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7 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

Learn how to heal your gut naturally

The gut houses around 70% of the cells that make up the immune system and 95% of the body’s serotonin (this is the hormone that stabilises mood and promotes feeling of wellbeing).

There are an estimated 500 to 1000 bacterial species residing in the human gut that are responsible for digesting food, producing vitamins and helping the body to fight off pathogens.

Keeping your gut healthy is essential. An unhealthy gut can lead to inflammation, low mood, skin conditions, poor immunity and autoimmune conditions.

Discover 7 signs of an unhealthy gut and how to heal your gut naturally through nutrition and herbs.

How to know if your gut is unhealthy

  1. Fatigue and feeling sluggish are common signs that your gut may be under stress. An overgrowth of bad bacteria can stimulate the immune system to work harder and use up more cellular energy, making you feel fatigued. Gut problems can dysregulate serotonin and melatonin production (the hormones involved in sleep regulation) which can lead to sleep disturbances and exhaustion.
  2. Skin problems including acne/ breakouts, eczema and irritated skin. The gut has a big influence on the skin and whenever there are skin issues, the gastrointestinal system needs to be addressed. When toxins and bacteria permeate through the gut wall (termed “leaky gut”), it can cause inflammation and disturb the skin’s equilibrium, leading to problem-prone skin.
  3. Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea. Any kind of gastrointestinal symptoms indicate that the gut is not working optimally. Gas and bloating usually occur when there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria and excessive fermentation happening. This can lead to gas getting trapped, causing you to bloat. Constipation and diarrhoea are also linked to an imbalance of gut bacteria.
  4. Bad breath is not only a sign of poor dental hygiene or the result of eating pungent foods, it can also be an indicator of toxicity and poor gut health. A bacteria called H.pylori (that likes to live in the digestive tract) can sometimes be the culprit.
  5. Constant sugar cravings can be a sign of poor gut function as the bad bacteria in your gut loves to feed off sugar. High sugar diets can reduce the number of beneficial gut microbes and lead to inflammation and damage in the gastrointestinal system.
  6. Frequent colds/flu and bouts of illness. The immune system and gastrointestinal system are inextricably linked. 70% of your immune cells live in the gut, so if the gut microbiome is not working efficiently, it has a knock-on effect on your immune system. 
  7. Frequent headaches and migraines may be due to gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and coeliac disease. The gut and the brain communicate via a network of nerves. Research has shown that when there is change in the gut microbiome (such as with bacterial overgrowth), the expression of certain brain receptors can also change. Serotonin is one of the brain chemicals involved in the narrowing of arteries. When serotonin levels change, it can result in headaches or migraines as blood vessels narrow, reducing blood flow to the brain. Learn more about the gut-brain connection.

Factors that affect gut function

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of dietary fibre
  • Stress
  • Dehydration
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Certain medications, especially antibiotics
  • Lack of exercise and physical movement

How to improve gut health naturally

  • Avoid foods that are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates (white flour foods like bread, pasta, pastries), junk food and processed/packaged foods as they are damaging for the gut and sugar feeds harmful bacteria, enabling it to grow and replicate. Ensure your diet is rich in organic, whole foods that nourish the body instead of deplete it. Learn more about the benefits of plant-based eating.
  • Eat more fibre (vegetables, fruit, pulses, beans, sprouts) as fibre is essential for good digestive health. It keeps your bowels regular and provides food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut, helping it to thrive and multiply. Fibre also helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and improve the way you respond to insulin (the hormone responsible for regulating your blood sugars). Broccoli, artichokes, carrots, collard greens, apples and pears (with the skin on) are good sources of fibre.
  • Avoid coffee and alcohol as these lifestyle habits are incredibly inflammatory and negatively impact digestion by irritating the gut lining and preventing nutrient absorption. Try a coffee alternative such as a caffeine-free chicory coffee or a turmeric latte.
  • Include prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet – artichoke, onion, raw garlic, asparagus, dandelion greens and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi are excellent sources. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria for your gut. Prebiotics are special plant fibres that provide fuel (food) for probiotics. You can also buy probiotics as a supplement form. Learn more about fermented foods.
  • Eat bitter foods to improve digestion and stimulate the liver, including dandelion root, radishes, artichokes and bitter greens. Discover other ways to support liver health.
  • Detox and cleanse the gut. This can be done using herbal medicine, intermittent fasting and colonic irrigation. Learn more about detoxing and gut cleansing.
  • Add turmeric and ginger to your food to reduce inflammation and protect gastrointestinal cells from free radical damage. Turmeric is rich in antioxidants and works by blocking the action of inflammatory molecules in the body.
  • Aloe vera and Slippery elm are two wonderful gut healing herbs that can soothe irritated and inflamed mucous membranes (the lining of the gut) and also protect the gut from damage. Drink ½ cup to one cup of fresh aloe vera juice per day on an empty stomach. Slippery elm comes as a powder and needs to be mixed with warm water. Drink one to two cups per day before food.

For a happy, healthy gut

If you’re showing signs of an unhealthy gut such as bloating, gas, fatigue and skin problems, it’s likely your gastrointestinal system is in need of some TLC. Restore your gut health by eliminating sugar, junk food and coffee. Instead, nourish your body with high fibre, whole foods that are rich in nutrients and probiotics. Heal the gut by undertaking a cleanse and using soothing herbs like aloe vera and slippery elm.

On CNM’ Nutrition for Everyday Living course, you learn about gut health in more detail including which dietary habits and harmful toxins to avoid and the key nutrients needed to support your gut naturally.

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