When you think about your gut, you probably think about food and digestion. But there’s so much more to the story.
Your gut microbiome is the foundation of your health. Many scientists consider the gut as its own organ—full of living, moving pieces that all serve a purpose. Your gut is responsible for controlling digestion, boosting immune function, regulating your mental health, preventing disease, and maintaining your overall health. Yep, it’s pretty important.
But if your gut microbiome is off-balance it can cause countless health complications. Here are 9 signs that your gut is unhealthy, plus our top tips for bringing it back into balance.
What is your gut microbiome?
Let’s take it from the top. Your body’s microbiome consists of trillions of microbes—AKA bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Some microbes are bad for you. Other microbes are necessary for a healthy heart, immune system, and more.
The gut microbiome (sometimes called the gut flora) consists of all the microbes found in a part of your large intestine called the cecum. But the most important microbe to talk about here is bacteria. Why? Because there are at least 1,000 species of bacteria in your gut microbiome alone—and they all have a specific job to do.
How does the gut microbiome impact your body?
Your gut microbiome starts developing as soon as you’re born. As you grow, you become exposed to more and more microbial species. This creates a diverse microbiome, which is great news for your health.
The more diverse your gut microbiome is, the better you can digest food, control your immune system, sharpen your nervous system, reduce your risk of cancer, and more.
What is the difference between a healthy gut and an unhealthy gut?
A healthy gut is all about balance. As long as the bad bacteria don’t outnumber the good guys, your microbiome should be able to do its job.
But if there’s an imbalance between good and bad microbes, it can result in health complications. This is sometimes called gut dysbiosis or simply unhealthy gut.
What are 9 signs of an unhealthy gut?
There are many potential signs of an unhealthy gut. If you notice any of the below symptoms, talk to your doctor about what might be causing it.
1. Weight changes
Your diet and exercise routine haven’t changed, but you’re still gaining or losing weight. What gives?
An imbalanced gut can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients, store fat, and regulate blood sugar. All of these factors contribute to your body weight.
2. Upset stomach and intestinal diseases
Unhealthy microbes produce gas and other chemicals, causing tons of discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract. We’re talking gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn—the works.
Diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can develop if your gut microbiome is out of balance. Even if you aren’t diagnosed with an intestinal disease, you might experience frustrating stomach symptoms as a result of unhealthy gut.
On the other hand, good bacteria, like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, can improve symptoms of IBS, enhance digestion, stop bad bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall, and even prevent leaky gut.3. Heart disease
Some gut microbes are heart-breakers. They can produce a chemical called TMAO, which blocks arteries and often leads to heart disease, heart attacks, or stroke.
Studies show that a healthy, balanced gut microbiome has the opposite effect. It helps to lower cholesterol and keep your heart functioning at its best.4. Diabetes or irregular blood sugar
Many scientists believe that the gut microbiome can help regulate your blood sugar and prevent type 1 and 2 diabetes.
For example, a 2015 study found that infants at risk for developing type 1 diabetes saw a significant drop in microbiome diversity right before being diagnosed.5. Mental health disorders
Cool fact: your gut is connected to your brain through millions of nerves. That means if your gut microbiome is unbalanced, it could impact the messages that are sent to the brain through those nerves. In other words—you really are what you eat.
For this reason, unhealthy gut can lead to moodiness, depression, irritability, anxiety, and trouble concentrating. In fact, over half of all patients with IBD also have a mental health condition.6. Skin irritation
Did you know gut health can show up on your skin? From acne to psoriasis to rosacea, the impact of an unhealthy gut on your immune system has been shown to cause all sorts of skin irritation. After all, your skin is your body’s largest organ—and it needs strong immune function to thrive.7. Constant fatigue
Poor gut health can seriously interrupt your sleep schedule. It’s still unclear exactly why, but the gut-induced lack of sleep can lead to chronic fatigue and other health complications over time. If you’re always tired, your gut might be signalling that it needs help.8. Autoimmune disorders
We already know that an unhealthy gut can hurt your immune system. That’s why autoimmune diseases—when your body starts attacking itself instead of harmful microbes—are a common cause of gut imbalance.9. Food intolerances
Is your stomach triggered by a certain food? Your gut might be the culprit. An unhealthy gut can make it difficult to digest some foods, like lactose. Symptoms of food intolerance often include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and nausea.
What causes unhealthy gut?
Antibiotic use. While antibiotics are amazing at killing infections, like urinary tract infections (UTIs), they don’t know how to distinguish between good and bad bacteria. That means they target all the bacteria, causing harmful and sometimes long-term changes in the microbiome. Frequent antibiotic use can impact your gut flora so much that your body becomes resistant to antibiotics altogether.
Poor diet, processed foods, and high sugar. These all kill off good bacteria from the gut, resulting in disease-causing inflammation throughout the body.
Poor sleep and high stress. It can reduce blood flow, increase sensitivity, and change gut bacteria.
Lack of regular exercise. Studies show that people who are active have a more diverse gut microbiome and more bacterial families than those who don’t exercise often.
Smoking cigarettes or drinking too much alcohol can lead to dysbiosis. However, small amounts of red wine can actually benefit the gut flora because of its natural polyphenol content.
How can you improve your gut health?
Feeling like your gut microbiome could use a little love? Here are our top tips for boosting your gut health.
- Eat a balanced, diverse diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. This makes for a more diverse (and healthy) gut microbiome.
- Add fermented foods to your meals. They all contain healthy bacteria that overpower the bad bacteria in the microbiome. Think: yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
- Get your zzz’s. Sleep is so important for a healthy gut. Aim to get at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
- Avoid too many artificial sweeteners. Some studies suggest they can stimulate the growth of bad bacteria.
- Shop for prebiotic foods. Artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, apples, lentils, garlic, nuts—all prebiotic-rich foods that can boost the number of healthy microbes in your gut. There are also many prebiotic supplements you can take.
- Eat slowly and mindfully. Chewing your food thoroughly helps your body digest it. Trust us, your gut will thank you for this one.
- Eat whole grains and plant-based as much as possible. They can reduce the risks associated with an unhealthy gut, soothe inflammation, lower cholesterol, and fight bad bacteria like E. coli.
- Find ways to relieve stress. Yoga, meditation, breathwork, exercise, your favourite TV show. Prioritize whatever soothes your mind and lowers your stress levels. Stress can stimulate bad bacteria and make it harder for the microbiome to balance.
- Add polyphenols to your diet. You can find these powerful plant compounds in green tea, red wine, olive oil, whole grains, and dark chocolate. Yes—eating chocolate can stimulate healthy bacteria growth.
- Drink lots of water. One study found that people who stay hydrated often have lower levels of a bacteria that causes intestinal infections.
- Boost your collagen intake. Some experts believe that collagen can improve the gut microbiome. Foods that stimulate collagen production include citrus fruits, broccoli, eggs, nuts, and meat. You can also take a collagen supplement.
- Experiment with fasting. Although more research is needed, a handful of studies have shown that fasting can improve gut health in humans and animals. It can lower levels of bad bacteria and even reduce inflammation in the intestines. Talk to your doctor about the healthiest way to incorporate fasting into your life.
- Take a probiotic supplement. Probiotics are live bacteria that restore the gut to a healthy state, especially if it’s been off balance. The probiotics will “reseed” the gut with healthy microbes.
What’s the best probiotic for gut health?
Meet Utiva Probiotic: a powerful probiotic supplement that restores gut health and helps your body recover from antibiotic use.
Bursting with a unique blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotic strains, this acid-resistant supplement is designed to strengthen your immune system and improve digestion—with just one dose per day. Best of all, it has 12 billion CFU in each dose at the time of expiry and 30 billion at the time of manufacturing, which is the doctor-recommended amount for maximum effectiveness.
Pro tip: Pair your probiotic with a UTI prevention supplement.
For those who suffer from frequent UTIs, it’s important to take a UTI prevention supplement to avoid antibiotic overuse and keep the gut flora in check. Utiva Cranberry PACs is your best bet.
Utiva Cranberry PACs have exactly 36 mg of PACs (the bioactive component from cranberry). This is the proven dose, just one pill a day to help prevent UTIs according to physician guidelines. In fact, 94% of Utiva customers require only Cranberry PACS to prevent UTIs.
The supplement has also been recognized by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). That means it has been carefully reviewed by a panel of medical professionals to confirm it’s a safe and effective supplement—all based on scientific evidence.