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7 Signs That Indicate You Have an Unhealthy Gut

In recent years, scientists have discovered the integral role the gut plays in our overall health and wellbeing. The trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and microorganisms that make up the gut microbiome communicate with the rest of the body, and a more diverse microflora—populated with lots of good microbes—is associated with better long-term health.

Why is good gut health important?

A landmark 2021 study from King’s College London found that a panel of 15 specific gut microbes were associated with lower risks of common conditions, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. “When you eat, you’re not just nourishing your body, but feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut,” said Professor Tim Spector, epidemiologist, and scientific co-founder at Zoe (a nutrition program that helps you to analyze your individual gut microbes via its app-based plan), and the person who spearheaded the study.

7 Signs You Have an Unhealthy Gut

1. Constipation or Diarrhea

“When it comes to gut health, the first thing to understand is whether you’re suffering from constipation or diarrhea, as both are signs that something’s not going well,” says Dr. Amati. Symptoms like these can indicate that the gut is having an issue processing food or there is a microbial imbalance. If you experience either symptom for more than seven days or the frequency of your bowel movements changes and interferes with your daily life, always see your general practioner.

2. Bloating

Bloating usually comes hand in hand with constipation or diarrhea, but can, in some cases, be more noticeable, so it is a symptom to be aware of.

3. Flatulence

“If you get to the point where you’re passing wind a lot and it’s really uncomfortable or painful, that’s another sign that your gut health might be awry,” says Dr. Amati.

4. Acid Reflux

Acid reflux also indicates that something that you’re eating doesn’t agree with you (or your gut). It’s also worth noting that acid blockers, which many turn to to treat acid reflux, are not kind to your gut microbiome and can set in motion a vicious cycle.

5. Nutritional Deficiency

“Deficiency in either vitamins or nutrients can be a sign that either your diet is inadequate, or you’re having issues absorbing nutrients from food,” says Dr. Amati. “One of the reasons most people find out they are celiac [allergic to gluten] is because they undergo further tests for nutrient deficiencies.”

6. Poor Mental Health

Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, your diet (and gut health) is linked with your mood, says Dr. Amati. Additionally, feelings of fatigue or low energy can be signs of poor gut health.

7. Skin Issues

Skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis are all heavily linked with the gut due to the gut-skin axis. For example, a recent 2022 study found that consumption of dietary fiber could help to prevent and/or treat skin allergies.

What to Do If You’re Suffering with Symptoms of Poor Gut Health

If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms for a prolonged period of time, make sure you see your GP.

Dr. Amati also recommends getting more mindful about your diet and how it impacts your day-to-day functioning. Keeping a food diary is a really great way to start analyzing your intake, whether that’s taking notes in a book or recording via photos on your phone—whatever is easiest. “Just make sure that you record it, along with how you felt that day,” she says. “Try keeping a diary for at least a week—it usually reveals a lot about what might be going on.” It’s also a great way to keep a doctor or nutritionist informed if and when you do choose to visit them—the more information they have, the more effectively they can treat you (or refer you to someone who can).

“One of the first things we would recommend, especially if it’s an irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) related disorder, is following a low FODMAP or elimination diet, which can be really helpful to understand what it is that’s triggering the response,” she says. “This is really best done with a professional because ‘elimination diet’ does not mean removing it for life, but rather about removing or decreasing foods for a period of time, then slowly reintroducing them to see what happens.” Cutting out large food groups isn’t always the healthiest option, despite what many of us assume.

How to improve your gut health

First thing’s first: eat more plants. Research from Professor Spector and the American and British Gut Project found that people who ate more than 30 plants a week had the highest amount of helpful microbes in their guts. “It’s a good place to start,” says Dr. Amati, who explains that your plant quota can include herbs, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds—so all it takes is cooking with more spices, a sprinkle of mixed seeds on a salad and loading up on veggies on your plate each day to help you meet this number.

For those who want some further guidance on how to foster a healthy gut—or insight into how diverse and healthy their gut already is—sign up to Zoe. It comprehensively analyzes your unique gut, blood fat, and blood sugar responses via a set of tests (including providing a stool sample). Once you’ve undergone your testing period, you’ll learn how diverse your gut microbiome is and receive guidance on how to further improve it with individual food recommendations. Science-backed and the opposite of a “diet” program, it’s an excellent way to learn how to eat not just for better gut health but an all-round healthier life.

This article was originally published on Vogue US.

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