Every year around 22.4 million people are diagnosed with diseases of their gut. These stats are just in the United States. Imagine how big the problem is at a global level. Considering the large population affected by diseases of the gut, it is important to know the symptoms and signs of an unhealthy gut.
Gut health, simply known as the health of the digestive system, greatly impacts our overall health. This includes not only physical health but also our mental well-being.
Our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms called “Gut Microbiome”. These include many different types of bacteria, viruses, and yeasts. These tiny beings aid in the process of digestion i.e., the breakdown of complex food particles into smaller ones and their absorption in the body.
They are also useful in regulating the levels of sugars and vitamins in the blood. Thus, any imbalance in gut microflora greatly impacts our health in general, compromising one’s quality of life.
An imbalance in the gut microflora is termed “Gut Dysbiosis”. This includes a disproportion in the number and type of bacteria in the gut. This may lead to a variety of manifestations some of which may be obvious of an unhealthy gut. Others can be not so obvious.
Not all gut issues are related to imbalanced gut flora, but this imbalance contributes to the problem, and sometimes, it is the only problem.
Symptoms & Signs Of An Unhealthy Gut:
Sometimes, people experience bloating along with abdominal pain. Interestingly, the production of gas is a normal part of the fermentation process during digestion. Fermentation is simply defined as the extraction of energy from carbohydrates without the use of oxygen.
When the number of gas-producing bacteria increases more than usual, there is excessive fermentation of food. This leads to the trapping of gas in the gut and one may experience gas or bloating.
2. Acute or Chronic Diarrhea
Bacterial overgrowth or infection with a particular strain of bacteria (Clostridium Difficile) may lead to inflammation of the gut lining. This causes a decrease in the absorption of food and water leading to watery stools.
Acute or Chronic diarrhea also pushes the good bacteria out the gut, further unbalancing the gut flora and impacting the overall health.
One of the important indicators of a healthy gut is one’s bowel habits. Passage of well-formed stools which are easy to pass once or twice a day is suggestive of a happy gut.
An imbalance of gut flora may lead to hard stools which are difficult to pass. This may lead to further damage as excessive straining may lead to the weakening of pelvic muscles, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures.
4. Alternating Bowel Habits:
Another important red flag for an unhealthy gut is diarrhea alternating with constipation. Usually, associated features include bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea.
The gut microbiome produces special proteins that can cause cravings. Since the gut and the brain are in communication with each other through the “Gut-Brain Axis”, your gut flora can influence your brain into different types of cravings. These can vary from fats to dietary fibers to sugars.
The flipside of the coin is that fulfillment of such cravings can further damage your gut and the body in general.
6. Food Intolerance
It refers to the difficulty in digesting certain food types such as gluten and dairy. This, again, is due to the poor quality of bacteria in the gut. The symptoms of food intolerance comprise bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Gut dysbiosis (also called dysbacteriosis) is the imbalance of microbes or their maladaptation on or inside the body, such as an impaired microbiota may lead to allergy.
Now basically, allergy is the body’s immune response. These range from food allergies, skin allergies to allergies of the respiratory tract such as asthma.
8. Anxiety and Mood Disorders
Researches show that 90% of Serotonin is produced by gut bacteria. Now, we know that serotonin is called “Happy Hormone” as it regulates our mood and promotes well-being. So, an imbalance in the gut flora may cause mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and moodiness.
9. Poor Concentration
The gut microbiome is responsible for the production of a variety of neurotransmitters. These chemicals affect cognitive abilities such as concentration and learning abilities. Thus, an imbalance in the gut microorganisms may negatively impact one’s ability to concentrate, memory, and learning. So poor concentration may be a sign of poor gut health.
10. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Ever heard people complaining that they are always tired? Turns out that an imbalance in the gut flora can lead to a condition called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”. Gut dysbiosis can lead to the deficiency of melatonin and dopamine. These hormones affect one’s sleep-wake cycle.
Once this cycle is affected, one may experience insomnia (lack of sleep) or sleep disturbance.
As the quality of sleep is affected, one may feel tired all day long. So, if you feel overly tired without any particular reasons, please see your doctor and discuss the possible association with poor gut health.
11. Fluctuations In Weight
We know that gut flora facilitates the process of digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body. Studies reveal that one of the many reasons for obesity is imbalanced gut flora. Similarly, gut dysbiosis can also lead to the loss of weight in some individuals.
Thus it is noteworthy that fluctuations in weight i.e. weight gain or loss without a change in one’s dietary habits or exercise routine is an important red flag of an unhealthy gut.
12. Acne & Other Skin Conditions
Just like the flora in the gut, there are microorganisms present on our skin as well. Interestingly, gut flora influences microbes on the skin. Any imbalance in the gut microbiome may lead to various inflammatory conditions of the skin such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.
13. Autoimmune Disorders
Our immune system is our body’s defense system. A healthy immune system is reflective of a healthy gut. Since gut microbiomes also support our immunity, the gut dysbiosis can directly influence one’s immunity.
Studies show that an unhealthy gut can lead to the body’s own cells attacking its own cells and organs – a condition called Autoimmune Disorder. Some of the autoimmune conditions due to an imbalance in gut flora include Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple sclerosis, Ulcerative colitis, and Autoimmune Liver Disease, to name a few.
If you notice any of the obvious or not-so-obvious signs of an unhealthy gut, always consult your doctor. Don’t forget to discuss the possible role of poor gut health in the presence of these signs.