Gut Health for Good Health

By Bethany Strickland RN, BSN, FN

The gut has an active and diverse colony inside and your overall health is dependent on the health of your gut. The microbiome includes several good bacteria that help process foods and aid in many processes in the body. Over the past few decades studies have found links between gut health and the immune system, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, weight gain and cancer.

Many parts of modern life can affect your gut microbiome, including high stress levels, too little sleep, eating a Western diet high in processed and high sugar foods, taking antibiotics.

You may notice a few symptoms if you have reduced gut health. Here are seven of the most common signs, upset stomach. Stomach disturbances can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. They include gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and heartburn. A balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste, likely leading to fewer symptoms. A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the number of “good” bacteria and diversity in your gut. Research suggests that this may lead to increased inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can be the precursor to several diseases, including cancer.

Gaining or losing weight without changing your 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. Weight loss may be caused by malabsorption because of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). On the other hand, weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance or increased inflammation.

Sleep disturbances or constant fatigue can influence gut health. Research indicates that an imbalance in gut bacteria may be linked to fragmented sleep and short sleep duration, which may lead to chronic fatigue.  While the cause remains, it appears to be connected to inflammation, metabolic function, and mental health.

Skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema may be related to types of bacteria present in the gut. Lower concentrations of beneficial bacteria may impact the body’s immune system. This, in turn, may lead to conditions that affect the organs, including the skin.  Autoimmune conditions, many studies have found connections between the gut and the immune system. An unhealthy gut may increase systemic inflammation and alter the proper functioning of the immune system. This can lead to autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself rather than harmful invaders.

Food intolerance is the result of difficulty digesting certain foods. This is different than a food allergy, which is caused by an immune system reaction to certain foods. Research indicates that food intolerances, like lactose intolerance, may be caused by poor quality of bacteria in the gut. This can lead to trouble digesting the trigger foods and symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain and nausea.

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