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Signs You Have an Unhealthy Gut

Experts Warn to Watch Out for the Following Symptoms 

Our digestive system plays a major role in our overall well being. Its main function "breaks nutrients into small parts for your body to absorb and use for energy, growth and cell repair," according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Without a healthy gastrointestinal tract we will not only experience discomfort, but possibly major health problems. The GI Alliance states that "each year 62 million Americans are diagnosed with a digestive disorder. The incidence and prevalence of most digestive diseases increase with age. Other exceptions include hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic liver disease, which occur more commonly among young and middle-aged adults." Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts about signs you have an unhealthy gut. Read the 10 things to watch out for below. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.



Young woman with a headache holds her temples with her hands.

Dr. Santoshi Billakota, MD says if you have chronic migraines, it could be connected to poor gut health. "About 37 million people in the US suffer from migraines. CGRP (Calcitonin gene-related peptide) is a vasodilator that is implicated in migraines and can also be affected by poor gut health. We see migraines more commonly in patients with IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. Therefore, there seems to be a bidirectional relationship in patients with stomach issues and migraine headaches."




"Gastrointestinal health determines general health, including the integrity of the immune system, of which 70% surrounds the gut. The root of most chronic health problems can be found in the gut," says Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor, and Consultant on the Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. "Starting with the upper part of the GI tract, gastrointestinal reflux (heartburn) is a sign that the gut is unhealthy — or perhaps certain foods are causing the gut to function in an unhealthy way. As we move down the GI tract, some common signs of an unhealthy small intestine are bloating, distension and abdominal discomfort. An unhealthy large intestine is typically reflected by changes in bowel movements, like constipation and diarrhea. Food sensitivities, especially multiple food sensitivities, can also indicate an unhealthy gut."

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Poor Sleep

30-something woman having trouble sleeping

Not getting enough sleep isn't just tiresome, but could be a sign to be weary of. Dr. Billakota says, "Low serotonin levels can also affect your sleep cycle and make sleep less restful. Gut bacteria also both produce and respond to the same neurochemicals—such as GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine and melatonin—that the brain uses to regulate mood, cognition and sleep."


Mood Irritability

Photo of angry bristle man dressed in shirt in a cage print sitting on sofa in home and using laptop computer

Dr. Billakota explains why moodiness could be tied to poor gut health. "Your gut produces the majority of your body's serotonin, which can affect both mood and sleep, therefore poor gut health can lead to poor serotonin production. This can affect your mood and make you more irritable. It can also contribute to anxiety and depressive moods and excessive fatigue."

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Sick woman covered with a blanket lying in bed with high fever and a flu.

We've all experienced extreme tiredness at some point, but Dr. Billakota says it could indicate there's an underlying problem. "Your gut does some heavy lifting in terms of vitamin and nutrient absorption from your food. When your gut is not working well, you can have malabsorption of key vitamins, leading to overall chronic fatigue."


Hair/Nails/Skin Issues

losing hair

Dr. Billakota explains, "Vitamin deficiencies from malabsorption can also be seen in the form of poor skin/hair and nail health as these are rapidly reproducing cells which need these nutrients to replicate and grow."

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Prone to Infections

Unhealthy young woman with stomachache leaning on the bed at home.

"Your gut microbiome plays a big role in your overall immune system," Dr. Billakota says. "Some GI specialists note that a large part of your immune system is in your gut. We often see patients with poor immune systems also suffer from stomach problems. Due to this, patients with poor gut health can be prone to more infections and at times, even more prone to autoimmune conditions."


Abdominal Pain or Discomfort

Middle aged woman suffering from abdominal pain while sitting on bed at home

Sally Stevens, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist RDN, Marketing manager & the Co-founder of says, "your colon surrounds your small intestine which is layered circularly in the center of your abdomen, so discomfort can be high, low, or on the sides of your abdomen because of the location of the colon or more in the center of your abdomen where your small intestine lives. Your ileum and appendix are at the mid lower right side of your abdomen, even to, or just below the level of your iliac crest or pelvic bone. This is where your small intestine becomes your large intestine or colon. Sometimes this area around the cecum can be inflamed and cause mesenteric pain or even appendicitis." 

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Bloating isn't just uncomfortable, but it could be a warning that a bigger problem with our GI tract is happening, says Stevens. 

"Bloating can happen due to extra sugar intake as the "bad bacteria" or Candida live in your colon and survive on sugar, this causes bloating and is probably why many people have large waistlines. The ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria should be at about 80:20 but it's difficult to maintain due to all the hidden sugars in American processed food. Candida may be responsible for sugar cravings as sugar is its food."


Constipation or Diarrhea

upset woman in toilet by diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, piles

Stevens says, "your colon may be releasing too much water or too little water from its walls resulting in one or the other. Lack of enough fiber in your diet or too much sugar and carbs can cause either condition." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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