Too often we settle for feeling less than our best and tell ourselves it’s “normal”.
If you’re bloated every day…that’s just part of getting older.
Pooping twice a week…that’s fine, right?
Skin breaking out…that’s hormones for you.
Completely exhausted by 3pm…who isn’t?!
The truth is that these are all red flags that point to gut imbalances or dysfunction. If you (or your doctor) brush off your symptoms or don’t connect the dots to your GI tract, you’re left feeling crummy and assuming there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s not the case!
To help you take stock of your gut health, here are a few red flags to look for and simple strategies to jumpstart the recovery process.
9 Signs Your Gut Isn’t Healthy
1. You Don’t Poop Every Day
Yes, you should be pooping every day if your digestive system is functioning optimally. Less frequent stools mean food is left sitting in your GI tract, toxins are being re-absorbed, and excess estrogen may recirculate through your body. If you’re not “regular” it could be caused by low stomach acid, vagal nerve dysfunction, SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) or dehydration.
Certain strains of gut bacteria produce high levels of gas during the digestive process. When these strains overgrow, in the case of SIBO, it can lead to serious bloating. Some patients even report feeling 5 months pregnant by dinnertime each day!
3. Sugar Cravings
The gut infections Candida overgrowth and SIBO can both cause you to crave sugar and simple carbs because the yeast and bacteria feed off of them.
4. Acne, Eczema & Other Skin Issues
5. Depression or Anxiety
Up to 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut, along with many other neurotransmitters. Microbiome imbalances, toxins, and stress can all disrupt this process in your digestive system and lead to mood imbalances. Poor digestion can also cause deficiencies in the nutrients linked to anxiety and depression.
6. Estrogen Dominance
After estrogens are deactivated by your liver, they are sent to your intestines to exit your body via your stool. When there is an imbalance in the gut microbes known as the estrobolome, the estrogens can be recirculated, causing estrogen dominance symptoms like PMS, anxiety, ovarian cysts, and weight gain.
A study from 2017 found that people with chronic fatigue syndrome often have imbalances in their gut microbiome. Researchers also found elevated markers for inflammation in these patients, which they believe was caused by leaky gut.
Disruptions to your microbiome and gut barrier lead to chronic inflammation. This can trigger unwanted immune responses in the form of allergies. Research shows that an unhealthy gut can contribute to seasonal allergies, food allergies, and skin allergies.
9. Numerous Food Sensitivities
Many people have a sensitivity to certain inflammatory foods such as gluten or dairy. However, if food sensitivity testing reveals that you have many many food sensitivities, there may be an underlying issue like leaky gut that is causing your immune system to be hyper-reactive.
Simple Strategies to Jumpstart Gut Recovery
Add in Gut Healing Foods
Some patients find it easier to start by adding in healing foods, rather than removing problematic ones. If that’s the case for you, begin by prioritizing:
- Colorful fruits and vegetables. These are rich in fiber and nutrients to promote gut repair. Aim to eat at least one vegetable and one fruit at every meal. Push yourself to get creative and pick up a new produce item at the grocery store or farmers’ market to try!
- Prebiotic fiber and resistant starch. These support your microbiome and include green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes or rice, asparagus, garlic, onions, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and chicory root.
Take a Probiotic and Postbiotic
Probiotics are the good bacteria in your gut that help you digest and absorb nutrients and support immune function. They feed on prebiotic fiber to produce postbiotics, metabolites that serve as the energy source for the cells lining your colon.
A thriving population of pro- and postbiotics is vital for gut health, but they can be diminished by diets high in sugar or low in fiber, antibiotics, hormone imbalances, and medications. I recommend FloraMax as a probiotic and PostBio Max for postbiotic support.
Minimize Added Sugar
Sugar is highly inflammatory, disruptive to your gut microbiome, and we consume far too much of it in the US. Removing added sugar for 30 days gives your blood sugar, digestive system, and taste buds the opportunity to reset. Once you’ve returned to baseline, you may be surprised by how little you miss it and how poorly you feel when you consume a lot of it.
Get 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Studies show a positive correlation between sufficient sleep and a diverse microbiome (among many other benefits!). Spend time in natural light, avoid screen time in the hour before bed, and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to support your natural circadian rhythm. If you find yourself too stressed to fall asleep, try these easy stretches to relax and unwind.
Next Steps: A Comprehensive, Personalized Approach
The strategies above are a great jumping off point for supporting gut function and overall health. For a deeper dive into what’s causing your gut dysfunction and a targeted protocol to restore balance, I recommend comprehensive testing and working with a functional medicine provider, such as in our Adaptation Program.
A functional medicine stool test, nutrition profile, and personalized guidance can be invaluable tools in feeling not just “normal” but incredible every day!
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Check out our Adaptation Program and book your free discovery call to find out if you’re the right fit.