Your gut is a critically important part of your body. There's a ton of evidence growing through scientific study that your gut is perhaps more important than nearly any other organ. There's something called the "gut-brain axis," where gut microbes influence the health and processes of the brain, including possible links to Alzheimer's and other brain issues.
Keeping your gut healthy, then, becomes one of the most important things you can do for your overall health. It not only helps with physical health, but it also helps with mental health as well.
So, if you're experiencing digestive issues like diarrhea, bloating, or constipation, you should take action to solve them as quickly and as permanently as possible. That might mean anything from adjusting your diet to talking to your doctor about specific medications for issues you might have. Either way, there's no better time to start than now.
What Does a Good Gut Look Like?
Before you can know whether or not you have an ailing gut, you need to know what a healthy gut looks like. Not actually looks, of course. How does your gut act and feel throughout the day?
"A healthy gut is usually functioning properly when you have a bowel movement one to two times daily that is well-formed and easy to pass. These daily bowel movements should be free of symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and loose stools. Other signs of a healthy gut include being free of rectal symptoms like hemorrhoids and abdominal symptoms such as gas, bloating, and abdominal pain." – Every Day Health.
Remember that your gut is very susceptible to stimulus. If you're having gut symptoms, there can be all manner of problems, including environmental stress, mental stress, poor diet, injury, or illness. Practically anything that changes your body's function can impact your gut health.
Symptoms of Poor Gut Health
Conversely, it can be useful to know what a bad gut looks and feels like. Some symptoms are obvious, but some might not be, or you might associate them with other bodily processes and not the gut. Here are the symptoms you should watch out for.
- Bowel issues. Constipation and diarrhea are two sides of the same coin; both mean your gut isn't working properly. Additionally, too much gas, bloating, and an upset stomach can all be caused by unhealthy gut biomes.
- Upset stomach. Frequent upset stomach, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea, can all be symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, particularly if they're common around meals.
- Fatigue. If you're low-energy and tired all the time, it's entirely possible that you have something wrong with your gut. Your gut is primarily responsible for digesting food and extracting the nutrients that give you energy, so if it's not working right, you won't have that energy, no matter how much food you eat.
- Weight changes. Obesity is partially a gut health problem, but so is being underweight. Both present differences in gut health compared to a healthy person.
- Skin issues. Several studies have found links between gut health and skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema. It all occurs through the influence of your immune system. It's unclear whether the gut is ultimately responsible or not, but it can't hurt to treat it.
There are other possible symptoms as well, though they aren't as strongly linked or don't have as much backing in science. As if those aren't enough already, right?
How to Treat an Ailing Gut
If your gut is having issues, obviously, you want to treat it, right? Well, there are a bunch of different things you can do, most of them at home.
Disclaimer: Take gut issues seriously!
Before we dig into the home remedies you can try, make sure that your symptoms aren't too serious. If you're having diarrhea consistently for more than three days in a row, or constipation for a similar amount of time, go see a doctor. Bowel issues aren't something to scoff at!
Long-term diarrhea can be very dangerous. Not only is it unpleasant, but it also dehydrates you, it purges healthy gut microbes, and it can cause further digestive issues in the future. Constipation can cause backups in the whole system and kill your appetite, making you lose weight unhealthily, and it can even become impacted or perforate your bowels, necessitating surgery. Don't mess around!
Drink more water.
Water is a key component of your diet. You need it to survive, and you need it for proper digestion. Without water, everything goes wrong.
In your gut, water is essential for proper function. The material in your gut absorbs water to stay soft and pass through you safely. If you don't have enough water, you end up constipated.
Don't worry; there's not really such a thing as too much water. Technically there is, but it requires you to drink several gallons in under an hour, so much so that you disrupt the electrolyte balance of your cells. That's extreme, and virtually no one is at risk of it outside of extreme circumstances.
Eat more fiber.
Fiber is a critical component of your digestion. Fiber is carbs, and carbs give you energy, except not all carbs can be broken down in your digestive system. Insoluble fiber mostly passes through you, which is fine! It primarily forms the bulk of your feces. That fiber absorbs water to soften stool. Eating more fiber is likely to help your digestion.
Avoid stress in your life.
Stress is bad for the body. Stress causes the release of adrenaline, also known as cortisol, the "stress hormone." That hormone puts your body into fight-or-flight mode, which prioritizes some bodily systems over others. This is fine in intense situations like a car accident or when you're being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger, but it's not good for normal everyday situations.
The problem is, many people are in a constant state of low-level stress. That stress pumps a constant stream of cortisol into your system, which causes all manner of problems; since your system is never able to settle back to normal. So, do everything you can to reduce stress in your life.
Get enough high-quality sleep.
Sleep is also critically important, both for fighting stress and for healing. When you sleep, your body can devote most of its energy to healing your body rather than powering cognition. Sleep is restorative, and it's crucial, so try to get more of it.
It's important, though, that you aren't just going for more sleep; you're going for better sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene by sleeping on a schedule, following a routine, avoiding bright light at night, changing your sheets, and keeping technology away from your bed.
Eat more slowly.
The faster you eat, the more likely you are to have issues. There are three reasons for this.
- Eating faster means swallowing more air, which leads to bloating and gassiness.
- Eating faster means not chewing as thoroughly, which puts more of a burden on your digestive system and makes it not function quite properly.
- Eating faster means shocking your system with food more quickly, so your body scrambles to digest it all at once instead of more slowly over time.
All of this combines to make it difficult for your body to handle your food that quickly. You generally want to eat more slowly.
Plus, as an advantage, eating slowly will help your body feel full sooner. Normally, you eat until you feel full and then stop. The problem is, there's a delay between when you reach fullness and when your body tells your brain you're full. During that time, you keep eating, and it over-stuffs you. Eating more slowly will help you reduce the calories you take in, further helping you lose weight.
Some people say that, instead of eating until you're full, you should eat until you're not hungry. This is also a good way to help restrict your calories, though it can be a hard shift to embrace.
Eat more prebiotics.
It's no secret that your gut is packed full of microbes. The "gut biome," as it's called, is made up of a wide range of bacteria and yeasts. Some of these are good for you and are basically symbiotic species that help your body function properly. (This is why a course of antibiotics from the doctor wreck your digestion and make you feel terrible; it's killing the good bacteria.) Conversely, some of those microbes are bad for you. C. Diff, candida, and several other "bad gut" diseases are bad bacteria running wild.
It's important to keep your good bacteria healthy because they break down bits of what you eat that your body normally can't, leaving ingredients you can use. Without them, your digestion won't work as well.
You can never fully get rid of bad bacteria; you can just keep them in check. The thing is, it's all about what you feed them, which means it's all about what you eat.
- Good bacteria tend to eat fiber and protein.
- Bad bacteria tend to eat sugar and carbs.
The typical American diet full of sugars and processed flour is terrible for your gut health. So, what you want to do is eat more "prebiotics" (which generally just means dietary fiber) to feed the good bacteria, so they choke out the bad bacteria.
Eat more probiotics.
There's a difference between prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics feed the gut bacteria already present in your system. Probiotics provide more of those bacteria, either to bolster what you have or replace what you've lost through other treatments.
Probiotics include natural and artificial biotics. Natural biotics come from fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir. Artificial biotics are supplements made of those bacteria, isolated and packaged up for consumption. You can take a pill that contains billions of useful bacteria, just waiting to establish themselves.
Consider an elimination diet plan.
There are four ways food can hurt your gut health.
- The food might feed bad bacteria or kill good bacteria. Foods like processed sugar, red meat, and alcohol can all be terrible for your gut health.
- The food might trigger an allergy. Actual allergies to food are moderately common and very dangerous. Real allergies can lead to swelling of the airways or anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly. If you've never had an allergy test before, you should get one.
- The food might trigger a sensitivity. Sensitivities are like minor allergies, except they just upset your stomach rather than do major damage. They can also come and go, while allergies tend to be more permanent.
- The food might trigger a disease. Celiac disease makes your body unable to process gluten, for example. Eating gluten will thus harm your gut biome and lead to suffering.
An elimination diet is a diet where you pick an ingredient or food item and remove it from your diet entirely for a week or so, to see how it affects you. By going through various common foods that people are allergic or sensitive to, you can identify which ones hurt you and eliminate them from your diet entirely.
A Final Disclaimer
Before we head out and let you start your journey to better gut health, remember what we said above; consult a doctor if you think you have a more serious gut issue or if you have gut issues lasting more than a couple of days. Chronic gut issues can lead to other chronic problems. The least of those problems may require ongoing medication, and the worst can lead to surgery or worse.
You don't want to treat your gut as if all you have is imbalanced gut flora when you really have Crohn's or IBS! You'll never get it under control that way. It's always better to consult with an actual physician and specialist in gut health over trying to self-treat based on articles you read on the internet, no matter how authoritative they are. Stay safe and healthy, above all else.
Is there anything you feel we've missed in today's article that we should have added on? Be sure to let us know down in the comments section! We'd be more than happy to update the article with additional information as it comes in!