About 2,500 years ago, an ancient Greek physician named Hippocrates supposedly said, "All disease begins in the gut."1 Apparently, he was not too far off in his postulation. Your microbiome comprises millions of tiny microorganisms helping your body perform some of its essential functions. These microorganisms include approximately 1,000 unique bacteria species living in your gut at any given moment.2
Not all bacteria are harmful. A lot of bacteria are helpful — some even vital. So, how can you tell if your gut microbiome is unhealthy? Here are six things to pay attention to so you can successfully — and holistically — balance your gut bacteria.
1. Too Much Sugar
We all love sugar. But...sugar doesn't love us back. Processed foods are rich in sugar and poor in the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain a healthy gut microbiome.
Over time sugar can break down the lining in your gut, causing toxins to leak into your bloodstream.3 This can lead to inflammation and spikes in other autoimmune disease symptoms.
Should you cut out sugar completely? No. But consider erring on the side of caution. Natural sugars (like the sugars in apples or honey) are better than the refined carbs found in processed foods.
2. A Case of the Gurgles
The gurgles always seem to arrive at the most inconvenient times. Your upset stomach can take time away from work and family. It's literally and figuratively a royal pain — and one of the most painful signs of bad bacteria in the gut. Bloating, gas, heartburn, upset stomach, and occasional constipation are some strong indicators your gut microbiome is off balance.
3. Unintentional Weight Fluctuations
You step on the scale and, oh boy, that's a sudden five pounds. While you might attribute it to a night of heavy snacking or overindulgence, unexpected weight fluctuations (up or down) can be due to an issue with the balance in your gut microbiome. An imbalance could limit your body's ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, store fat, and regulate blood sugar.
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4. Autoimmune Diseases
As research suggests, hard-to-diagnose autoimmune diseases are seemingly linked with the gut.4 Seventy percent of your immune cells originate in your gut, so an unhealthy gut microbiome might change how the immune system functions and drive systemic inflammation. This leads the body to attack itself instead of protecting itself against dangerous invaders, such as harmful bacteria and viruses like it usually does.
5. Food Intolerances
Food intolerance is different from a food allergy, as food intolerances can be acquired over time. As the quality of your gut bacteria worsens, you'll experience trouble tolerating certain foods, for example, tomatoes or lactose. These "trigger" foods can lead to stomach discomfort, as well as nausea and abdominal pain. When you balance your gut microbiome, these intolerances should diminish.
6. Chronic Tiredness & Mood Swings
Feel like a member of the walking dead? Well, it could be because your gut is unhealthy. Poor sleep quality, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances have been linked to leaky gut. Ninety percent of your neurotransmitters, including GABA, Dopamine, and serotonin, are produced in your gut. Serotonin, a hormone regulating many of your body's functions, is a chemical stimulating the parts of your brain controlling waking up and sleeping. As well, serotonin is an important neurotransmitter regulating your moods.5 If you have noticed a change in your mood or sleep patterns, low serotonin levels may be the reason why.
When you improve your gut, you strengthen your serotonin production and distribution. You might then start enjoying more restful nights of sleep and wakefulness during the day.
Don't sit around waiting for someone to magically answer, "How can I improve my gut microbiome?" You can do it! Start today, and your gut will be forever grateful.