9 Surprising Signs Your Gut Health Is Struggling
When thinking about all the possible signs of poor gut health, you might imagine things like bloating, gassiness, bowel changes, and other intestinal-related issues. And those can definitely be a sign something's not quite right. But since so much of overall health stems from the gut, those aren't the only symptoms to watch out for.
"Gut health has an incredibly profound impact on both our mental and physical health," Liz O'Carroll, certified holistic health coach, tells Bustle. And as a result, things that don't even seem related, such as skin rashes, headaches, and even anxiety and depression, can often be linked back to the state of your gut.
"The balance of bacteria and integrity of gut walls impact our brains and bodies by way of cognitive function, ability to focus and concentrate, mood stability, [...] immune function, sleep quality, ability to cope with stress, inflammation and disease, hormone balance, [and] heart health," O'Carroll says.
Of course, the issues listed below can have many possible causes, and if an underlying illness is to blame, they may need to be treated by a doctor. But you can always do your part to improve gut health by drinking plenty of water, taking probiotics, eating plant-based foods, and increasing your fiber intake.
Read on for some surprising symptoms that can crop up when your gut isn't its healthiest, according to experts.
1. You Catch All The Colds
If you seem to get sick more often than those around you, it may mean your gut isn't as healthy as it could be.
After all, "around 70 percent of the immune system is found in the gut," Liz Wyosnick MS, RDN, owner of Equilibriyum, tells Bustle. And that's what helps protect you from the many germs you come in contact with each day.
"But if gut health is aggravated," she says, "the integrity of the digestive system can be overtaxed, leading to poor immunological support."
2. You've Been Feeling Anxious Or Depressed
Surprisingly, your gut can also impact your mood in a pretty profound way, thanks to the gut-brain axis. "Up to 90 percent of mood-boosting serotonin is produced in the gut," O'Carroll says. "If you're experiencing mood swings, out of character mood episodes, or an increase in anxiety [...] it can often be a sign that your microbiome is out of balance."
3. You Have Asthma
"Asthma or other respiratory issues are tied to poor gut health," Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, tells Bustle. "Research has indicated that bad bacteria from an unbalanced gut can travel to the lungs, resulting in inflammatory respiratory disorders including asthma." So if you've been struggling with this seemingly unrelated symptom, let a doctor know.
4. You've Been Experiencing Food Allergies
If everything you're eating is suddenly making you sick, take note. "It's not normal to react to a wide variety of foods, so if you're having trouble with everything from tomatoes to cheese to gluten to bananas, chances are something is up with your gut," O'Carroll.
For example, if your gut wall is compromised, O'Carroll says, and food molecules are passing through, your body may react as if these molecules are "foreign invaders," and signal an allergic reaction — even when a true allergy doesn't exist.
5. You Keep Getting Headaches
What you eat can trigger an actual allergic reaction or sensitivity in your gut, leading to symptoms like headaches, Maureen Schwehr, NMD, director of integrative services at Sierra Tucson, tells Bustle.
One way to figure out if this is the case, is to go on an elimination diet. You can try taking a quick break from common allergens, such as dairy or gluten, and see how you feel.
"If a food is a primary source of irritation, eliminating that food is the most effective way of treating the headaches," Dr. Schwehr says. And you should see a big difference.
6. You Have Skin Rashes Or Acne
"Your skin often presents [...] with signs of bacterial imbalance (otherwise known as dysbiosis), inflammation in the gut, or leaky gut by sending up red flags as unexplained inflammatory and allergic responses on our skin," O'Carroll says. So if you've been getting acne, rashes, eczema, or other skin issues, poor gut health may be to blame.
7. You're Vitamin Deficient
"In addition to diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors, poor gut health can contribute to vitamin and mineral deficiencies by preventing us from breaking down and utilizing the nutrients in our food properly," O'Carroll says. If you think this is going on, let a doctor know so they can assess the situation, and find the underlying cause.
8. You Don't Sleep Well
There are dozens of reasons why you may not be sleeping well. But have you ever considered how your gut may be playing a role?
"A healthy gut promotes the release of neurotransmitters that are essential to sleep, such as serotonin and dopamine," Rose MacDowell, chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "The sleep hormone melatonin is produced by both the brain and gut, underscoring the gut’s connection to healthy sleep patterns."
But if you aren't taking good care of your gut health, or happen to have another digestive issue going on, it can impact the release of these neurotransmitters, making it difficult to sleep.
9. Your Joints Hurt
"Certain bacteria within our digestive tracts contribute to deterioration of joints and tissue," Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and author, tells Bustle, which is why, if you don't have a healthy gut, it may show up in the form of sore, swollen, or inflamed joints.
"Research shows that a healthier gut environment helps lower the risk for joint pain, swelling, and trouble moving in people with osteoarthritis and inflamed joints," Dr. Axe says. And that's one of the many reasons why you should make gut health a top priority.
Even if they don't seem related, these symptoms can be a sign your gut isn't healthy, and you may need to check in with a doctor. But remember, you can also adopt a few small changes to boost gut health, so your whole body can stay healthier.