What Does It Mean to Have a Healthy Gut?
Your digestive system, or gut, does way more for you than just process your food. The digestive system is the second most important organ in your body, after your brain. Without the ability to digest your food, the rest of your body would obviously starve.
But, the power of the gut goes deeper than that. There are billions of microbes located in the gut that play an integral role in all aspects of your health. The interaction between the microbes and your digestive system controls everything from your mood to your risk of illness to how well you process your food.
The vast influence of healthy digestion on your health is why it is critical to maintaining a healthy gut.
So how do you know if yours is healthy?
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
The most obvious symptoms of an unhealthy gut are digestive problems. Symptoms like bloating, constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, or gas are all signs that your digestion needs a bit of help.
While digestive symptoms are fairly obvious to identify, there are many other signs to look for that may point to less-than-ideal gut health. A few of these include:
- Unintentional weight loss or gain. An imbalance microbiome can impact your ability to absorb nutrients, store fat, or manage your blood sugar.
- Constant fatigue or insomnia. Serotonin, the body’s calming hormone, is produced in the gut. Poor digestive health can alter the production of this hormone and lead to sleep issues or extreme fatigue. Additionally, nutrient deficiencies caused by poor digestion can also make you feel tired.
- Skin problems. Inflammatory skin conditions, like eczema, have been linked to poor gut health.
- Uncontrollable cravings, especially for sugar. A poorly balanced microbiome can make you crave more highly processed, high sugar foods. On the flip side, a diet high in sugar can also throw your microbiome off balance.
- Autoimmune disease. Illnesses like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are connected to poor gut health. It is unclear if the disease causes changes to the microbiome or if the digestive problems cause the disease.
- Food intolerances. An inability to poorly digest your food, as evidenced by gas, bloating, or heartburn after eating, may be a sign of a poorly functioning gut.
If you have one or more of these symptoms, how do you improve your gut health? Luckily, there is a lot you can do.
Tips to Improve Your Gut Health
Diet and lifestyle changes can improve your gut health. Here are a few tips for better digestion and happy microbes:
- Eat foods rich in fiber. Fiber is needed to move food along the digestive tract and is a favorite food of many microbes. A win-win for gut health.
- Take a probiotic. Probiotics contain bacteria to help maintain optimal levels and balance in the gut.
- Improve your diet. A nutrient-rich diet can help your digestion. Aim to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein to keep your gut nourished and happy.
- Drink plenty of water. Eating more fiber means your body needs more water to push it through the digestive tract. Drink at least 8 glasses a day.
- Sleep. Not sleeping enough can alter your microbiome, which makes sleep even worse. Aim to get at least 7-9 hours every night.
- Manage your stress. Chronic stress can throw off the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut and impact your digestion. Try to manage your stress by including daily restful activities in your day.
If your digestive issues persist, consider seeking professional help. A registered dietitian who specializes in digestive health can help you identify the underlying causes of your discomfort and get you on the path to improved digestion.
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
Ana Reisdorf has 13 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer. She has a passion for creating incredible health and nutrition content. She is the author of three books, the “The Lupus Cookbook”, “The Anti-inflammatory Diet One Pot Cookbook.” and the “21-day arthritis diet plan”. Find her at www.anareisdorf.com