A healthy lifestyle is what ensures a healthy mind, body, and sleep routine. And a healthy lifestyle incorporates a chunk of habits like proper hygiene, a healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and rest. If you maintain all of these, then a healthy gut is not out of your reach. And as we all know; good gut health holds utmost importance when it comes to our overall health.
Generally, we all go through digestive distress or food intolerances amidst the daily hassles of our life. Sometimes it is a meal that doesn’t agree with us or the lingering gastrointestinal problems that arise from the unhealthy, irregular diet, lack of the necessary nutrients, increased stress, anxiety, frustration, and other such physiological and psychological factors that thereby result in poor gut health.
How important is our gut health?
The foundation of our entire well-being, both in terms of physical and mental, has its roots in our gut. And the gut refers to the entire digestive tract, including those organs that aid digestion. Research suggests that the foundation of our overall health is built on our gut health. So, what actually matters when it comes to our gut? And how badly does it affect our wellbeing?
What is the gut microbiome?
Our gut microbiome can be called the most important health factor of the gut. Our gut microbiome or the gut microbiota collectively refers to the beneficial bacteria found in abundance in the intestines and other various parts of the gut. They help the gut to develop better nutritional absorption quality, strengthen the intestinal linings and gut walls, promote better physical and mental health, strengthen the immune system and promote digestion. Gut microbiota also prevents harmful pathogens and bacteria from taking residence in our digestive tract. Thus, helping our body detoxify and get rid of the disease-causing protozoans, viruses, and microorganisms.
Sometimes, we may suffer a gut microbial change that can happen due to various factors like an unhealthy diet change, lack of physical workouts, lack of proper hygiene, etc. And this imbalance in gut microbiota composition is called dysbiosis. It may lead to diagnosable and harmful conditions like leaky gut syndrome, increased intestinal permeability, chronic pain, chronic diseases, and bowel disorders. This is why you need to heal your gut and diversify these good probiotic bacteria in the gut flora to improve gut health. However, it may take time. In fact, according to some studies, rebuilding a healthy microbiome may even take up to 6 months. So, how do we treat our gut microbiome properly?
What Affects our Gut Health Negatively?
Normally, our gut is habituated to a particular form of diet or eating habits, rather we condition it to get accustomed to a diet form as per our convenience. There are millions of microbes that react to any change in any aspect of our physiology. Any unhealthy change in diet or inclusion of processed foods and unhealthy food or beverages in our diet has enough potential to cause severe damage. Including – diarrhea, leaky gut, intestinal wall damage, dysbiosis, digestive system disorders, immune system disorders, unhealthy release or lack of digestive enzymes, and many other gas-related problems. According to research, it takes some time to adjust to a change in diet, which may take as little as three days, to a few weeks at most. Also read: What Foods Should You Avoid if You have Leaky Gut Syndrome? [Everything you need to know]
Generally, the time taken to heal the digestive tract and gut microbial composition, in response to gut damages, digestive problems, and disbalance in the gut microbiota, is about three weeks. This time is said to vary from person to person, as food tolerance and the health of the gut microbiome are individualistic in character.
It is scientifically proven that reduced stress, anxiety, fear, anger, and mental or digestive distress, leads to improved gut health in a person. Increased stress activates the hypothalamus to secrete a chemical-like substance called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). Which in turn, stimulates the pituitary gland to release the hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) to secrete cortisol in the bloodstream. This occurrence is responsible for the breakdown of fats and proteins. That provides the body with energy. However, this also decreases the number of good bacteria in our gut. This in turn troubles the normal functioning of the gut health, causing indigestion, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, bloating, gut wall damages, stomach acid reflux, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), increased intestinal permeability and constipation.
Healing the gut may take about a couple of weeks, sometimes a few months or even a year (for extreme cases). That may depend upon the nature of stress (biological, psychological or environmental), the length of duration it sustained and the effects it had on the person’s overall well-being.
No exercise or proper workout/yoga routines
So, we have quite well understood the importance of microbiome by now. Any imbalances in them leads to serious disorders, immune system health disorders, mental health disbalance and diseases like obesity and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Research shows that exercise promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiota, which produces beneficial short chain fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate is proven to promote faster healing of the stomach walls and the tissues along the gut lining. It also reduces inflammation and therefore potentially prevents health disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome and insulin resistance, which often leads to risks of insulin irregularities and diabetes.
Exercise influences a positive change in the gut microbiota. Which helps the body guard against obesity and improves its immune and metabolic functions. However different types of effects have been observed in the gut microbiota due to different types of exercises and yogas. About six weeks of exercise can bring out improvement in gut health, as proven by several studies and according to their researchers. Those studies show that regular and gut benefiting exercises and yoga routines, can bring about diverse and increased microbial density in our intestines and gut. It has also been proven that exercise can act independently of diet to heal our gut.
How much time would it take if you follow all these three lifestyle hacks to improve gut health?
Now, if the already mentioned healthy habits are being followed properly altogether. In the long run, it would be beneficial not only for the gut but also for the whole mental and physical well-being of the person. Proper exercise, a healthy diet without any refined or processed foods, and reduced stress are important to heal leaky gut and nourish the good bacteria for improving gut health. Improvements in boosting the composition and health of the good bacteria may take up to some weeks. However, if the mentioned good gut habits cease, and the person lacks the discipline and motivation to progress with it, then it becomes impossible for the body to recover naturally.
The various avenues of our health that are affected by an Unhealthy Gut
Let’s discuss the various effects of poor gut health on these various health functions and organs of our body. Every aspect of our organs and body parts depends heavily on what we consume throughout the day. And if the engine that regulates our daily consumption of nutritional intake malfunctions, then it kind of makes the entire body shut down and prevents it from performing its best. Thus, a bad gut needs to be treated immediately to stop these effects and symptoms from happening.
There is a link between our gut and our brain that is dubbed the ‘gut-brain axis’. This means that our gastrointestinal health is closely linked to our central nervous system, mental health, and our brain health. Dysbiosis, IBD, IBS, and leaky gut syndrome are all various types of gut disorders that may lead to mental distress, slow cognitive development, constant tiredness and stress, lack of focus and concentration, and slow brain functions.
Energy and Fatigue
An unhealthy gut can lead to cramps, bloating, constipation, and painful excretions. All of which drains your energy throughout the day and often breeds insomnia. Leading to poor energy levels throughout the day, chronic fatigue, and low metabolism rates.
An unhealthy gut often shows itself on the outside. It can be spotted on the skin in various forms of painful skin conditions like skin allergies, psoriasis, rashes, eczema, bad skin odor, and rosacea. This happens due to poor diets, low microbial diversity in the intestines, increased intestinal permeability, or gut wall damage that leads to a leak in proteins into the bloodstream which may cause these symptoms.
Bad gut health is bound to negatively alter the protective shield of our health, also known as the immune system. Medical researches show that it may happen due to the immune cells that have direct contact with our gut microbiome. An imbalance in the gut microbiota or a leaky gut with toxins and pathogenic bacteria that leak from the damaged gut lining ‘confuses’ the immune cells. Which then goes into defense mode and starts producing antibodies. Leading to the body destroying its own body tissues. Thereby leading to inflammation, sickness, cardiometabolic dysfunction, and autoimmune diseases.
Bloating and gas
Stomach distresses like gas, stomach acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating are all the symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. They are all the various symptoms of poor-quality bacteria growth in the gut environment, slow metabolism, undereating or overeating, and in general an unhealthy gut.
Menstrual and Hormonal Imbalance in women
Gut health is directly related to hormonal health in women. In fact, a leaky gut may lead to nonregulation of estrogen levels and other hormones in a woman. Therefore, leading to estrogen-related medical conditions like PCOS, skin allergies, and even breast cancer.
And this poor gut-induced hormonal imbalance leads to late or irregular periods or menstrual cycles, constipation, mental anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, unhealthy weight loss or weight gain, infertility, etc.
Male Hormonal Troubles
A healthy gut maintains a regular testosterone level in male bodies. And any gut problem or leaky gut may lead to low testosterone levels and may affect the sex steroid hormones as well. Optimizing your gut health is bound to lead to well-balanced hormonal secretions in all genders.
Weight Gain and Weight Loss
There may be several reasons behind weight gain and loss. However, when it comes to unhealthy or unnatural weight loss and weight gain, stemming specifically from gut problems. We have three common reasons.
- One of those reasons is the hormonal disbalance from a bacterial disturbance in the gut microbiota.
- Secondly, the reason behind weight loss may be due to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
- Weight gain, on the other hand, occurs due to the third reason.
Which is, the decreased nutrition absorption quality of the gut due to its weakened health. It promotes hunger, makes you overeat, and may cause obesity. This may also happen due to insulin resistance as well.
Unfortunately, not even your hair is safe from your gut issues. Just like our immune system, bone, muscle, and mental health, our hair, nails, and skin also depend on daily nutritional absorption to thrive. And when the gut malfunctions in absorbing and providing the bloodstream with sufficient nutrition and minerals, the hairs start thinning and ultimately lose all their luster, shine, and quality and ultimately halt the growth of healthy strong hair. Sometimes, a long-time untreated gut may lead to serious hair loss and even balding.
A form of inflammatory bowel disease, also known as ulcerative colitis is the culprit behind swollen and inflamed joints and muscles. Other reasons may be the leaky gut syndrome that occurs from gut wall damage or increased intestinal permeability. It causes the toxins and harmful bacteria from the small and large intestines to escape into the bloodstream, causing inflammation, leaky gut, and chronic pain.
Bacterial dysbiosis and various other inborn reasons may lead to celiac disease. The symptoms of which include the body’s intolerance toward gluten (a form of protein that may be found in wheat, rye, baked goods, etc.). It damages the gut’s absorption properties by damaging the villi in the small intestines, thereby leading to several physical, digestive, and mental health issues. An imbalance in the gut may link gut health with this disease.
A certain deficiency of a digestive enzyme called DAO enzyme or Diamine Oxidase enzyme leads to poor histamine tolerance. Another cause behind histamine intolerance is an imbalance in the good gut bacteria composition. Histamine intolerance, as the name suggests, is the intolerable characteristic of the gut towards histamine-rich foods like alcohol, dried fruits, eggplants, spinach, avocados, shellfish, and certain foods similar to these. The symptoms of this problem are – headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, sinus problems, irregular menstrual cycle, nausea, and chronic illness.
Increased or Reduced Hunger
When the nutrition absorption quality of the gut disintegrates, then it becomes hard for the body to understand its daily consumption needs. In other words, your body gets confused as to when it should stop seeking food as it cannot absorb the nutrients from what you eat. Thus, as your hunger grows, you eat to soothe the pain and hunger. Leading to obesity and excess weight gain.
Similarly, as our gut bacteria control our appetite, the gut microbiota is the control room for our hunger. This means, it also depends on the gut and its bacteria’s ability to digest the food. If the weakened gut health stops the digestive process and badly affects the health of digestive enzymes, then the hunger may stop altogether and cause constipation and other unhealthy digestive symptoms.
What are the signs of an improved gut?
A healthy gut means a well-balanced gut microbial diversity and strong gut walls with boosted nutrition absorption quality. Here are all the signs that you have a healthy and well-functioning gut.
- If you are free from all the above-mentioned symptoms of regular stomach cramps, inflammation, indigestion, bloating, constipation, excessive gas, unhealthy weight loss/gain, nausea, hard stool, diarrhea, etc.
- If you have a better tolerance towards food. A weak gut can be found through its inability to consume several nutrients, minerals, and proteins. If you can easily consume baked goods and fiber-rich foods, without any of the symptoms, then it’s a sign your stomach is healing. However, even if you can eat them without getting any stomach issues, try to limit your consumption of such foods.
- If you are having pain-free and normal excretion routines and timely bowel movements. If you have to use the bathroom to excrete less than 3 times a day and over three times a week, then your gut is returning back to its healthy mode. Regular bowel movement is a sign that your gut is becoming refurbished and everything is becoming healthy and normal again. If you have to go to the bathroom excessively in one day, then check in with a doctor for gut health problems.
- If you feel like your sleep schedule has been restored and your energy is returning back to your body. This is also accompanied by a much less need to overeat. And your metabolism quality also improves. A clean head with no more constant headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and lack of cognition also points to a healthy gastrointestinal tract and good health of gut microbiota.
- Signs of your skin clearing up and healing. A healthy gut equals fresh glowing skin and if you see signs of smooth healthy face skin then it means your gut health is restored. As soon as your gut health restores, your skin starts healing from eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, and other skin issues. And it overall becomes less sensitive and less prone to breaking out.
How to improve gut health?
- Reduce stress. Try yoga, relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, etc., to reduce your stress and get your mental health into control.
- Try to gain more sleep. The length and quality of your sleep often determine your gut health and bacterial health.
- Include more prebiotic foods, fermented foods, and probiotic foods in your diet. In case you are allergic to certain food sources of probiotics and prebiotics, then use high-quality vegan, allergen-free, paraben-free probiotic and prebiotic supplements.
- Eat gut-healing foods that are also rich in polyphenol. Foods like green tea, certain fruits like blueberries, and also dark chocolates, etc.
- Make your diet colorful with green vegetables, dark leafy vegetables, fruits like bananas, grapes, fermented foods with healthy spices, etc. These natural plant-based diet plans help your body fight pathogens and harmful bacteria. They also provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to your body. [Best Gut Foods and Diets for the Best Digestive Health!]
- Eat a balanced meal of soluble and nondouble dietary fibers for both easy digestion and to nourish good gut bacteria. Soluble fiber should be more in the diet as compared to insoluble ones. Try juice diets if your digestive health does not support insoluble fibers.
- Avoid processed foods and beverages like non-digestible carbs, gluten, inflammatory food sources, dairy products milk, alcohol, refined sugar, baked goods, high protein foods, soda, etc.
- Create a regular exercise routine for yourself. Exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on your gut microbial health and diversity, and it promotes digestion as well. Do not over-exercise or all of your efforts to gain a healthy gut may backfire. It may also increase the risks of an unhealthy gut and overall health distress.
Sources linked below
Tim Koping (Medical M.Sc Physiology, Founder of Original Eating, and a Professor at a Leading Health Institute in the US): I am a medical M.Sc physiology graduate and the founder of Original Eating, an online resource that provides information and advice about healthy eating. I have a strong interest in health and nutrition, and I am passionate about helping people to eat well and live healthily. I have over 15 years of experience working in the health and nutrition industry, and I am dedicated to providing accurate, reliable information that can help people to make healthy choices for themselves. My work with Original Eating has been featured in publications such as Men’s Health and more, and I am frequently consulted by journalists for expert commentary on dietary issues. However, in my spare time, I also enjoy reading, hiking, and playing the guitar.