From upset stomach to gas to acid reflux, digestive issues can manifest themselves in many ways. While these issues may be temporary, if they become chronic, they may be a sign of more severe health problems. By listening to the gut, we can discover a lot about a person’s physical and mental health. Not to mention that doing so makes it possible to pinpoint if the body cannot digest or tolerate certain foods. Read on to learn more about the gut, how your diet affects it, and ways to improve your gut health.
Should I be worried about my gut health?
Good gut health refers to the normal function and balance of bacteria¹ in the digestive tract. Although that may sound common, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, around 70 million² Americans suffer from digestive diseases. Health matters because our digestive system breaks down food, converting it into simple nutrients that can be delivered to the body. Whereas, poor gut health can mean individuals are not getting the nutrients they need and that they may even lack helpful bacteria and immune cells that help fight infection. In the body, this may appear as inflammation in the digestive tract or “leaky gut” syndrome. Some common signs of digestive issues are:
- Abdominal pain
- Loose stools
Symptoms of serious digestive issues include:
- Weight loss without reason
- Blood in stool
- Black stool
- Severe vomiting
- Severe stomach aches
- Severe fever
- Trouble swallowing food
How does my diet affect my gut?
Gastrointestinal problems can be caused by a range of issues, including autoimmune conditions and even sleep disturbances. However, one of the most common causes of GI problems is diet. Diets that are high in processed foods and added sugar can damage the gut microbiota³. As a result, this imbalance can cause further cravings for sugars which will only exacerbate the situation. Furthermore, some research suggests that poor gut health may be a cause of food allergies⁴, intolerances, or sensitivities. Not only does this lead to trouble digesting food, but it can also bring about gas, bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and in extreme cases anaphylactic reactions.
Effective ways to improve gut health
Research suggests there is a link between diet and the immune system, with a recent study⁵ indicating that diets high in fermented foods can increase microbiome diversity and improve immunity. Nonetheless, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir aren’t the only things you can consume to improve health. Prebiotic foods such as asparagus, bananas, and whole grains can also help improve health, by giving microbiota fiber to feed on and multiply. Moreover, there are key lifestyle changes like getting more sleep⁶ and staying active which, according to John Hopkins Medicine, can also improve gut health. Last but certainly not least, stress, whether it is short-lived or prolonged, can disrupt microorganisms⁷ in the intestines. Therefore, a long-term way to ensure you have a healthy gut is to reduce your stress levels alongside maintaining a gut-friendly diet.
- “What Is ‘Gut Health’ and Why Is It Important?” UC Davis Health, UC Regents, 22 July 2019, health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/what-is-gut-health-and-why-is-it-important/2019/07.
- “Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/digestive-diseases.
- Miclotte, L, and T Van de Wiele. “Food Processing, Gut Microbiota and the Globesity Problem.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 Apr. 2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30945554/.
- Immunology, aDivision of. “The Role of the Gut Microbiota in Food Allergy : Current Opinion in Pediatrics.” LWW Journals, Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc., Dec. 2016, journals.lww.com/co-pediatrics/Abstract/2016/12000/The_role_of_the_gut_microbiota_in_food_allergy.14.aspx.
- Wastyk, Hannah C., et al. “Gut-Microbiota-Targeted Diets Modulate Human Immune Status.” Cell, Cell Press, 12 July 2021, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092867421007546.
- “Your Digestive System: 5 Ways to Support Gut Health.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/your-digestive-system-5-ways-to-support-gut-health.
- Leonard, Jayne. “10 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Gut Health.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 28 May 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325293.
Ashuni Pérez is a writer in the culinary, as well as health and wellness industries. With a background in teaching and digital media, she loves to learn and help others discover more about their food, where it comes from, and how best to prepare it. A foodie through and through, she is always searching for new recipes and the freshest ingredients.