Gut Health: How To Identify Issues & Improve Digestion
Most of the narratives surrounding bacteria stipulate that it is a harmful entity. For many people, bacteria are given a bad reputation as early as infancy, reinforced in elementary health classes and by parents who teach that it causes infection, makes objects dirty, and infiltrates the body to make it sick.
While this is true to some degree, bacteria are actually a critical factor in preserving your health. As with most health-related issues, each person’s body is unique and various contributors affect our overall well-being. Nonetheless, it is necessary to have the right number of bacteria in order to maintain proper function and defend against larger threats — especially in the gut.
What Is the Gut?
If your belly has ever peeked over the waistband of a pair of jeans, it has probably been referred to as a gut. Many people think it’s where the body stores extra fat. However, the gut is defined as the human microbiome, which is a technical term for the trillions of bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract.
Altogether, the bacteria weigh about 3 to 5 pounds, depending on the person. The microbiome plays a role in immune system functionality, determining allergic reactions, and defense against viruses. Your metabolism and gut work closely together and contribute to weight gain and loss.
Though the human genome is already established at conception, the microbiome is a product of lifestyle and environment. The general structure of the microbiome is set when children reach school age and carry on to adulthood. Paying attention to a child’s microbiome is crucial in order to create a standard for a healthy adult gut.
If this is the first time you are hearing about the technicalities of the gut, don’t worry. Fortunately, there are ways to spot an unhealthy gut and nurture it back to health.
How Can You Tell if the Gut Is Unhealthy?
One of the great superpowers of the human body is that it will typically let you know if it requires attention. For instance, there are numerous clues that can help you determine if an unhealthy gut is causing you pain:
Probably the most common sign that your gut is having issues is an upset stomach. Whether you are experiencing gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation, the cause is most likely trouble with processing food and properly eliminating waste. Certain food intolerances might also trigger gut issues. If you drink alcohol excessively, the number of beneficial bacteria could decrease and potentially cause microbial imbalances.
There comes a time every year — for many, it’s around 1 January — that health shoots to the top of the priority list. However, if you’re gaining or losing weight without any changes to an exercise regimen or normal diet, it may be a sign of an imbalanced gut. The gastrointestinal tract is responsible for nutrient absorption, blood sugar regulation, and fat storage. If any of these functions aren’t operating at peak performance, it could lead to weight fluctuations.
The gut produces most of the body’s serotonin, which is a chemical that impacts your emotions and motor skills. This hormone also aids in sleep and food digestion, while also serving as a natural mood stabilizer. Because the gut controls the release of serotonin, any damage to the microbiome could cause sleep impairment, insomnia, or even chronic fatigue.
Skin Irritation and Acne
The causes of acne fall into a melting pot of various lifestyle choices and environmental factors. One contributor can be a damaged gut. If you’re suffering from eczema, breakouts, or other skin irritations, it may be due to inflammation or food allergies. Related.
How to Correct an Unhealthy Gut
It may sound challenging to rewire and nurture your gut back to health, but it’s not as difficult as it seems. Many internal issues can be resolved by simply monitoring the food you consume. The main solution to a damaged gut is to eat a more balanced diet.
Even if you’re not hitting the drive-thru every day, many common grocery store items are rich in processed fats, sugars, and carbs. Increasing consumption of fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains in combination with decreasing processed foods may improve gut health.
If it’s not clear what is causing your gut to groan and grumble, a medical professional can help you start an elimination diet to determine what could be triggering your symptoms. In the meantime, add foods that have high levels of antioxidants. Polyphenols — including blueberries, leafy greens, red wine, green tea, and dark chocolate — are great for improving gut health. Other foods such as onions, almonds, garlic, bananas, yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha contain beneficial prebiotics and probiotics.
Consult a doctor or nutritionist for an expert opinion about your gut health. Remember that beating the bloat takes time and persistence, but being mindful of your diet and exercise regimen can go a long way. No matter your age, it’s never too late to get your gut back on track.
This infographic was created by Factor, a paleo meal delivery service
Kara Kash, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Factor — a premium weekly meal delivery service that fuses world-class culinary dishes with the latest in nutrition science to produce fully prepared meals that are as delicious as they are nutritious.