Why your gut could be your own worst enemy?

The gut microbiome impacts more than just digestion.

Do you know that it can affect the health of your entire body? Here’s why your gut could sometimes be your worst enemy. 

What is gut health?

The term ‘gut health’ is often mentioned when discussing health and longevity, but why is that? The gut’s function to efficiently digest your food is just one of its many roles [1], and there is growing proof that a healthy gut microbiome is essential for our mental health and an effective immune system.

From the esophagus down to the bowel, gut health takes charge of the wellness of the entire digestive system, the parts of our body accountable for breaking down food into individual nutrients used to fuel our bodies. Each piece of the gut has a different job, and various colonies of microorganisms break down food into more digestible forms. 

Common digestive issues

Our gut breaks down food consumed into a form that enters the bloodstream and goes where it is needed in the body [2]. Though, some things can go amiss at several stages, from severe digestive diseases to food intolerances, causing issues with how our body extracts nutrients from food.

What occurs when our gut becomes unhealthy and starts to behave like an adversary? Here are some signs of an unhealthy gut that you should be on the look out for [3]:

  • Upset stomach – disturbances (bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, gas and heartburn) are common and can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. A healthy gut will have fewer problems processing food and eliminating waste.
  • Food intolerances – result from complications in digesting certain foods (different from a food allergy). It’s believed that food intolerances may arise from poor gut bacteria quality. This can result to difficulty digesting the trigger foods and undesirable symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, gas, and nausea). Additionally, there is evidence that food allergies may also be related to gut health [4].
  • Unintentional weight changes – shifts in weight without changing your diet or exercise habits may be a sign of an unhealthy gut. An imbalanced gut can harm the body’s capacity to store fat, absorb nutrients and regulate blood sugar. Weight loss may be from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), while weight gain may come from insulin resistance or the craving to overeat due to reduced nutrient absorption.
  • A high-sugar diet – a diet high in processed foods and excessive sugars can decrease the quantity of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause increased sugar cravings, damaging your gut further. Elevated amounts of refined sugars, especially high-fructose corn syrup, have been linked to increased inflammation in the body [5]. Inflammation can be the predecessor to several diseases and even cancers.
  • Skin irritation – conditions like eczema may be associated with a damaged gut. Inflammation in the gut, driven by a poor diet or food allergies, may yield ‘leaking’ of specific proteins into the body, irritate the skin and cause conditions such as eczema.
  • Autoimmune conditions – medical researchers continually discover new evidence of the influence of the gut on the immune system [6]. It’s believed that an unhealthy gut may change the proper functioning of the immune system and may increase systemic inflammation. and may lead to autoimmune diseases.
  • Sleep disturbances or persistent fatigue – an unhealthy gut may contribute to sleep disorders (insomnia or poor sleep) and lead to chronic fatigue. Most of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is created in the gut. Some sleep disturbances are also linked to the risk for fibromyalgia.

How to maintain a healthy gut environment

Seeing how gut health functions and affects our other bodily systems, it is most beneficial to follow a couple of healthy practices.

Eating a diverse diet of whole foods leads to a diverse microbiome which is vital for your health; studies have shown that gut microbiome variety is more prominent in people from rural regions of South America and Africa compared with people from urban areas in Europe or the United States [7].

In addition, consuming many fruits and vegetables which are high in fibre can stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria, including specific types like Bifidobacteria.

Fibre-loaded foods include:

  • apples
  • artichokes
  • bananas
  • beans
  • broccoli
  • chickpeas
  • green peas
  • lentils
  • raspberries
  • whole grains

Eating prebiotic foods, as they promote the development of several types of beneficial bacteria. Some studies indicate that prebiotics could lower risk factors for specific health conditions by decreasing cholesterol, insulin levels and triglycerides.

Eating fermented foods like plain yoghurt can aid the microbiome by improving its function and decreasing the surplus of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines. Some to try are:

  • kefir
  • kimchi
  • kombucha
  • sauerkraut
  • tempeh
  • yoghurt
Eating fermented foods like plain yoghurt can aid the microbiome by improving its function and decreasing the surplus of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.

Breastfeeding for at least six months enables an infant to develop a healthful microbiome, which may assist in protecting them against future health conditions.

Eating whole grains, as they contain nondigestible carbs that can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria within the gut microbiome. These differences in the gut flora may enhance particular aspects of metabolic health.

Practising vegetarian and vegan diets may improve the microbiome. Nevertheless, it is indefinite if the positive effects of these diets are connected to lack of meat intake or other factors or practices that people following the diets may be concerned.

Eating foods rich in polyphenols, which can’t be digested efficiently by human cells, but the gut microbiota efficiently breaks them down. They may enhance several health results connected to heart disease and inflammation. Here are some examples:

  • almonds
  • blueberries
  • broccoli
  • cocoa and dark chocolate
  • grape skins
  • green tea
  • onions
  • red wine

Increasing intake of probiotics does not notably alter the composition of the microbiome in healthy people. However, they may improve microbiome operation and help restore it to good health in those with certain ailments.

Continually improving your gut microbiome

It requires commitment and conscious effort to maintain gut health. The daily decisions we make, even the simple ones such as deciding what to eat, can affect overall health and wellbeing.

Your gut bacteria are vital for many facets of health. Many studies have shown that a disrupted microbiome can lead to multiple chronic illnesses. The best way to improve and maintain a healthy microbiome is to eat a range of fresh, whole foods, especially from plant sources like beans, fruits, legumes, vegetables and whole grains.

[1] https://www.livescience.com/what-is-gut-health-and-why-is-it-important
[2] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/improve-gut-bacteria#TOC_TITLE_HDR_12
[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/gut-health#signs-and-symptoms
[4] https://journals.lww.com/co-pediatrics/Abstract/2016/12000/The_role_of_the_gut_microbiota_in_food_allergy.14.aspx
[5] https://www.healthline.com/health/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25515398
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448089/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29081768/

Photograph: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.