How to Manage Stress
The second most important thing you can do to improve gut health is to optimize the way you deal with everyday stress. Great ways to lower stress levels include meditation, yoga, exercise, self-care, and creative hobbies. It’s also not a bad idea to try tricks like diffusing essential oils, enriching your social life, or simply spending more time with your pets.
Most people don’t drink enough water. Now, that’s a problem because hydration is key to maintaining the health of your gut’s lining.
Try to make a conscious effort to hydrate your body. For starters, drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Additionally, ensure that you:
Take a Probiotic Supplement
A daily probiotic or prebiotic supplement is a cheap and easy way to nurture the good bacteria that are supposed to live in your GI tract. When choosing probiotics, make sure that you go with a product made by a reliable manufacturer and that it includes enough live cultures to make a difference.
A word of caution: if you suspect that you have a condition such as SIBO, make sure that you consult your doctor before you take any supplements. They could do more harm than good.
There’s no downside to being well-rested. Especially if you’re trying to improve your overall health. And, if the gut and your sleep patterns are so well connected, well, it might not be a bad idea to try and get those recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Finally, if none of the tips above help, it might be time to take matters to a professional. A simple stool sample test will help you identify yeast or bacterial overgrowth, which often causes digestive issues, bloating, or abdominal pain. And you can also pinpoint food intolerances through a simple process of elimination (or the more expensive alternative of bloodwork).
Poor gut health is more common than most people think. Common culprits include excess stress exposure, a predominantly processed diet, or even poor self-care habits.
Fortunately, however, improving gut health isn’t that difficult. Yes, severe conditions will require the help of a doctor (or even a team of specialists). But, if you just want to make sure that your digestive system is operating at its best, these six tips will surely help you lead your healthiest, happiest life.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism