You probably refer to your "gut" often with terms like gut rot, gut feeling, or gut health, but do you know what your gut actually is? The term "gut" refers to your gastrointestinal tract (or GI tract) as well as the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder (1). The GI tract consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (AKA the colon), and the anus. The organs that make up your gut are readily visible by the human eye, but they house something much smaller: the gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is made up of many trillions of microorganisms, some of which are bacteria. When the balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria gets thrown off, bad bacteria can flourish. This is known as gut dysbiosis, and it negatively impacts your gut health. Your gut microbiome plays a key role in your immune system and your health overall. Your gut microflora even helps regulate your estrogen levels. So it may come as no surprise that gut dysbiosis is closely associated with many disorders and autoimmune diseases. These disorders include "inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, allergies, asthma, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and obesity" (2). Many factors can affect your gut microbiome — including antibiotic use, chronic stress, and your diet. When one or more of these factors harm the beneficial bacteria in your gut, allowing the bad bacteria to take over, the result is microbial dysbiosis (3). Here are nine signs you're suffering from gut dysbiosis.
1. You've Taken Antibiotics Recently
When you have a bacterial infection, taking antibiotics can help to kill the bad bacteria causing the infection. But that's not all they kill. Antibiotics also kill the good bacteria in your gut, giving the bad guys a chance to build up in number. A study by Thorne Research Inc. noted that "antibiotic use is the most common and significant cause of major alterations in normal gastrointestinal tract microbiota" (3). Not all antibiotics impact the human gut equally. The same study states, "antibiotics that are poorly absorbed can cause significant changes in the gut microbiome" (3). Dosage and length of treatment also influence the impact antibiotics will have on your gut bacteria. A stronger antibiotic taken for a longer period of time will have a greater impact on the microflora (3). If you have to take antibiotics, be sure to counter the impact on your gut microbiome by taking a probiotic supplement. Take probiotics during and after antibiotic use.
2. You're Experiencing Chronic Stress
Studies show chronic stress disturbs your microbiome and can contribute to microbial dysbiosis in the gut. In turn, this triggers the immune system and promotes autoimmune conditions, such as colitis (4). This partly explains why stress is such a huge driver for chronic illness, promoting chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions (5). It all starts with your gut microbiome. Psychological stress favors the colonization of bad bacteria in your gut. Norepinephrine, or adrenalin, causes two strains of pathogenic microorganisms to grow: Yersinia enterocolitica and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (3). While stress causes a significant increase in bad bacteria, it also causes a significant decrease in good bacteria, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria (3). If you think you're suffering from gut dysbiosis, eliminating or reducing common stressors may help. Think about what causes you undue stress in your daily life, and how you can avoid that stress altogether. Maybe that means staying off of social media or away from certain friends or family members. Maybe you take up activities that help you cope with stress, such as yoga or meditation. If you’re trying to restore balance to your gut microbiome, reducing undue stress is key.
3. You Feel Constipated, Bloated, or Gassy
Common signs that you have too many bad bacteria in your gut are constipation, bloating, diarrhea, and gas (6). Sometimes gut dysbiosis can be caused by Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). This is when there are more bacteria than normal within the small intestine. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, "These bacteria can produce extra gas and may also cause diarrhea and even weight loss" (7). If you're experiencing frequent constipation or diarrhea along with gassiness, please consult your healthcare provider.
4. You Have Bad Breath
Does your breath smell like rotten eggs? This unpleasant smell can be due to your gut flora. H. Pylori is a bacteria that usually exists within your gut. However, when the balance of the gut microbiome gets thrown off, and H. Pylori increases in number, bad breath can result (8). In fact, according to Dr Steven Lin, a dentist, "H. Pylori is one of the most common causes of bad breath from the digestive system" (8). If you suspect you're suffering from gut dysbiosis, consider restoring your gut health with a gut cleanse.
5. You Have Food Allergies or Sensitivities
It's well known that your microbiome can "modulate your immune response" (9). In this way, gut dysbiosis can contribute to an immune response when you ingest certain foods, leading to food allergies and even asthma (9). Studies show your intestinal microbiota plays a role in oral tolerance. Oral tolerance is what "prevents the immune system from reacting to harmless food antigens." Researchers believe many common food allergies may be associated with gut dysbiosis, including allergies to milk, eggs, and nuts (10). Furthermore, food sensitivities are connected to gut dysbiosis since microbial imbalance can promote chronic inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. Inflammation is a primary driver of chronic disease. Once you have a lot of inflammation throughout your body, you may start noticing other health issues, such as food sensitivities, IBS, arthritis, skin problems, anxiety, depression, autoimmune diseases, and much more.
6. You're Feeling Depressed or Anxious
The microbial community in your gut plays a key role in your mental health (11). The bacterial species you have in your gut can influence whether or not you're likely to experience depression. Chronic inflammation can also drive depression and anxiety (6). A systematic review of gut microbiota and major depression indicated that gut dysbiosis may contribute to depression by promoting inflammation, which may then "contribute to multiple pathways in the CNS implicated in the development of depression" (12). At this time, there is no general consensus about exactly which bacteria are most closely connected to depression (12).
7. Your Joints Are Sore
According to Dr. Josh Axe, "certain bacteria within our digestive tracts contribute to the deterioration of joints and tissue" (13). If you're experiencing joint pain or joint swelling, restoring balance to your gut microbiome may bring you relief. Achy muscles and joints can also be a sign of chronic inflammation. Leaky gut can contribute to chronic inflammation, which can ultimately contribute to a host of chronic illnesses, so you shouldn't ignore this underlying condition (6).
8. You Eat a Standard American Diet
Recent studies show your diet can cause gut dysbiosis (10). This means that the food you eat can support beneficial bacteria or harmful ones. Many foods commonly found in the Standard American Diet, or Western Diet, contribute to gut dysbiosis by supporting harmful bacteria. Over time, eating processed foods and refined sugar feeds the harmful bacteria in your GI tract (14). Foods high in protein and meat have also been shown to alter the gut microbiota to favor bad gut microbes (3). Foods to consider reducing include processed meats, corn, bread, oats, dairy products such as milk, cheese, and cream, as well as foods high in sugar, including maple syrup and even raw cane sugar. These foods may make gut dysbiosis more likely (15). Foods that promote gut health include dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, fish, and fresh meat. Consider adding these foods to your diet or increasing your intake of them (15).
9. You Have a Chronic Degenerative Disease
Gut dysbiosis is closely associated with many disorders and autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, allergies, asthma, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and more (2). Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract correlate with many diseases or disorders related to the central nervous system, such as depression and anxiety. Data now suggest that these CNS-related disorders "may originate in the intestine as a result of microbial dysbiosis" (2). A contemporary new treatment option has arisen for some GI-related diseases: fecal transplants. So far this method looks promising, with "a response rate of 30-50% in inflammatory bowel disease and a cure rate of 85-90% in recurrent Clostridium difficile infection" (16). Fecal transplants are believed to be effective because they rebalance the gut microbiome by changing the gut microflora — increasing the good bacteria while decreasing the harmful ones. However, the GI tract also contains fungi, and this fungi can also be in a fecal transplant. More research is needed to explore the impact fungi have on improving gut dysbiosis (16).
Finding Relief From Gut Dysbiosis
Your gut health plays a vital role in your overall health and wellbeing. When the balance of the gut microbiome gets thrown off, bad bacteria prosper. This can impact your immune system, possibly allowing autoimmune diseases and other disorders to develop. Taking antibiotics and eating the Standard American Diet can increase your risk of gut dysbiosis. Experiencing chronic stress, gastrointestinal upset, bad breath, food allergies or sensitivities, depression or anxiety, sore joints, or chronic degenerative diseases are just some signs you may have gut dysbiosis. As a friendly reminder, we're not doctors and this information does not constitute medical advice. If you think you're suffering from gut dysbiosis, we recommend that you work with a healthcare professional to create an individualized action plan. If you're ready to take control of your health, sign up for our email list and receive exclusive health tips we don't share with the public. You'll be the first to know!