Gut health is important, yet a lot of people treat their guts poorly. An unhealthy gut can have a devastating effect on the body which is why it's so important to look after it if you can. Many factors can contribute to an unhealthy gut including high-stress levels, insomnia, processed and sugary foods or even prescribed antibiotics.
We spoke to Tim Goodwin, food expert and founder of Lean Greens (opens in new tab), to share what he thinks are the seven warning signs of an unhealthy gut. As well as that, he also shared some tips and suggestions on how to improve these conditions as admitting there is a problem is only the first step in the right direction.
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Sign #1: stomach discomfort
"Discomfort in your stomach can show up in the form of diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, heartburn, gas, and abdominal pain", Tim explains, "Whilst these symptoms are common, they are not normal. A balanced gut should have no problem digesting foods and releasing stools."
If you regularly experience these symptoms, Tim recommends checking with your GP and nutritionist that you do not have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), a common disorder that affects the large intestines. They can advise you on what foods to avoid, as well as what supplements to add to your diet.
Sign #2: sugar cravings
Tim says, "Sugar cravings are a surprising symptom of poor gut health. Essentially, the gut microbes release proteins that are like hunger-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin. This not only affects our hunger levels and cravings but our mood too."
If you eat a lot of sugar, the unhelpful bacteria will thrive off it and secrete more proteins to make you crave more. Improving your gut health can help your body get rid of these unhelpful bacteria and improve your overall mood and health.
A quick and convenient way to swap sugary snacks out for healthier ones is to keep fruits or even a protein bar or two in your gym bag. Increasing protein levels, in general, can help you feel fuller, too; having a protein powder shake is an easy way to top up your protein levels on the go.
Sign #3: lack of sleep
The majority of serotonin, also known as ‘the happy hormone’, is produced in your gut. So poor gut health can affect your sleep, and therefore your mood too.
"Lack of sleep can be caused by a variety of factors, including mental health issues, hormonal abnormalities, pain, obesity, diabetes and more", Tim suggests, "Gut health can certainly be part of this- especially if you consume alcohol or sugary foods before bedtime."
Tim recommends finding out the cause of your sleep disturbances by speaking with your GP, who will advise you on the next steps. It may be that you need to add more fibre to your diet, exercise regularly, avoid sugary foods or speak to a therapist about your mental health struggles.
Sign #4: unintentional weight changes
Losing or gaining weight, without actively making changes to your diet or exercise routine, can be a sign of a bad gut. A balanced gut should be able to store fat, regulate sugars in your body and absorb nutrients easily.
"Bacteria that we get from our diets could indirectly change the guts behaviour and cause weight gain, whereas weight loss may be a sign of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth", Tim says, "If you have had prolonged periods of rapid weight loss then gain, make sure to see your doctor to find out the best treatment for you."
Sign #5: skin irritation
Your poor gut health might also affect your skin. "Itchy or painful skin conditions can provide insight into what’s going on with your gut", adds Tim, "Rosacea, acne, dermatitis can all be inflamed due to food intolerances, poor diet, and inflammation in the gut."
The leaky gut syndrome (opens in new tab) may also be related to a damaged gut, and that the ‘leaking’ of certain proteins, germs or toxins can be absorbed into the body to create skin conditions and health issues.
Sign #6: sluggishness
"When your body doesn’t receive enough good bacteria from the foods we eat, bad bacteria can thrive", Tim explains, "Studies (opens in new tab) show that digestive issues can cause adrenal fatigue, which can, in turn, cause digestive issues as your immune system has to fight harder to get rid of bad bacteria in the body- a vicious cycle!"
Tim's recommendation? Try detox your body of overly processed or sugary foods and opt for recipes that remove toxins and promote gut health. Banana, eggs, and chia seed pudding are great morning options. For lunch, go for a Mediterranean chopped salad and in the evening, try a courgette and tomato lasagne or enchilada stuffed cabbage rolls.
Here are 5 simple protein blender smoothies for inspiration.
Sign #7: bad breath
Perhaps it was the garlic bread you had over dinner, or you forgot to rinse with mouthwash after brushing your teeth. However, bad breath can signal poor gut health too. Anything unable to pass, which remains in your digestive system and ferments, can cause bad breath.
"Bad breath can also be a sign of a reflux issue like GERD, or a sign that bacteria in your stomach could lead to stomach ulcers. Whatever the root cause may be, it is best to check with your doctor to understand how your digestion could be contributing to bad health", Tim adds.