Whenever I see patients with a combination of irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, allergies, or mood issues, I instantly think there could be a gut imbalance.
Why are our guts broken? Because of antibiotics, low-fiber diets, and unregulated additives in processed foods, for starters. As a result, the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract die off and the "not-so-great" bacteria multiply, predisposing us to weight gain, infection and chronic disease.
Below are 5 signs that you may have a gut bacteria imbalance. (Let's just say I'm only hitting the tip of the iceberg with these. There literally thousands of studies, and hundreds of books detailing this topic much further.)
1. You're depressed or anxious.
The gut is also called the "second brain." Over 80% of the serotonin in our bodies is made in our gut. There are also neurons there that "talk" to the bacteria. The gut is so important to mood, memory, and concentration, that in the future, psychiatrists will have to concentrate on the gut as much as the brain for treatment plans.
2. You've developed food allergies.
The intestines are the major focus of the immune system—this is where 70% of our antibodies that fight foods and other allergens are made. Our gut lining is supposed to protect us from toxins and food allergens, but when the lining is compromised, these toxins enter the blood. (This is also thought to be one reason why gluten allergies and celiac disease have become much more common.)
3. You get chronic bloating and irritable bowel syndrome.
This is the most common way people recognize an intestinal issue. Again, this is our body's response to an imbalance between the beneficial bacteria and the toxic ones. The nervous system of the gut is also thought to be extra sensitive in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
4. You're gaining weight.
Obesity and weight gain are now being thought of as problems of inflammation. This goes again our traditional thinking that "calories in equals calorie out." The theory goes like this: if you're eating sugary, processed foods, the good bacteria in our gut is replaced by toxin-producing, inflammatory bacteria. This is supported by the fact that lowering inflammation in general can mitigate weight gain.
5. You have chronic asthma and seasonal allergies.
Asthma rates are considered to be higher in Western societies such as the United States and Europe. One theory is that this is occurring in part because our modern diet and medical practices are causing a decline in microbial population in our guts. This "hygiene hypothesis" may also explain why children raised in microbially-rich environments—with pets, on farms, or attending day care—are at lower risk of allergic diseases.
OK, now you know the signs, but what to do?
This is currently being researched, and there's still lots to learn in this emerging field.
But what we do know is that a diet with whole, unprocessed foods is essential. Other tips:
- Eat more fermented foods
- Avoid artificial sweeteners (which can kill gut bacteria)
- Avoid MSG and preservatives and additives also helps
Lastly, growing a healthy flora through natural probiotics/prebiotics and fecal transplant have all been shown to "heal" your gut. I would be skeptical about any one supplement that promises a healthy gut.
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