Our gut is where at least 70% of our immune system is created, where we make nutrients to create neurotransmitters (for our brain and nervous system health), where we metabolise hormones and detoxify pathogens and bad bacteria. Therefore you can see how our gut can imbalance our whole body, depending on how we care for it, through consumption of food and lifestyle.
If our gut isn’t as healthy as we think, our body sends very important signals. Ones we should be listening to, if we know what’s good for us. These signals may look like obvious digestive stress, like bloating, gas, and irregular bowel movements. However, there are some less obvious signs like skin, sleep and hormonal issues.
Essentially, eating processed high-sugar foods, high stress levels, lack of sleep, and medications, like antibiotics, can damage our gut flora. This can result in poor nutrient absorption, leaving the gut vulnerable to infection.
Fortunately, there are numerous ways of how we can check in with our bodies.
We have collated a short list of the common signs to look out for.
Unintentional weight changes
An imbalanced gut can reduce how we absorb nutrients, regulate blood and sugar levels, and store fat. Unintentionally losing or gaining weight can be a sign of an unhealthy gut. Weight gain can be caused by fluid retention due to imbalanced blood sugar levels, switching on our urge to overeat, due to decreased nutrient absorption. Weight-loss may occur due to a bacterial infection, the most common being small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or if long term, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Most of the body’s serotonin, known as the happy hormone, is created in the gut. And due to serotonin being a precursor to melatonin (our sleep hormone), an unhealthy gut can disturb our sleep-wake cycles, causing insomnia or morning grogginess. If ongoing, this would eventually result in chronic fatigue, so we need to keep our gut healthy, to make sure we get that ever important restful sleep.
Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea, are strongly linked to a damaged inflamed gut. Inflammation in the gut can be caused by a poor diet, food intolerances, allergies and alcohol, as these contribute to the loss of the tight barrier in the gut that keeps unwanted pathogens out of circulation.
When these pathogens are present in circulation, they alert the immune system to attack. This not only depletes the immune system, but also inflames the skin, therefore over time this can lead to auto-immune conditions, like psoriasis.
Growing medical and scientific research correlate gut health with skin health. For example, studies show that a lack of hydrochloric acid in the gut can contribute to acne and rosacea.
Furthermore, if we don’t have enough nutrients (like protein) to support gut health, it leaves the skin unsupported, due to lack of collagen production. Additionally, studies show those who have a healthy gut, have a healthy fat profile in their skin, therefore skin is more moisturised, hydrated and protected.
Studies show that our gut bacteria can also influence our mood. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have most likely heard about the brain-gut connection. For instance, have you ever smelt or even thought of delicious food, and your mouth starts to salivate? That’s digestion starting to happen, due to the brain-gut connection. The vagus nerve is the primary connection between the two, and it heavily relies on good bacteria for its activity. So, when we have unhealthy gut bacteria, the vagus nerve can send signals of distress to the brain, resulting in feelings of fatigue, anxiety, stress or sad mood. Or vice versa, if we are nervous or stressed, issues can arise such as IBS
Studies show that when we consume sugar we are feeding the bad bacteria, causing an overgrowth in the gut, known as dysbiosis. The larger the overgrowth of bad bacteria, the harder it is to say no to sugar. The brain becomes addicted and needs that quick dopamine hit. This leads to constant cravings, and when we give in, we create a higher tolerance for sugar and keep consuming more, and at larger amounts, to satisfy the same dopamine hit.
So next time you start reaching for some chocolate or a sugary soft drink, think of your future gut and brain health, over the immediate sugar reward.
I think we all agree that taking care of our gut is most important. You can do this by adding in some fibre, pre and probiotics and other gut-loving foods or supplements.
Or if you want to learn more on how to improve gut health, click here, to read about 6 tips on healthy digestion.