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It’s simple: good health starts in the gut. Hippocrates even recognized this foundational truth back in the fifth century. A gut microbiome that is out of balance creates a domino effect, eventually leading to additional imbalances elsewhere in the body. I don’t know about you, but this is a consequence I want to avoid at all cost. So, to support a healthy gut, it’s imperative to adopt a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits.
Did you know that we have an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms (microbes) residing in our gut? That alone should tell us it is worth focusing on! In a healthy gut, these microbes are diverse and mostly beneficial (good bacteria). Sometimes though, these microbes can be yeast and viruses (bad bacteria). The good gut bugs provide numerous health benefits to us, where an overgrowth of the bad gut bugs and pathogens can make us feel sick and create many imbalances over time. This ecosystem is known as our microbiome, and unfortunately when our microbiome is out of whack, imbalances and problems will arise. Most of us lack good diversity or have too many pathogens without enough beneficial microbes. This imbalance is known as dysbiosis.
Given the undeniable importance of a healthy gut, how do you know if your gut microbiome is imbalanced? There are many sure-fire signs and symptoms to look out for. Since an imbalanced gut results in an unhealthy body, symptoms can range from your head to your toes, including, but not limited to:
In addition, suffering from the following conditions can mean your gut bacteria may be out of balance:
With a slew of possible symptoms, your best bet is to take inventory of your lifestyle and diet. If you aren’t sure if your microbiome is out of whack, be sure to start here for the 7 signs and causes of a compromised gut. Then visit this article afterwards so you know what habits to avoid so you can start seeing improvements in your health.
Let’s dive into common habits that harm your gut health and how to restore an unhealthy gut. These are the most common (and often, daily) habits that I see to negatively impact the gut microbiome. By making lifestyle and dietary changes, you can eliminate or prevent these habits all together. As a result, you can expect a happy and healthy gut!
Stress is the antithesis of health. Stress is unavoidable but chronic stress that is ongoing for a long period of time can feed harmful microbes leading to dysbiosis (typically in the form of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Trauma can also lead to dysbiosis, even in the short term. This can be due to a car accident, move, break up, etc. Sometimes dysbiosis follows a good trauma, such as pregnancy and childbirth. Whenever the body goes through a sudden change, you are more likely to develop dysbiosis.
Additionally, stress robs the body (physically, mentally, and emotionally) of being well. When chronically stressed, your gut suffers. Junctions in the gut lining, which should be tight and sealed, loosen with stress, resulting in gut permeability. Managing stress should always be one of the first places to start in the gut healing journey.
Antibiotics, although necessary for some illnesses, were created to strip the gut of all bacteria, good and bad. During and after a course of antibiotics, the gut is left vulnerable to pathogenic bacteria. This is why diarrhea is a common side effect of antibiotics. That being said, the long-term effects of antibiotics are often worse than diarrhea alone.
Overuse of antibiotics kills the beneficial bacteria in the same way they kill the bad bacteria. Wiping out all the good microbes can drastically alter the microbiome, even after only a few days of antibiotics. While the gut can fully recover on its own after a single use once in a blue moon, antibiotics are usually overused and prescribed too frequently when they are not always necessary. Studies show that children and adults using antibiotics frequently or long-term will most likely develop dysbiosis.
Foods that are grown or produced using pesticides, chemicals, and glyphosate are essentially toxic to the body. These GMO products lack essential nutrients and are filled with toxic, man-made chemicals. The heightened reliance on these man-made chemicals in GMO agriculture leads to an elevated presence of pesticide residue on crops, potentially subjecting consumers to these chemical substances. Even worse, the cultivation of GMOs has been associated with the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds and pesticide-resistant pests. In other words, the tolerance of the chemicals used in these processes is ever increasing, which often demands the use of more potent toxic chemical agents. This escalation in chemical usage not only amplifies environmental concerns but also poses potential risks to human health. That’s a big “no, thank you!” for me! This is why I recommend opting for organic fruits and veggies as often as possible.
We all know sugar is bad for health. Not only is it nutritionally empty, but it also feeds pathogenic bacteria, including a common yeast by the name of “Candida Albacians.” This yeast feeds off sugars, including refined cane sugar, simple carbohydrates, alcohol, and processed food products. Candida overgrowth can damage the intestinal lining, leading to increased intestinal permeability, often referred to as “leaky gut.” In a leaky gut scenario, the intestinal barrier becomes compromised, allowing undigested food particles, toxins, and pathogens to pass through into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response and inflammation throughout the body, potentially contributing to a wide range of health issues beyond digestive discomfort. This is why it’s crucial to limit the intake of refined sugars and prioritize a balanced, whole-foods-based diet
Artificial sweeteners, which are also called sugar substitutes or non-nutritive sweeteners, are chemicals used to make foods and drinks taste sweet without adding the calories found in regular sugar. These sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, so you only need a small amount to make things taste sweet. Look for ingredients like aspartame (found in Equal sugar, NutraSweet, and often diet sodas), sucralose (found in Splenda), or saccharin (found in Sweet’N Low). Even some of the “healthy” sweeteners, like erythritol or xylitol, are dangerous for consumption.
As it pertains to our health, artificial sweeteners have actually been shown to change the gut microbiome. Despite their initial attempt to decrease chronic illness, these fake sugars are associated with encouraging obesity and metabolic disease. For this reason, it is becoming increasingly more important to take a glance at the labels before consuming these sweeteners, and try to opt for healthier alternatives such as these natural sugars that support a healthy gut.
Over the last several decades, “the pill” has been showcased as a “magic pill” for women. Despite its reputation, the birth control pill is far from the end-all-be-all. Birth control pills can have a detrimental effect on gut health due to their synthetic estrogen and progesterone content. These synthetic hormones can disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance, which is integral to various bodily functions, including your gut health. Hormonal imbalances can lead to alterations in the gut microbiome, potentially causing digestive problems such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. The bottom line is that, all hormonal contraceptives deplete the body of some essential nutrients and increase gut permeability.
As oxygen is necessary to live, so is sleep necessary to thrive. And by “thrive,” I mean to live a healthy life. During sleep, your body restores, repairs, heals, and re-energizes. Without sleep, gut health will take a dive, as it won’t be able to properly digest, absorb, and distribute essential nutrients. Sleep deprivation disrupts appetite-regulating hormones, weakens the intestinal barrier, and disrupts the gut microbiome, leading to digestive problems and inflammation. In essence, a good night’s sleep is a vital pillar supporting not just your physical and mental health but also the intricate balance of your gut microbiome and digestive processes.
NSAIDS, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are often used for aches and pains, fevers, swelling, headaches, and more. It’s hard to deny the commonality of NSAIDS in America, today.
Check out these compelling stats released by the National Library of Medicine. “Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are used more frequently, with 84% of Americans taking OTC medications to treat colds, influenza, coughs or sinus problems, 82% for pain, 77% for gastrointestinal upset, and 75% for allergies. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among the most widely used medications. It was recently estimated that 19.0% of U.S. adults (43.6 million) ingested aspirin at least three times a week on a chronic basis, while an estimated 12.8% (29.4 million) took NSAIDs at least three times a week for at least 3 months”
With numbers this high of liberal consumption, it should be no surprise that the negative consequences of these over-the-counter drugs are largely withheld. While the dangers might not be imminent, they can cause lasting negative health effects, starting in the gut. In fact, the National Library of Medicine did a recent study which reflected clear correlations to bleeding, inflammation, the formation of ulcers in the stomach and/or small intestine. Long term use of these seemingly harmless drugs can commonly lead to things like cardiovascular disease or strokes. (In addition to NSAIDS, antacids, laxatives, and other common OTC drugs are known to negatively affect the gut microbiome.)
We are surrounded by toxins. They are literally everywhere–in our food, soil, water, environment, home, cosmetics, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and so on. (This topic deserves an article of its own!) Toxins can directly alter the composition and diversity of a good, healthy gut microbiome. These toxins can reduce the presence of beneficial bacteria while allowing harmful ones to proliferate. These toxins can trigger an inflammatory response in the gut. Chronic inflammation can damage the gut lining, making it more permeable and allowing toxins and harmful substances to enter the bloodstream (ie. leaky gut). Finally, some toxins can even interfere with the absorption of the essential nutrients needed for gut health. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can, in turn, affect overall health and proper gut function.
To start reducing your toxic load, I recommend taking these 4 simple steps to creating a non-toxic home!
Depending on how long your gut bacteria has been altered, it is likely some level of leaky gut (or intestinal permeability) is present. Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the gut is compromised leading to more food sensitivities, gut infections (since they can easily pass through the gut barrier), nutrient deficiencies, dysfunctions in the blood brain barrier, and inflammation. When you develop more food sensitivities and get infections overtime, your immune system will be in a constant state of inflammatory response. Imagine eating healthy foods every day that your immune system is reacting to? It just creates a vicious cycle.
Inflammation is your immune system response to any threat, infection, or injury. If there are foreign invaders (like bad gut microbes for too long), your immune system uses inflammation to attack it. So when chronic inflammation becomes widespread for a long time it starts to affect other organs throughout the whole body, not just the digestive tract. This is why the quality of your microbes, the integrity of the gut lining, and how much inflammation is percent is all interrelated.
It’s kind of like the chicken or the egg. Regardless of what came first, we get the end result of scrambled eggs. They are all a cause and effect of each other. See the trend? Regardless of which one you have first, you end up having all three. It is a never-ending cycle and often what keeps individuals on a never-ending frustrating hamster wheel.
This same leaky gut eventually causes chronic immune reactions, where the immune system attacks its own cells, leading to autoimmunity. Hence why it is so essential to heal the gut the right way in order to reverse an autoimmune condition.
The good news is you can improve the state of the gut microbiome. If you find yourself reaching for Advil daily or masking emotional stress with candy, there is hope. You can change your lifestyle and dietary habits to promote a healthy gut!
If you don’t know my story, I got into the functional medicine space after I found out about my Celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions. Luckily doctors recognized the importance of food and eliminating gluten but I was told that was it and I would be fine. They sent me back into the world with no other recommendations. The problem was that I didn’t get better after just eliminating the inflammatory gluten from my diet. It solved some of my problems, but I was developing even more autoimmune conditions and feeling defeated.
The reason for that was because gluten wasn’t the end of my story! In fact, it was the imbalance of gut bacteria that caused the Celiac in the first place. Going gluten free wasn’t going to fix that! I needed to replace the bad gut bacteria with the good. I had to remove and replace other key components first before mending all the damage to the gut lining in order for my body to truly heal.
And once I did just that, everything changed! My autoimmune conditions and the symptoms that accompanied them suddenly vanished. Yup, you heard that correctly. They are always in my medical chart but on paper, but it looks as if they aren’t even there. This is possible when you get to the root cause of the dysbiosis and gut imbalances first. You can read more about my story here.
When we are exposed to toxins overtime, the liver works hard to process and recycle them. This can lead to sluggish liver function which takes a toll on the microbiome. For this reason, I suggest a gentle, but effective reset where you reboot your liver at the change of every season. The combination of healing herbs and a digestive rest diet off common food triggers can support not only your liver but help quickly rebalance gut bacteria as well.
A diet to support gut bacteria includes a variety of specific foods and nutrients that are proven to support gut health. By using a food first approach, a gut-friendly diet can help support those who experience a variety of gut issues to improve their gut. In combination with healthy lifestyle habits, eating gut healthy foods is always what I recommend first to start seeing significant wins in your overall health!
I suggest starting with a quality anti-inflammatory diet that incorporates plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, and superfoods. In addition, choosing quality proteins such as pasture-raised eggs and chicken, grass fed and finished beef, and wild caught seafood such as salmon and sardines that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Swapping seed oils for animal fats such as grass fed butter, ghee, tallow, and duck fat is also beneficial for gut bacteria.
First and foremost, you need to test to identify any gut infections and remove any unhealthy bacteria in your gut. Working with a healthcare professional is the best way to do so and personalize your path to healing. I encourage you to look for a functional practitioner (like myself) who will utilize natural herbs, botanicals, and nutrients to remove these pathogenic organisms.
Probiotics are living organisms in your gut that promote a healthy bacterial balance. On the other hand, prebiotics feed probiotics. Incorporating a balanced dose of both probiotics and prebiotics is necessary for a healthy gut. Look for high quality, soil-based products to reap all the benefits.
I highly recommend this read here to learn more about including prebiotics into your routine. To learn more about probiotics, click here for a detailed list!
As with all health challenges, healing the gut is highly individualized. As a functional practitioner, I always recommend a series of tests to determine the cause of your specific gut imbalance. This way, we can work together to address the root cause, instead of simply masking symptoms. Read more about how we can work together to heal your gut, here.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits is a non-negotiable for gut health. To start, prioritize an anti-inflammatory diet. Meaning, remove all sugars, alcohol, trans fats, and processed foods. Eat natural foods in their whole form as much as possible. Equally as important to diet is stress management. Learn effective stress management techniques to control emotional and mental stress. Also, determine the best exercise routine for you to prevent over-exercising (another form of stress).
As you can see, the influence that gut bacteria has is enormous. Whether you suffer from chronic fatigue, skin problems, sugar cravings, or all of the above, I encourage you to take a long, hard look at what’s going on inside your gut. This is where the root cause originates and is the solution to most health problems. This is why I stress that if you want to fix your health you must start with your gut!
If you’re struggling to get to the bottom of lingering, chronic health issues and you’re not sure where to start, I would love to walk alongside you in your healing journey. Visit my services page to learn more about how my team and I can help you balance your gut bacteria! There’s no denying the connection between your gut and the rest of your body.
Needless to say, a healthy, well-balanced gut microbiome is necessary for optimal health, which is why I encourage you to take inventory of your body. Where can you make fundamental changes to your lifestyle and diet to promote a healthy gut?
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
If you are ready to stop wasting precious time, get off the never-ending hamster wheel, and finally surrender trying to figure things out on your own—this is your moment.
You don’t have to settle for just getting by and hoping tomorrow is a better day. We both know you are a woman who deserves better and are made for so. much. more.