Given that many of us today live a fast-paced, modern lifestyle and eat less-than-stellar diets, it’s not surprising that our guts take quite a hit.
Experts believe that there are tons of factors that contribute to the development of gut or digestive issues. These can include eating an inflammatory diet, changes in gut bacteria, intestinal permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut syndrome), impaired gut-immune function, problems with movements along the GI track, gut-brain interactions, and psychological stress.
Fortunately, while it can take some trial and error to pinpoint what the specific underlying causes of your GI issues are, there’s good reason to believe that dietary, lifestyle, and behavioral interventions can be very effective at managing most gut-related symptoms.
Unsure if your symptoms are tied to gut dysfunction or not? Read on to familiarize yourself with common signs of gut-related issues, plus ways you can get things back on track.
1. Have You Experienced Frequent Gas or Bloating?
Does your stomach stick out and your pants feel tighter by the end of the day? There are lots of potential causes of bloating, including:
- food intolerances
- A diet high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), a group of specific sugars found in food that are easily fermented by gut bacteria and can cause significant gastrointestinal problems
That said, if you regularly deal with uncomfortable feelings of fullness, gas, and a distended stomach, one issue called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) may be to blame.
SIBO occurs when bacteria make their way into the small intestine, where they normally shouldn’t be. Once residing in your small intestine, they start producing gas as they feed off foods you’re consuming, particularly certain types of carbohydrates.
If this sounds like it may apply to you, talk to your doctor about having a SIBO breath test performed. The test can measure the amount of gases, including hydrogen and methane, that are being released from your digestive system. If SIBO is confirmed, you can tackle your symptoms with help from dietary changes and possibly herbal supplements and antibiotics.
2. Are You Getting Sick Often?
Do you deal with frequent infections, or have you developed a chronic condition such as insulin resistance? Maybe you generally feely achy, weak, and tired? One reason may be because of increased inflammation levels and free radical damage and oxidative stress that can damage the gut.
How does this happen? Billions of beneficial bacteria are present within your body at all times, which make up your microbiome, an integral internal ecosystem that benefits your immune system. When these bacteria are unbalanced (called gut dysbiosis), your risk for many symptoms and long-term health issues increases.
Poor gut health can add to this unbalance, contributing to leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and chronic disorders like arthritis, dementia, heart disease, and cancer. Gut dysfunction may also make you more susceptible to acute illnesses such as infections and viruses.
Alternatively, there’s the possibility that your symptoms may be tied to food allergies (such as those to gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, or shellfish). Allergies are believed to be one of the most common leaky gut symptoms. If left untreated, they can make you feel sick on and off for long periods of time.
The key to supporting your immune system by taking care of your gut is eating an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods that tend to promote inflammation. Six I recommend steering clear of:
- Refined vegetable oils like canola, corn, and soybean oils, which are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids
- Pasteurized dairy products, which are common allergens
- Refined carbohydrates and processed grain products
- Conventional meat, poultry, and eggs, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids because the animals are fed corn and cheap ingredients that negatively affect their microbiomes
- Added sugars, which are found in the majority of packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, and cereals
- Trans or hydrogenated fats, which are used in packaged and processed products and to fry foods
3. Is Your Skin Breaking Out, Red, Or Inflamed?
Is your skin red, bumpy, irritated, and prone to acne? Assuming you practice proper skin-care, like washing regularly, removing makeup, avoiding sunburns, and sleeping on a clean pillowcase, breakouts may be tied to your gut health and immune system.
Both acne and rosacea, as well as eczema and other skin issues, can be triggered by increased inflammation, which often starts in the gut. Try cutting back on processed carbs, alcohol, and inflammatory foods.
Read More: 5 Steps To A Healthier, Happier Gut
4. Do You Experience Brain Fog Or Have Trouble Focusing?
Fluctuating blood sugar levels, low intake of fats and protein, as well as nutrient deficiencies due to poor absorption of essential vitamins and minerals may be contributing factors if you lack energy, motivation, and the ability to concentrate.
But, if you’re also dealing with noticeable GI issues, such as diarrhea and stomach pains, talk to a doctor about whether inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) or celiac disease may be a potential cause. SIBO, which tends to cause severe symptoms such as malabsorption of nutrients (including B vitamins, which are important for energy), frequent diarrhea, bloody stools, and ulcers, is another common culprit.
So, what should you do? Nourish your gut by eating unprocessed, whole foods that provide you with fiber, vitamins and minerals—such as vegetables, fruits, clean proteins, and bone broth. Avoiding inflammatory and highly-refined foods (like sugar and refined grains), using certain supplements (like adaptogens holy basil or ashwagandha, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins), exercising, and managing stress can also play important roles in your recovery plan.
5. Are You Feeling Anxious, Moody, Or Depressed?
Do you find it hard to sleep at night and wake up feeling groggy most days? Does your mood go up and down throughout the day or week, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or exhausted at times?
When it comes to the connection between your gut and your brain, it’s a two-way street. What you eat often affects your mood, and your mood and stress levels can also directly affect how well you tolerate the foods in your diet.
Life circumstances can definitely contribute to low moods and anxiety, but what’s often overlooked is how much poor gut health and an unhealthy lifestyle can, too. To help improve your mood and take care of your gut-brain connection, eat a nutrient-dense diet that includes quality protein and healthy fats, along with plenty of antioxidants and fiber. Try eating every few hours to balance your blood sugar. And, while you’re at it, avoid too much alcohol and caffeine, prioritize exercise, manage stress, and stick to a regular sleep routine.
6. Have Your Bathroom Habits Changed?
Keep an eye on your toilet time. Are you going to the bathroom more or less often? Does your stool look different all of a sudden?
Eating a poor diet (or one high in FODMAPs, for some people) and emotional or psychological stress are believed to be major contributing factors to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a condition that encompasses a bunch of different GI symptoms, often including changes in stool frequency and form, constipation, diarrhea, and stomach pains.
You may need to experiment with avoiding certain FODMAP and high-fiber foods to improve your symptoms. Stress-relieving activities, such as meditation, exercise, and breathing exercises, can also really help keep IBS symptoms in check. Psychotherapy and biofeedback training (which helps you learn how to relax certain muscles in the abdomen) are also often considered first-line treatments for IBS.
Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, in Nashville, TN, and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.