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10 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut & How to Fix It

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10 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut & How to Fix It

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • An imbalance between healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria (dysbiosis) is linked with poor gut health, digestive symptoms, and GI conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • You may have an unhealthy gut if you have chronic symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, or nausea. Poor gut health can also appear in other ways, impacting your immune system, energy levels, and sleep. 
  • Talk to your doctor about any chronic GI concerns. Additionally, consider making lifestyle changes to improve gut health, such as increasing your fiber and probiotic intake, managing stress, and improving sleep habits.

You may wonder if you have an unhealthy gut if you experience chronic digestive concerns like diarrhea, infections, or food intolerances. 

Gut health is more than just a trendy term–numerous research studies show that it can impact many areas of a person’s overall health, from digestion to immune function and well-being.

Continue reading to learn the top 10 signs of an unhealthy gut and the steps you can take to heal your digestive tract. 

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What is Gut Health?

Your digestive tract is rich with many different types of bacteria that make up your gut microbiome.

Some bacteria species are associated with health benefits, while others may be harmful.

A person with a healthy gut has a balance between good and bad gut bacteria and a diverse bacterial species.

They don’t have a gastrointestinal (GI) condition or chronic digestive symptoms.

They’re able to  digest and absorb nutrients properly and have a healthy immune system. 

On the other hand, poor gut health represents a state of dysbiosis–meaning there are too many harmful bacteria species in the digestive tract.

This may cause digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea. 

In some cases, gut dysbiosis may be associated with inflammation and damage of the gut lining, as seen with chronic conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Top Signs of an Unhealthy Gut 

An unhealthy gut can impact your body in many ways.

While the most obvious is uncomfortable GI symptoms, the status of your gut health may also influence your immune system, skin health, and sleep quality.

Learn more about the signs of an unhealthy gut below.

If you experience symptoms from this list regularly, it’s essential to talk with your doctor to ensure you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment. 

1. Constipation or Diarrhea

The frequency and consistency of your bowel movements can give insight into how well your digestive tract is functioning. 

Chronic constipation, or hard stools that are difficult to pass, is associated with slow digestion and an imbalance of gut bacteria

On the other hand, frequent, watery stools may indicate an infection, food intolerance, or digestive disease. Diarrhea may also result from gut dysbiosis.

2. Gas or Bloating

You may experience gas and bloating often if you have poor gut health.

Too many harmful bacteria and not enough healthy bacteria can cause these symptoms, especially after digesting carbohydrates in the large intestine. 

Chronic gas and bloating are common symptoms of digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

3. Food Intolerances

If you notice that many foods don’t agree with you, causing bloating, gas, or diarrhea, it could be due to your gut health.

Food intolerances and sensitivities have been linked with gut dysbiosis. 

Additionally, food intolerances are common in conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where certain carbohydrates are fermented by gut bacteria, resulting in digestive symptoms. 

4. Sugar Cravings

Interestingly, the gut-brain connection may affect food cravings like sugar.

The gut-brain axis is a pathway through which the digestive tract and the brain communicate. 

Research shows that a Western diet rich in fat and sugar and lacking fiber can negatively impact bacteria diversity in the gut and weaken the lining of the digestive tract.

This can result in inflammation and a leaky gut, which may reduce satiety and increase food cravings.  

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5. Abdominal Pain

Chronic abdominal pain is a common symptom of functional GI disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

IBS and its associated abdominal pain have been linked with gut dysbiosis.

This imbalance can disrupt the normal functioning of the gut-brain axis, which is also related to IBS. 

In some cases, intense abdominal pain can indicate a more urgent issue, like acute pancreatitis, which requires immediate medical attention. 

6. Frequent Infections

If you experience frequent infections, the status of your gut health may be partially to blame.

The gut microbiome plays a role in immune function by maintaining healthy intestinal walls that prevent pathogens from entering the body. 

When this lining is weakened due to an imbalance of gut bacteria, it can increase the risk of developing more frequent infectious diseases. 

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7. Skin Problems

Though the two may not seem related, research shows that the gut microbiome (especially in early life) can impact skin health.

Infants with less diversity of gut bacteria may be at a higher risk of atopic dermatitis, a skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, red skin. 

Additionally, having a greater diversity of gut bacteria may reduce cases of eczema in children. 

8. Fatigue

Research shows that people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have less diverse gut bacteria and lower levels of anti-inflammatory bacteria species.

This suggests that gut microbiome may influence energy levels and the digestive symptoms often experienced by people with CFS.

9. Nutrient Deficiencies

Inflammation and damage to the gut lining can result in malabsorption, especially in people with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. 

Over time, this can lead to numerous vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including iron, vitamin D, and zinc.

The presence of these vitamin deficiencies can then cause worse outcomes for people with IBD.

10. Trouble Sleeping

Though poor sleep can have many possible causes, research has identified a connection between sleep and gut health. 

A small study from 2019 found that people with a greater diversity of healthy gut bacteria are more likely to have more high-quality sleep. 

This suggests that having a healthy gut can play a role in better sleep. 

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Tips for Improving Your Gut Health

Diet and lifestyle can have a significant impact on gut health.

You can increase the variety and amount of healthy bacteria in your gut through the following changes. 

However, if you have chronic digestive concerns, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before making significant diet and lifestyle changes.

Many GI conditions require specific medical treatment and dietary changes to improve. 

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Prebiotics are fiber found in certain foods that nourish healthy gut bacteria.

A regular intake of prebiotics is associated with healthier bowel habits and may also benefit immune and metabolic health. 

Examples of prebiotic foods include onions, artichokes, whole grains, and bananas. 

Probiotics are live bacteria that have health benefits when consumed.

You can get probiotics in supplement form or certain fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir.

High-Fiber Diet

A high-fiber diet low in added sugars, refined grains, and saturated fat has been shown to shift the gut microbiome to a healthier state within one day of making these changes. 

This eating pattern contrasts the Western diet, which contains many ultra-processed foods, is low in fiber, and is linked with poor gut health. 

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to diet, lifestyle factors can also play a role in gut health.

The following lifestyle changes are associated with increases in healthy gut bacteria and decreases in harmful bacteria:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Prioritize quality sleep.

Takeaway

You may have an unhealthy gut if you experience chronic digestive conditions, such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas.

This may indicate an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria, which can contribute to inflammation and weaken the gut lining. 

You can positively influence gut health by making diet changes such as eating more fiber, taking probiotics, and limiting added sugars and saturated fat.

Lifestyle modifications like prioritizing sleep, managing stress, and quitting smoking are also beneficial. 

It's important to always discuss your digestive concerns with your doctor prior to changing your habits. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

Navigating your gut health and finding answers to your digestive concerns can be challenging.

A registered dietitian can teach you how to optimize your diet and lifestyle to improve your symptoms and feel your best. 

Find a registered dietitian specializing in digestive health to help you start on a path to a healthier gut.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the warning signs of an unhealthy gut?

If you have an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria (dysbiosis), you may experience digestive symptoms like abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. 

You might also notice issues relating to immune function, skin health, sleep quality, and more.

Take this gut health quiz to learn when to seek help for your digestive concerns.

How do you fix an unhealthy gut?

The first step in healing your gut is to talk with your doctor about your symptoms and concerns.

Your doctor can run tests to determine whether you have a digestive condition that requires medical treatment and/or diet changes. 

You can generally improve your gut health by focusing on a high-fiber diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics.

Limit added sugars, refined grains, ultra-processed foods, and saturated fat. 

Focus on positive lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, managing stress, prioritizing sleep, and quitting smoking.

What are the symptoms of a damaged gut?

When a person has a low diversity of healthy bacteria and too much harmful bacteria in their digestive tract, it can result in inflammation, a weakened gut lining, and an impaired immune system. 

This gut dysbiosis may result in symptoms such as:

References

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