Signs of poor gut health

By Dr. Laura Hill

Your body is home to billions of bacteria, many of which are found in your gut (also called the digestive tract or gastrointestinal tract). Your gut plays many roles in your overall health: it breaks down the food you eat so nutrients can enter your bloodstream and be distributed throughout your body. The gut contains “good” or healthy bacteria and immune cells that fight off viruses, fungi, and “bad” bacteria that cause disease. It also communicates with your brain through hormones and nerves, which is why it’s often called the “second brain.”

When your gut has a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria, it’s called balance.

The Importance of Gut Health

Researchers have found a link between too much of a certain bad gut bacteria and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Scientists are also investigating possible links between gut bacteria and cholesterol, heart disease and kidney disease.

Your gut microbiota can also affect your brain and mental health. Research shows that your balance of gut bacteria can affect your emotions and how your brain processes sensory information. Experts are exploring possible links between gut health and conditions such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain and autism spectrum disorders.

An unhealthy gut microbiome can also increase your risk of obesity. Scientists believe this is because the gut affects hunger and satiety signals in the brain.

Signs of poor gut health

It’s normal to occasionally experience digestive issues like constipation, heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and loose stools. But if you have these symptoms frequently, it’s a sign that you might have an underlying gut health problem. Talk to your primary care provider if you have these symptoms consistently.

Contact your doctor immediately if you have black stools (a sign of bleeding in the intestine), blood in the stools, severe stomach pain, severe vomiting, fever, jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes), throat or chest pain when swallowing, or unexplained weight loss.

How to improve your gut health

Probiotics:. Probiotics are good bacteria that promote gut health. There are many types of probiotics and each works differently in the body. You can find probiotics in yogurt, aged cheeses, fermented and pickled vegetables, and supplements. I recommend consulting your primary care provider or dietitian before trying any supplements.

Prebiotics: Prebiotics act as food sources for probiotics and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. You can get prebiotics from fiber-rich vegetables and fruits like asparagus, artichokes, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions, and soy.

Choice of food: Diet is a common cause of constipation, bloating and heartburn. Keep a food diary to see if there is a connection between your symptoms and what you eat.

Sleep: Not getting enough sleep increases your risk of obesity, which can lead to digestive system disorders. Lack of sleep can also affect your stress levels, which can negatively impact your gut health.

Exercise: Moving your body regularly can help you maintain a healthy body weight and reduce stress, which helps prevent digestive issues.

Stress management: Practice stress-busting tactics like yoga, meditation, nature walks, journaling, listening to soothing music, reading, spending time with family and friends, or talking to a counselor.

Antibiotics: Taking antibiotics can kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut. Don’t take antibiotics for common ailments like colds, flu, or COVID-19. Many diseases are caused by viruses, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.

If you have persistent digestive symptoms, talk to your primary care provider. To find one near you, visit www.pardeehospital.org.

Dr Laura Hill is a Board Certified Family Physician at Pardee Primary Care Arden.

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