Gut health is not a glamorous topic of conversation, yet gut issues can turn your life into a nightmare. I believe that many of your health begins with your gut. And for many reasons. This complex system of cells and trillions of microorganisms regulates more than digestion. It is responsible for the strength of your immune system, your energy levels, hormonal balance, mental health and even your appearance.
Many tend to underestimate the role of healthy gut and microbiota, but recent studies have provided additional evidence supporting the importance of maintaining a balanced gut microbiome. In particular, research shows that the composition of gut microbiome can influence how well a patient responds to certain cancer treatments and immunotherapies. More diverse and balanced gut microbiome is linked to better outcomes, highlighting the role of a healthy digestive system once again.
Another set of studies have shown the link between gut microbiome and mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression and even neurodegenerative disorders. For example, disbalance in the gut microbiome can be associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Having established the importance of gut health, your next question might be how to detect if your gut has some issues. This is an important question, as without some knowledge and information, it is easy to dismiss the signals your organism is sending your way. Listening to your body and properly reading the signs is the first step to detecting the problem.
So, here are 6 signs your gut needs a reset.
The gut is responsible for breaking down food, extracting essential nutrients and transporting them into the bloodstream. If there are issues within the gut, such as inflammation, dysbiosis or malabsorption, it can hinder the body’s ability to absorb nutrients efficiently. Key nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals are essential for energy production and cellular function.
Other, hard to detect gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or leaky gut syndrome can also lead to chronic fatigue, and disrupted sleep patterns. Often, my patients complain that even after a full night’s sleep, they still wake up tired and unsatisfied. This is often the result of gut problems and can only be addressed by solving the root problem.
2. Skin-gut axis
The skin and gut are intricately connected and emerging research suggests that skin issues could be linked to underlying gut problems. The connection is often referred to as the “skin-gut axis”. So, how could gut issues lead to skin problems? Through several channels. For example, imbalance in the gut microbiome or increased permeability of the gut lining could allow toxins and inflammatory substances to leak into the bloodstream. This is often reflected in the skin, in the form of acne, eczema, or psoriasis.
If the gut has problems absorbing the right nutrients, that can also be detrimental to skin health, affecting its ability to self-repair and regenerate. So, skin-gut connection calls for a holistic approach that underscores the importance of an inside-out approach to skin treatment.
3. Gut-brain axis and Anxiety
Fast paced living with excessive worries and responsibilities, increased exposure to negative news, extended periods of social isolation amidst the pandemic and other factors of modern life have increased anxiety levels globally. In addition to these factors, gut can also be a reason why your anxiety is high.
Microorganisms found in the gut produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which play a role in mood regulation. Also, in case of inflammatory bowel diseases or leaky gut syndrome, your body might experience chronic inflammation. Continued inflammatory signals can be stressful for the brain, increasing anxiety levels. Treating anxiety without addressing the underlying gut issue is a classic example of a band aid solution that fights symptoms, but ignores the cause.
4. Gut-brain axis and mood
Gut-related issues don’t always lead to more serious problems like anxiety and depression. But they can still interfere with our daily lives by affecting our mood. The same neurotransmitters that are produced in the gut and are linked to anxiety (serotonin, dopamine, GABA) play an important role in mood stabilization.
Some of the mood-related symptoms caused by gut problems could include increased irritability and mood swings, decreased motivation and energy levels, brain fog and difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and even social withdrawal.
5. Weak gut, weak bones
Digestive system supplies your entire body with required nutrients. It operates like a take-out restaurant, that processes the food, extracts the essential nutrients, packages it and sends it out to all body parts, including the bones. Bone strength requires an adequate supply of minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, which is often interrupted in case of gut issues (e.g. celiac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, etc.). In addition to these minerals, bone also needs proteins and collagen, which is also derived from the digestive system.
Chronic inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease, can be detrimental for bone health. It causes bone loss and can lead to conditions like osteoporosis. Understanding the underlying causes behind bone-related problems is essential for treating them. Often, these issues stem from the gut!
6. Gut health & heart health
The relationship between gut health and cardiovascular health is an emerging area of research and while the mechanisms are not fully understood, there is evidence suggesting that the gut microbiome can influence factors that impact cardiovascular health.
Chronic inflammation is a recurring theme in this article, causing various other problems across the body. It plays a role in heart health as well. Chronic inflammation can contribute to build up of plaque in the arteries, which is at the core of various cardiovascular diseases. Gut is also involved in production of compounds that affect cholesterol metabolism. Cholesterol levels are one of the essential elements of heart health. Did you know that the gut microbiome can also play a role in blood pressure and contribute to hypertension?
Digestive system is at the center of your body, supporting and nourishing all other ones. Problems that start at the level of the gut often reveal themselves somewhere else, like in the heart, bones, brain, etc. At the Dempster Clinic – Center for Functional Medicine, we are aware of these interconnections and take them into account when treating patients with various symptoms.
Yours in health,
Dr. John Dempster, ND