Sometimes it’s obvious what upsets your stomach and makes you feel sick. You take precautions by washing your hands, avoiding certain foods and supporting healthy detoxification. As it turns out, these are all important aspects of your gut health.
I’ve written a lot about gut health and how anunhealthy gut can wreak havoc on your overall health. That’s because it’s something I experienced a lot firsthand. Even though I looked healthy, my gut health was telling a different story. My digestion wasn’t great, and it showed in my skin, my hair and even my mood!
Having a healthy gut can ensure that your body, mind and spirit are healthy. On the other hand, poor gut health can sabotage your physical health and even your mental health in some sneaky ways.
What causes an unhealthy gut? And how do you know if you’re gut health needs improvement? Here are symptoms that hint at your gut needing a little loving attention.
What Are The Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut?
When your gut is healthy, your gut microbiota is in balance. Your good gut bacteria keep the bad gut bacteria under control to keep you healthy. When everything is working the way it should be, your gut health may seem “out of sight, out of mind.” But when something is wrong, you can feel it everywhere.
There are a few unwanted symptoms of an unhealthy gut:
You’re suffering from acne or skin conditions like eczema.
Gut dysbiosis— or too many bad bacteria and not enough good gut bacteria. This can cause digestive problems like constipation or diarrhea.
It’s not always easy to tell what’s affecting your gut flora and gut health— especially if you’ve been dealing with an unhealthy gut for a long time. Some factors contributing to poor gut health and digestive issues are more obvious, while others are not.
Here are 4 main causes of an unhealthy gut— some of these may surprise you!
1. You Have a Poor Diet
This one is more obvious. The Standard American Diet— also known as SAD— is very sad indeed. That’s because it’s packed with processed food, excess fat, too much sugar, and inflammatory foods. It also lacks diversity.
Without a variety of many different whole plants, you lack the nutrients and fiber you need to nourish your body and feed your beneficial gut bacteria.
As the old adage goes, “you are what you eat.” There is some truth to that, but it’s not the whole story, Beauty. I think it’s more accurate to say “you are what you digest.”
Remember— digestion isn’t just your body breaking down foods and eliminating waste. You also absorb your food’s nutrients while you digest it. Eating nutrient-rich foods that nourish your body helps your gut health. But it’s also important to eat a diverse range of healthy foods to make sure you get everything your body and gut need to keep themselves vibrant and strong.
So when you eat foods that are processed and unhealthy, you’re depriving yourself of so many vital nutrients that your body needs to function. Because of this, your digestion and your gut health will start to suffer as well.
What Are The Worst Foods For Your Gut?
There are some foods that are best avoided if you want to keep a healthy microbiome. These include:
Food containing antibiotics. Being exposed to too many antibiotics can make your body more resistant to them. And while antibiotics exist to kill the bad bacteria in your gut, they can also kill the healthy bacteria you need.
Fried food. These are harder for your body to digest, and can promote the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut also. The frying oils can also irritate your stomach and cause gas, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Animal protein— meat, dairy and eggs. Diets high in animal protein can cause some undesired and problematic effects in your intestinal bacteria. One study even found that people who consume a lot of protein— especially animal protein— are at a higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). You should always opt for plant protein, and remove animal protein from your diet. I’ll talk more about why it’s best when you cut out dairy shortly.
2. You Take Medications That Imbalance Your Gut
Certain medications can wreak havoc on your gut microbiome. A commonly prescribed medication is antibiotics. Antibiotics are prescribed to kill unfriendly or pathogenic bacteria in your body so that you can recover from illness. But remember— antibiotics don’t only kill the pathogenic or “bad” bacteria, they kill the good bacteria too!
That’s whyprobiotics are recommended after taking a round of antibiotics.
It’s also important to point out that antibiotics are in many animal products too. They’re added to animal feed and given to animals to prevent infection, so if you eat any animal products you’re inadvertently introducing them to your own microbiome and affecting your gut health.
Other medications that can throw your gut out of balance include:
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that treat indigestion, ulcers and acid reflux
Laxatives used to treat constipation
And for women, oral contraceptives impact gut flora too
What Causes Bad Bacteria in the Gut?
One thing that’s important to know about your gut microbiome is that it always contains both beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. Maintaining that balance is what keeps your gut healthy. However, it is possible to imbalance the bacteria in your digestive tract and have the bad bacteria outnumber the good.
Your lifestyle may be accidentally sabotaging your gut health and creating an imbalance in your gut. Factors that contribute to bad bacteria in the gut include:
Getting poor sleep, or not enough sleep. (I’ll talk more about this later).
A poor diet which can wreak havoc on your gut health in many ways.
An inactive or sedentary lifestyle.
3. You’re Sensitive to Certain Foods
Food sensitivity is a common problem nowadays, even if you eat way better than the Standard American Diet. Sometimes there are just foods that don’t agree with you, whether it’s because of food allergies or a condition that makes it so you can’t digest certain nutrients. These may include:
Celiac disease— where you can’t digest gluten.
Lactose intolerance— where you can’t digest lactose or proteins found in dairy.
Why You Should Avoid Consuming Dairy
Over the years I’ve shared a lot of my thoughts about dairy consumption. Dairy is something we can all eliminate from our diets, and here’s why.
By the time you are 3-4 years old, you’ve stopped producing enzymes called lactase and rennin. These are the enzymes used to specifically break down lactose in milk. This is why dairy can’t be fully or comfortably digested by most, especially into adulthood.
Dairy sold commercially is also pasteurized, which means it is heated to extremely high temperatures. These high temperatures make the dairy even harder to digest, and very acidic in the body.
With so many kinds of plant-based milk and dairy alternatives, this is one sensitivity that’s easy to relieve!
Food Sensitivity and Digestive Disorders
Other digestive disorders can make you more sensitive to some foods too.
People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have food intolerances— this isn’t the same as a food allergy though. While food allergies produce an allergic reaction, food intolerance means that your gut is unusually sensitive to certain foods, and reacts strongly and negatively when you eat those foods.
Food sensitivity is also the main symptom of leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome occurs when there is damage to your gut lining. When you have this disorder, your gut permeability is way above where it should be— which means that it’s more likely to absorb substances that it should not be absorbing. This can cause a lot of pain, discomfort and other unpleasant health effects.
As you really do heal your gut, I believe a healthy body should be able to handle healthy, natural food. Over time, I’ve experienced sensitivities, and they’ve actually gone away as my gut has healed.
Many people take specific food sensitivity tests to determine any and all foods that they may be sensitive to. And after that, they stop eating those foods because that’s what the tests say. But what if you still feel okay after eating those foods?
Your gut is like a muscle— you can make it stronger by building up the beneficial enzymes in these foods little by little. So if you’re sensitive to some foods, it may just be because your gut is unhealthy and unable to digest them properly.
We’ve all had nights where we didn’t get enough sleep, and we felt tired and crabby the next morning. All the mamas out there probably know this feeling well! Getting enough sleep, and a good night’s sleep, is so important to your overall health, Beauty. It’s also really important for your gut health too.
Here’s how your gut suffers when you get poor sleep:
Gut permeability issues and leaky gut syndrome.
When you don’t get enough sleep it can increase your stress levels. Increased stress can cause gut permeability issues like leaky gut syndrome. And when you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy comfort foods that create inflammation and make leaky gut worse.
Stagnant and poor digestion if you eat too close to bedtime.
This is a big problem especially if you regularly stay up too late.
If you eat too close to bedtime, your body dedicates its valuable energy to digesting your food when it should be trying to sleep!
Poor sleep can impact your hormones.
Poor sleep can increase the amount of cortisol— the stress hormone— and harm your body’s natural melatonin production. Melatonin— better known as the sleep hormone— also helps regulate your gastrointestinal motility. This means that it helps your food move properly through your digestive system. If this is thrown off, you may be more likely to experience acid reflux or heartburn while you’re trying to sleep.
Unhealthy Gut? Don’t Put Up With It!
An unhealthy gut can make you feel bad both inside and out. You shouldn’t have to live with that, Beauty. You deserve to live your best and brightest life, always. :)
Thankfully, it’s easy to heal your digestive health if you follow the right steps. The right diet and a healthy lifestyle go a long way in promoting better overall health and helping you be more in tune with your beautiful body.
Singh, Rasnik K, et al. “Influence of Diet on the Gut Microbiome and Implications for Human Health.” Journal of Translational Medicine, BioMed Central, 8 Apr. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc5385025/.
Engen, Phillip A, et al. “The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota.” Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26695747/.
Campos, Marcelo. “Leaky Gut: What Is It, and What Does It Mean for You?” Harvard Health, 16 Nov. 2021, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451.