In science's ever-changing understanding of the human body, gut health issues have taken a center stage in recent years. While the gut was once viewed as our digestive system alone, it's now known to affect everything from our mental health to our skin. Part of the reason our gut is so important is because of the billions of microbes that live in there and create the delicate "gut microbiome" (your body actually hosts more bacteria than it does cells!). The microbiome helps us digest our food and keep our immunity up, and there should be a healthy amount of "good" bacteria to keep things running smoothly. But the systems of our bodies work symbiotically, and your gut happens to be right smack in the heart and center of it all — which partly explains why gut health actually directly affects so many things you wouldn't expect.
Gut health is affected by all sorts of factors. Everything from the food we eat, our stress levels and lifestyle choices, and even the toxins we're exposed to through our environment can majorly affect our microbiome and throw off the delicate balance of bacteria that runs our system. "Certain external factors, including food, infections, toxins, and stress, can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal wall ... Once this happens, you have a leaky gut," explained Dr. Amy Myers on her site. "When your gut is leaky, [things] that were never meant to get through (toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles) can escape into your bloodstream." Leaky gut syndrome has become a bit of a catch-all term for not-yet-diagnosed gut issues in general, but when it's happening, your body reportedly goes into attack mode because it identifies the gut leakage in your bloodstream as potential pathogens — and that can cause a wide range of symptoms and health issues. Assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, Dr. Robynne Chutkan, apparently claimed that leaky gut syndrome "is likely to emerge as one of the most significant medical concepts of our time."
The ways our bodies indicate gut health are very wide-ranging, but here are some common symptoms of gut issues that you should look into if you're experiencing regularly — because your gut affects more than you think.
You're Bloated & Gassy
Some of the most commonly experienced symptoms of gut issues are pretty obvious: Things like being bloated and gassy, having diarrhea and general indigestion, and even experiencing heartburn are all telltale signs that your microbiome might be struggling. "These are the hallmark symptoms of gut dysfunction," explained Be Pure on its site. "In large, this is due to the health; both number and diversity, of the bacteria living inside your gut, intestines, stomach and colon." Changing the way you eat can be a good step to start healing your gut or narrowing down the cause.
You Crave Sugar & Processed Foods
Referencing a 2017 study, Scientific American explained, "Strong evidence ... indicates that microbially derived metabolites carry information from the gut to the brain, telling the host whether it needs a particular kind of food." In other words, the "bad" microbes that feed off sugar and processed junk send signals to your brain telling you to feed them more of it — which is good for them, but bad for you.
You're Constantly Tired
The inability to sleep well at night (which can often contribute to chronic fatigue) can boil down to gut issues in some cases. "The majority of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut," wrote Healthline. "So gut damage can impair your ability to sleep well." If you struggle to fall asleep — and subsequently find yourself exhausted all the time — look into whether you're experiencing any other gut-related symptoms that may be the culprit.
You're Sensitive To Certain Foods
If you've been to a grocery store recently, it's probably obvious that allergies are on the rise. And in addition to allergies, many people also suffer from food sensitivities — but some don't even realize what they are. "Lifestyle factors that decrease numbers of beneficial gut microbes can impair immune tolerance, resulting in allergic sensitization or intolerance to foods," explains the Kresser Institute on its site. "Alterations in specific types of gut bacteria have been linked to the development of food allergies." Common trigger foods include dairy, eggs, and gluten, but it's possible with any food — and it can be really uncomfortable and inconvenient. If you experience indigestion, pain, or other symptoms after eating specific groups of things, an imbalance in your gut flora could be the cause.
You're Breath Isn't The Best
"Breath that smells less than fresh is a common symptom of dysbiosis – an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in your gut," explains BeWell.com. If you're taking care of your dental hygiene but still experiencing halitosis, it might be coming from deeper within, so pay attention to when this happens and see a doctor if needed.
You've Got Unexplained Skin Issues
"More and more studies are coming out demonstrating a strong association between skin disorders and gut health, leading many to determine there is a gut-skin axis," wrote Dr. Deanna Minich in the Huffington Post. Everything from acne and oily skin to rashes or hives can be boiled down to gut health issues, depending on the case, so if topical treatments aren't resolving your problem, it may be time to turn to your gut for explanations.
You're Struggling With Your Mood
Apparently up to 95 percent of your body's serotonin (aka your "happy" chemical) is produced in your gut, and there are ongoing studies on the "gut-brain axis" and how deeply intertwined these two systems really are. If you're struggling with mood issues such as anxiety or depression, your microbiome may be contributing to it.
You Get Sick Frequently
If you seem to catch every cold and flu that makes its rounds, you may have your gut to blame. "A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract," shared Dan Peterson, assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in an interview. The immune system is responsible for keeping you healthy, but if the balance within the microbiome is off, it can affect your immune system's ability to properly do its job. So whether it's merely catching every pesky cold that makes a go-around at the office or suffering from chronic immune-related issues, your gut health could be directly related.