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What an Unhealthy Gut Feels Like, According to Experts

Here are the warning signs.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Most of us don't realize what an unhealthy gut feels like and unless you have IBS, SIBO or Crohn's Disease, chances are you're not paying attention to your gut health, which is a mistake according to experts. "Our gut has influence over many of the major functions of the body.  In particular it is essential in the immune function of the body. Sarah Anderson, a cardiology and functional medicine nurse practitioner with Peak Integrative Wellness tells Eat This, Not That! Health. An unhealthy gut doesn't just mean tummy troubles, it can also cause depression, fatigue, skin irritations and affect our overall well-being. ETNT Health! spoke with experts who explain what an unhealthy gut feels like and signs you have one. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Does it Mean to Have an Unhealthy Gut?

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Dr. Emil Hodzovic, a gut health expert shares, "To have an unhealthy gut means to have a digestive system that is not able to process food properly, which leads to digestive issues such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain. The immune system can become weak because there isn't enough bacteria in the gut, which can cause chronic pain, fatigue, diarrhea, or constipation."

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2

How the Gut and Brain Are Connected

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Dr. Hodzovic explains, "The gut and brain have much more of a connection then you would think. They are connected through millions of nerves and the gut and its microbes control inflammation that can affect brain health. For example, for someone who suffers from anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders, their brain can cause imbalances and dysfunction to their gut. Keeping your brain and gut healthy are important since they're so closely connected." 

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3

How an Unhealthy Gut Affects Your Overall Health

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Dr. Hodzovic states, "Beyond the simple importance of the gut itself for extracting the vital nutrition required for us to live and function, the gut is also a key part of our immune system, blocking the entry of harmful substances into the body keeping us from getting sick. More recently we have also started to uncover a direct connection between the gut and our brains which can affect our mood, sleep and possibly much more. Your gut health can help maintain and keep other important parts healthy and going accordingly, so it is extremely important to do everything you can do to keep this area of your body healthy." 

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4

What Causes an Unhealthy Gut?

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According to Dr. Hodzovic, "The worst thing we can do to our gut health is to not recognize the signs of an unhealthy gut and not take the steps to improve our gut and overall health. An unhealthy gut can be caused by a wide range of issues including a diet in high or processed foods, stress, antibiotics, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, environment, not eating enough fibers, food with gluten, not exercising regularly, or chronic medical and chronic medical conditions."

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5

​​What an Unhealthy Gut Feels Like

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Dr. Hodzovic states, "Some of those signs of an unhealthy gut can be an upset stomach, bloating, gas, unintentional weight changes, constant fatigue and trouble sleeping, food intolerances, skin irritations, mood issues, increased sugar cravings due to a high-sugar diet and more. Having an unhealthy gut can make people feel uncomfortable and tiring." 

Anderson adds, "Symptoms of an unhealthy gut are often symptoms of GI distress – gas, bloating, constipation, bad breath (halitosis), acid reflux, diarrhea, nausea, but they can also be more general symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, cravings, mood disturbances, acne, and aching joints. People often feel frustrated when they have an unhealthy gut.  They may be trying to lose weight, and are having difficulty losing weight. They may struggle with mental health disorders and the medications prescribed don't work. They may struggle with recurrent UTI or vaginal yeast infections. They feel bad after eating certain foods or struggle with severe food cravings, particularly sugar and high carb foods."  

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6

How an Unhealthy Gut Affects Daily Life

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"Many underestimate the importance of gut health and think it is only related to symptoms of bloating or gas, however there is a lot more to it than that," Dr. Hodzovic emphasizes. "Your gut health can also impact how your immune system works, how well you sleep at night, your skin health, changes in weight, and many other functions. One of the most underrated things we can do to improve gut health is get a good night's rest each night, while working on controlling stress levels. Sleep and stress go together because a lack of sleep can increase stress and high stress can impact sleep – both of which affect the gut. While the gut-sleep relationship is complicated, they are closely connected, in particular, healthy gut bacteria are linked to better sleep." 

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7

How to Help Have a Healthy Gut

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Dr. Hodzovic suggests doing the following:

  • "Things that are bad for your overall health are bad for your gut. Cut back on items such as added sugars, trans fats, heavily processed red meat, and alcohol. As always, moderation is important.  
  • Consistency is key. Form health habits and daily routines to support a healthy gut. These could include getting out of the habit of snacking, especially late at night, and sleeping a full eight hours each night.  
  • Utilize supplements or replace with gut-healthy items such as probiotic foods (sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi), prebiotic foods (raw veggies, leafy greens, raw onions, leeks, and artichokes) and healthy fats (vitamins D, E and K, found in coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and avocados).  
  • Try to eat slowly. Eating slowly improves digestion by giving your stomach more time to break down food which improves your overall gut health. It also reduces the chances of overeating.
  • Introduce gut health supplements packed with healthy prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics to give your gut the support it needs." 

RELATED: How an "Unhealthy" Gut Impacts Your Health, According to Experts

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
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