I’m officially in my healing era. This involves working on my fitness, watching what I eat and also the impact that it has on my body. If you’ve read our piece on the recent fitness movement away from High Intensity Interval Training then you’ll know that I’ve been exploring what may cause things like bloating, retention of water weight and poor overall health. You may have heard of people referring to “gut health” and various products to aid gut health, so the team here at WOMAN have decided to give you the lowdown on the basics, and some early signs to look out for in an unhealthy gut.
Gut health refers to the well-being and optimal functioning of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Gut health is directly causally linked to eating and lifestyle habits.
Unfortunately, as women, we are far more susceptible to the issues associated with gut health. The key factors according to research is because of the increases in prostaglandin levels during menstruation, and women are almost twice as likely to have irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders than men.
A healthy gut is essential for proper digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and overall well-being. When the gut is unhealthy, it can lead to various digestive issues and can impact a number of other health factors such as your overall immune function, the balance of your hormone levels, your weight levels (as it can result in weight gain and loss), and the development of diseases.
So, to help you be on the lookout, we’ve summed up 5 early warning signs!
Persistent digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, heartburn, or abdominal pain can indicate an unhealthy gut.
An easy one to look out for is if you’re constantly constipated or have diarrhoea – these aren’t healthy bowel movements which can indicate that you aren’t eating the right foods.
These symptoms may arise from imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, or poor nutrition and absorption of nutrients. For example, processed foods contain a lot of additives and sugar which tends to harm the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut, which can cause such issues.
Food Intolerances and Sensitivities
If you develop sudden or unexplained food intolerances or sensitivities like experiencing discomfort or adverse reactions after consuming certain foods, it could be a sign of an unhealthy gut. For example, I’ve suddenly noticed a lactose intolerance in myself as I’ve really struggled to digest milk and dairy.
An impaired gut lining and disrupted gut bacteria can contribute to increased sensitivity to certain foods, and as such, consuming such foods can lead to more symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain and so on. These symptoms can appear even if they previously hadn’t.
Weakened Immune System
The gut plays a crucial role in immune function. Have you noticed that in the lead up to winter, that you have already had the flu, a cold and covid? Well that may be a real warning sign.
An unhealthy gut can lead to a weakened immune system for a multitude of reasons. One of the common reasons is known as “increased intestinal permeability” (also known as leaky gut). Here, the integrity of the intestinal lining is compromised which lets undigested food and bacteria seep into your bloodstream, triggering a negative immune response and leading to chronic inflammation.
So overall, this can make you more susceptible to infections, allergies, and autoimmune conditions. Frequent illness, slow wound healing, or chronic inflammation could be indicators of gut health issues.
Mood and Mental Health Disturbances
The gut and brain are interconnected through the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication pathway between the gastrointestinal system (the gut) and the central nervous system (the brain) and facilitates constant communication including neural, hormonal and immune pathways.
A disruption in gut health can impact mental well-being and contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, or irritability. It’s not uncommon for individuals with an unhealthy gut to experience changes in their mood and cognitive function.
So if you’ve been prone to mood swings, I’d recommend looking into it further.
Last but not least, a good tell all sign of an unhealthy gut is a change in your skin or any chronic skin conditions.
Skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea may be linked to an unhealthy gut because the inflammation and imbalances in gut bacteria can trigger systemic inflammation and affect the skin’s health and appearance.
Overall, we hope that we’ve helped you spot some early signs of an unhealthy gut. If you suspect gut health issues, we recommend that you consult with a healthcare professional who can provide guidance and treatment tailored to you and your needs.