There’s not a body function or process that isn’t affected to some degree by the state of your gut and the diversity of your microbiome. Let’s take a look at some of the tell-tale signs that your gut may need some attention. If you are experiencing any of the following, working on your gut health is a good place to start:
1. Digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating. Gas is a regular product of fermentation processes that occur as food is broken down, however certain strains of bacteria produce more gas than others. If you have an excess of these types of bacteria, they will produce more gas which can get trapped and lead to bloating and flatulence.
2. Cravings and feelings of hunger shortly after eating. The quantity and quality of different populations of bacteria living in the gut affect which substances are secreted, which genes are switched on and the rate at which different nutrients are absorbed, all of which contributes to hunger perception and cravings. Studies have shown that a less diverse microbiome is linked
with increased hunger, whereas a more diverse microbiome is associated with satiety (feeling satisfied after eating).
3. Weight management issues. As described above, the cravings and hunger we experience are governed largely by our microbiome, which means that an excess of certain bacteria may be driving cravings and/or excessive hunger that can contribute to weight gain or resistance to weight loss. The genes within different gut bacteria affect weight management and the success of weight loss interventions due to their influence on how quickly the bacteria grow, how efficiently nutrients are absorbed and the speed at which nutrients, particularly
carbohydrates, are broken down into sugars. For example, fast-growing bacteria such as Prevotella, have been found to take more of the nutrients from food for themselves, leaving less available to potentially contribute to weight gain. Conversely, bacteria that produce a greater number of enzymes to break food down at a faster rate, have been linked with resistance to weight management interventions and difficulty achieving and sustaining weight loss.
4. Difficulty sleeping or constant fatigue. A well populated and diverse microbiome has been linked with better quality sleep, due largely to the strong link between the gut and the brain. Gut bacteria are thought to influence sleep patterns through their involvement in the production of certain chemical messengers such as serotonin and dopamine, both of which are involved in the regulation of sleep-wake cycles. An imbalance of good and bad bacteria
can lead to an imbalance of the hormones involved in these cycles, thus potentially contributing to poor sleep and low energy levels.
5. Skin conditions. Both lack of microbial diversity and pathogenic (bad) bacterial overgrowth have been linked with the onset and worsening of skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis (including eczema), rosacea and psoriasis. Many of these inflammatory skin conditions occur as a result of a dysregulated immune response. As 80% of the immune system is located within the gut, compromised gut function can contribute to dysregulated immune function.
The microbiome is also responsible for breaking down nutrients, metabolising hormones, making various enzymes responsible for detoxification and neutralising pathogens - all of which contribute to healthy, glowing skin.
6. Autoimmune conditions. Again due to the link between gut function and immune function, dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut) can manifest as autoimmune conditions or flare-ups, resulting in either under or overactive immune function and the onset or worsening of autoimmune conditions.
7. Food intolerances. Unlike food allergies which affect the immune system and generally have more serious, potentially life threatening effects, food intolerances only affect the digestive system and usually cause less serious symptoms. They occur when the body is unable to break food down properly due to an enzyme deficiency. Enzyme deficiencies can occur due to either an overgrowth of bad bacteria, or not enough good bacteria, in the gut. Often food
intolerances are mistaken for or masked by a chronic condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, meaning people can suffer for years until they identify and cut out their trigger foods. Generally, foods can be reintroduced once inflammation in the gut has been reduced, integrity of the gut lining has been restored and imbalances within the microbiome have been addressed.
8. Low mood or erratic moods. The gut and the brain are inextricably linked, meaning that the health of your gut has a strong influence over how you feel mentally. The jury is still out over the precise mechanisms by which this occurs, but research suggests that this is largely due to the direct communication between the brain and the gut along the gut-brain access and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve physically connects the gut and the brain and sends signals in
both directions. Additionally, many of our happy hormones are made within the gut, so if you are experiencing low mood or mood swings, improving your gut health may help.
Of course the human body is a vast and complex web of intricately related systems, meaning there is often more than one contributing factor to a symptom or set of symptoms. That being said, it is never a bad idea to prioritise the health of your gut and to work with a professional to improve both the structure and integrity of your gastrointestinal tract, and address any dysbiosis that may be present.
Hannah is a holistic nutritionist (BSc) with a special interest in brain health, cognitive function and the scope of nutrition in improving mental health and reducing cognitive decline. Follow Hannah on Instagram for delicious recipes and health tips: https://www.instagram.com/kinderkitchen.co/