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Sure Signs Your Intestine Isn't as Strong as it Should Be

Here’s what an unhealthy gut feels like.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

The intestines are a major part of the gastrointestinal tract, or digestive system—so if your intestines aren't healthy, you're definitely going to feel it. "We now know that the GI tract is full of trillions of bacteria that not only help us process food but that also help our bodies maintain homeostasis and overall well-being," says gastroenterologist Tara Menon, MD. Here are five signs your intestines are not strong, 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.

1

Abdominal Pain

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Abdominal pain could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects the large intestine. "Upset stomach is typically more nausea, vomiting and upper abdomen pain, where irritable bowel is more of lower abdomen pain and changes in bowel habits that can include constipation, diarrhea or both," says Sarah Bligh, MD.

2

Mood Issues

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There is a direct link between gut health and mental health, experts say. "It has been amazing to see the correlations between gut health and depression, anxiety, and fatigue," says Diondra Atoyebi, DO. "When patients complain of chronic fatigue or depression, I'll investigate and often find they are eating a lot of processed foods. Food affects how you feel, which manifests in your mood. While mood disorders are not solely regulated by gut health, it is definitely a factor."

3

Bloating and Discomfort

Senior man with stomach pain
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Unexplained bloating could be a sign of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. "A reduction in stomach acid can, in some cases, lead to an overgrowth of colonic bacteria living higher up in the digestive tract than is usual," says Katie Wheaton Dip NT, mBANT CNHC. "This condition is known as SIBO – which stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. SIBO manifests when bacteria from the colon migrate upwards into the small intestine, which interferes with digestion. It results in the fermentation of carbohydrates in the small intestine, leading to an increase in hydrogen (and sometimes methane) gas production. This increase in gas causes upper abdominal bloating, and sometimes other symptoms such as nausea and pain in the upper abdomen (around the stomach)."

4

Sugar Cravings

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Sugar cravings could be a sign of too much "bad" gut bacteria. "What could be the urge behind sugar cravings? Several factors, and many start with the health of your microbiome, which is the ecosystem of bacteria that benefits your gut health and immune system," says Robin Berzin, MD. "Having an unhealthy gut usually means sugar cravings will show up in the form of sweets, bread, fruit, or dairy. Too much sugar consumption contributes to an overgrowth of 'bad' bacteria in the gut, also known as dysbiosis, which also creates an inflammatory environment in the body. When the gut is in a state of balance, the good bacteria thrive, controlling inflammation and bad bacteria overgrowth, and the body is better able to digest and detoxify any foreign poisonous substances to avoid nutritional deficiency."

5

Fatigue

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Fatigue could be a sign of GI issues, doctors say. "Inflammation causes fatigue by creating imbalances in stress hormones," says Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC.  "Sometimes called adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue, the root cause is usually in the gut. Research shows that fatigue is extremely common in patients with IBS, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, leaky gut, and people with gastrointestinal complaints."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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