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Signs Your Gut is "Unhealthy," Says Physician

Here's what to watch for and what to do about it.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

 During my 26 years as a Physician of Integrative and Functional Medicine, I was one of the first doctors to recognize the profound importance of the microbiome and pioneered a new brand of medicine and healing called "Microbiome Medicine." The microbiome is a miniature ecosystem located in the gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract populated by trillions of microscopic, nonhuman organisms. By restoring a healthy balance to this ecosystem, people experience increased energy and greater clarity — a testament to the power of healing the gut. Everyone's microbiome is configured uniquely, therefore, people experience different symptoms of poor gut health. Because of the complexity of this system, it's vital to understand how well your G.I. tract is functioning. Read on to find out more about what your gut is trying to tell you. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Your Gut?

Partial view of woman holding paper made large intestine on grey background.

The G.I. tract, otherwise known as the gut, is one of the most complex systems in your body. Making up 70-80% of your immune system, it plays a critical role in protecting you from many diseases and illnesses. The gut not only controls digestion, absorption, elimination, and detoxification, but is crucial in balancing the microbiome and the gut barrier function. A disruption in the mechanism of the G.I. tract's function can cause various conditions such as autoimmune and chronic diseases, anxiety, asthma, obesity, cancer, autism, and even skin conditions. The symptoms of these conditions can often be misunderstood and treated without investigating the root cause. In functional medicine, health practitioners search each body system seeking to understand the root cause of the dysfunction. And to find the root cause, it's important to start by exploring the gut since it plays a critical role in building a strong foundation for optimal health.


The Microbiome

gut bacteria microbiome

The microbiome is literally an entire community of microorganisms that are living within your body. This includes both "good" bacteria, which are beneficial to us, as well as strains of pathogenic microorganisms, which can be detrimental to our health if not kept in check. It is estimated that approximately 10-100 trillion symbiotic microorganisms live within our bodies, primarily in the digestive tract. The microbiome plays a significant role in our ability to appropriately digest and assimilate nutrients, our metabolism and our ability to maintain a healthy weight, and even our mood. It has been said by a number of researchers that nearly 90% of all diseases can be tracked back to the health of the gut and microbiome.


Gut Health Dangers

Female doctor measuring waist of overweight woman with measuring tape in clinic

When your microbiome is weakened, it can activate a number of potential disease processes throughout the entire body. Some of the most common factors affecting your gut health include poor diet such as processed and sugary foods, gut-meddling medications like antibiotics, chronic stress, alcohol overuse, autoimmune conditions, hormone imbalance, and others. An unhealthy gut can involve many different organ systems and symptoms can present in many areas of your health such as autoimmune conditions, mental health disorders, poor immune health, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, skin conditions, weight gain and obesity, acid reflux and GERD, cancer, asthma and chronic sinus infections, constipation and diarrhea.


Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

There's no simple answer as symptoms of an unhealthy gut can vary and can involve many different organ systems including the integumentary system (skin), digestive system (gut), immune system, and many others. Due to the involvement of so many different systems of the body, symptoms can be presented differently from person to person. However, some of the most common symptoms of an unhealthy gut include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pains and heartburn, indigestion, and gas. Additionally, other symptoms include skin disorders, fatigue, mood disorder, weight changes, sugar cravings, and brain fog. Sometimes, problems experienced in the brain such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, can be caused by what's happening in the gut.


What to do When you Notice a Sign

patient speaking with doctor

If you are experiencing some of the most common symptoms of an unhealthy gut or symptoms that are hard to explain involving many different organ systems, it's highly recommended to receive an evaluation by a Functional Medicine Practitioner. From there, they can assist you with treatment options.


Maintaining a Healthy Gut


One of the best ways to maintain a healthy microbiome is through diet. Focus on whole, real foods that are high in antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory in nature, while limiting or completely eliminating foods that promote inflammation is essential.

Naturally anti-inflammatory foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, wild caught fish, pasture-raised meat and poultry, cage free eggs, Omega-3 fatty acids, and key nutrients like B vitamins, healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter), nuts, seeds, beans/legumes, as well as herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, oregano, and cinnamon which are naturally beneficial to the gut.

Further, eating foods that are natural probiotics, which repopulate the gut with "good" bacteria, such as fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir, as well as fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchee. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Dr. Raphael Kellman is an internist and functional medicine physician and founder of the Kellman Wellness Center in New York City.