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Signs Your Gut is "Harmful," Say Physicians

Experts explain alarming signs of an unhealthy gut and what to do about it. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

If you have a happy gut, chances are you're feeling great and there's no health issues to be concerned about. But if you have an unhealthy gut, that can affect other areas of your general well-being and cause issues like absorbing essential nutrients, skin irritations, weight loss or weight gain and more. Plus it's uncomfortable. Nobody wants to be bloated, have gas, constipation or diarrhea. Gut health is vital and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share signs your gut is unwell and what to do about it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Does Having An Unhealthy Gut Mean?

gut bacteria microbiome

Jennifer Maeng, MS, RD, CDN, LD, CNSC, registered dietician, author and founder of Chelsea Nutrition explains, "Having a healthy gut means that your gut is able to break down foods you eat, absorb nutrients from them and get rid of anything that is no longer needed in your body. Additionally, your gut should also be producing appropriate hormones from the mucosa lining of the gut to put your body into working order. Your gut is very closely connected to your brain, and skin (known as gut-brain-axis and gut-brain-skin axis) so if your gut is unhealthy, it can take a toll on your body."


How Does An Unhealthy Gut Affect Your Overall Health?

Woman being sick having flu sitting on bed alone at home, having high fever or temperature, touching forehead

Maeng says, "Your gut plays many different roles such as metabolizing and absorbing nutrients and removing toxins out of your body. Your gut lining is responsible for producing over 95% of serotonin which regulates your mood and sleep. Furthermore, an unhealthy gut can lead to poor immune function, depressed mood, weight gain, weight loss and poor sleep quality."


What Causes An Unhealthy Gut?

woman taking a bite of chocolate and enjoying her dessert

According to Maeng, "There are many reasons why your gut is unhealthy. It could be from imbalance of gut bacteria. Each of us have about 300+ different kinds of gut bacteria in our gut that are responsible for maintaining our overall health. And one dose of antibiotics can lead to imbalance of gut bacteria, also known as dysbiosis. There are many other reasons why your gut may be unhealthy such as eating a lot of sugar in your diet, chronically high levels of stress, high alcohol consumption and high fat/protein, low fiber diet."


Troubling Signs of an Unhealthy Gut That Require Immediate

young woman with nausea in all denim outfit sitting on bed
Shutterstock / New Africa

Dr Bryan Curtin of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD emphasizes, "The most concerning signs of an unhealthy gut that should prompt evaluation by a doctor include:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting that doesn't stop
  • Blood in the stool
  • Unexpected weight loss of over 10 pounds
  • These signs could indicate severe problems, including cancer and should be looked at by a doctor as soon as possible."

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Constipation and Diarrhea


Maeng says, "When you are chronically constipated (< 3 bowel movements per week), or having diarrhea ( loose or watery stools > 3 times per day) it can be a sure sign of an unhealthy gut. These symptoms could be due to many different reasons such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Candida, stress or even food sensitivities. If you are having any of these issues, work with a registered dietitian who can help you find the root cause of your GI discomfort and modify your diet."

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High Sugar Diet

eating dessert

Maeng emphasizes, "Eating too much sugar can lead to gut dysbiosis as sugar feeds and allows bad gut bacteria to flourish. Additionally, sugary diets can worsen yeast overgrowth (Candida) in your gut as the main source of fuel for yeast is sugar."

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Chronic Fatigue

Tired young African man using laptop while sitting at the table on a sunny morning.Concept of people working hard home

"One of the main reasons for chronic fatigue is an unhealthy gut," Maeng reveals. "When your gut is unhealthy, your ability to produce serotonin is impacted. As serotonin is responsible for regulating your mood and sleep, the quality of your sleep and mood may be impacted. When it comes to gut health, diet and lifestyle changes should be your number one priority. If you still need help boosting your energy level during the day, check your vitamin D levels. Fatigue and low energy are common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. But the good news is that you can easily correct it with supplementation."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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