Signs Your Gut is Making You Sick, Say Experts
If your gut is unhealthy, it can impact your overall wellbeing in countless ways. "The average human has 100 trillion microbes in the gut, which is 10 times more than the cells in the human body. This collection of bacteria and fungi that inhabit our bodies (weighing in at about three total pounds!) vastly outnumber our own human cells," says Daniel Neides, MD. "Although it has been largely thought that these organisms simply co-exist on our skin and in our gastrointestinal tract, it has become evident that our microbiome is critical to our overall health and survival." Here are five signs your gut is making you sick, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Your Gut Affects Your Mood
Did you know your gut can affect your mental health? "When we consider the connection between the brain and the gut, it's important to know that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut," says Uma Naidoo, MD. "In the relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry we help patients understand how gut health and diet can positively or negatively affect their mood. When someone is prescribed an antidepressant such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), the most common side effects are gut-related, and many people temporarily experience nausea, diarrhea, or gastrointestinal problems. There is anatomical and physiologic two-way communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve. The gut-brain axis offers us a greater understanding of the connection between diet and disease, including depression and anxiety."
There is a wealth of evidence showing how an unhealthy gut can severely impact the immune system. "We have shown how diet affects the immune system through a microbial mediator in the gut, and this is a really striking example of the diet-microbiota-immunity triad at play," says Dennis Kasper, professor of immunology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School. "What this work really does is provide a step-by-step pathway from beginning to end that explains how and why this triad works and how diet ultimately affects the immune system."
If your gut is out of kilter, it could lead to inflammation, experts warn. "Trillions of bacteria that we know reside within our intestinal track… We've known for over a decade now that these bacteria are beneficial to us, the host, and they help metabolize some of the food, like fiber, that we digest," says Gail Cresci, PhD, RD. "These bacteria have the metabolic machinery to digest and ferment these fibers, and in response to that they generate beneficial byproducts that we know are anti-inflammatory and also immune modulatory. That's just one factor. We know that when diet is not optimal—so let's say your diet's not rich in these fibers that the bacteria likes to eat—then if it's high in fat, high in sugar, the bacteria will shift in their composition to a less desirable composition. Then these bacteria take over, and instead of producing those beneficial metabolic byproducts, they produce things that aren't beneficial. That's where the inflammation can start to erupt."
The bacteria in your gut can influence your weight—one study showed that specific metabolites found in blood plasma and stool samples were directly related to obesity. "This means that future studies should focus more on how the composition of gut bacteria can be modified to reduce the risk of obesity and associated metabolic diseases and cardiovascular disease," says Marju Orho-Melander, professor of genetic epidemiology at Lund University in Sweden.
Your gut health can impact your sleep, and poor sleep can in turn impact your gut health. "Lack of sleep can impact your digestive health by increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and gastrointestinal diseases, as well as by influencing the foods you choose to eat," says Fatema Badri, ANutr. "Researchers have even found that poor sleep quality is linked to heart problems. There's an increasing amount of evidence that the makeup of your gut microbiome is linked to how well you sleep."