10 Signs Your Gut Needs A Makeover: A Nutritional Therapist Explains

Photo: Guille Faingold / Stocksy

A healthy and balanced microbiome—the trillions of bacteria in our gut—can help make us slim, happy, sleep well, and even have a strong immune system. When the species of bacteria that live in our gut are varied mostly "good," we feel great, but when the opposite is true, it can manifest in a number of ways. The good news is that we can revamp a deranged microbiome by following a gut-friendly diet in as little as a few days, as I've seen in my practice. A massive variety of vegetables, some fruit full of fiber, and extra-virgin olive oil with polyphenols can feed the good bacteria. Adding in some fermented foods such as sauerkraut or fermented milk kefir will help foster useful bacteria, too. Here are a few signs it may be time for a gut makeover.

1. You are overweight and have trouble losing weight.

Ever wondered why the old "calories in, calories out" theory works for many people in the short term but not the long term? We now know that the makeup of the bacteria in your gut can influence caloric extraction from food eaten. Say two people are eating the same meal, the person with the healthy microbiome may extract fewer calories from the meal than the person with the unbalanced microbiome.

The microbiome has also been shown to be involved in signaling to, and balancing our hormones, including those that control hunger and satiety. For a healthy microbiome and to feel less hungry, focus on what you are feeding your microbes, and the timing of them, rather than calorie counting the food you are consuming.

2. You are prediabetic or have developed type 2 diabetes.

Good news! Even if you're prediabetic, you can help symptoms by helping your gut. Manipulate the composition of your microbiome by eating gut-friendly foods and avoiding diet drinks containing artificial sweeteners that can disrupt gut bacteria may help prevent this disease or improve your insulin control.

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3. You have chronic acne and just can't "grow out of it."

I see clients who have suffered from severe facial acne for many years. Most have also had years of intermittent antibiotics to help clear up their acne. Many tell me that while "on" the antibiotics the acne subsided, but each time they came "off" a course of antibiotics, they suffered a rebound outbreak, often worse than before treatment. We now know that the health of our gut bacteria is likely involved in acne (and many other skin conditions). Antibiotics kill lots of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which long term is needed for good skin health. Our skin is likely mediated by our gut microbes, so feeding them the right stuff may be crucial to its health.

4. You feel really irritable and low—and life is actually OK at the moment.

The vagus nerve connects the gut and the brain. We've known for a long time that signals pass from the brain down the vagus to the gut (hence you feel butterflies in the abdomen when nervous). It has now been established that the signals pass the other way, too, and our microbiome can influence mood.

5. You suffer from chronic bloating.

Particular strains of pathogenic bacteria could be getting the upper hand in your gut—leading to gas, wind, and bloating.

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6. You have chronic constipation or urgent loose stools or alternate between both.

This means your microbiome may be out of balance and needs gut-friendly foods rather than the usual Western diet, known for its monotony of white color and little range of plant colors and fermented foods.

7. Your joints ache.

Our microbiome cross references with our immune system, which lines up to 80 percent of the digestive tract. A deranged microbiome can lead to an increase in inflammation in the body and even lead to autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.

8. You suffer regular asthma attacks.

Eating more vegetables containing fiber each day to feed the good bacteria in your gut might help reduce the inflammatory response in airways.

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9. You don't sleep well.

Our internal clock, "the circadian rhythm" needs to be in a regular pattern for us to sleep well. If we graze all day long, rather than having a microbiome-friendly diet with set, regular meal times, the composition of the microbiome can become out of balance, which can have a detrimental impact on our internal clock and sleep.

10. Your memory isn't working as well as it used to.

Dr. Dale Bredesen of the Buck Institute in California has been using gut-friendly diets as part of his protocol to reverse early onset Alzheimer's. Many chronic neurological diseases are linked to inflammation, which can be helped by balancing gut bacteria.

This isn't an exhaustive list by any means: A leaky gut can manifest in a number of ways, but these are the most common I see in my practice. Thankfully, a large part of treating leaky gut is through diet and lifestyle changes. To learn more about how to ease your gut issues, check out my book, The Gut Makeover.

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