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Listen to Your Gut: 10 Gut Health Red Flags & What to Do About Them

Our bodies are constantly communicating with us, if we know how to listen. The systems of human anatomy are sophisticated and intricately linked, and imbalances in one often show up as symptoms in another. When it comes to issues with gut health, this is certainly the case; and, there are a number of warning signs to stay mindful of– some of which may surprise you. 

While experiencing certain issues like stomach upset may seem like an obvious signal of trouble in the gut, other digestive alarm bells can be harder to recognize. If your body is flashing gut health red flags, here’s how you can be sure to catch them.  

Healthy Gut, Healthy Body

Gut health – or digestive wellbeing – impacts whole health. In recent years, groundbreaking research has shone a light on how our digestive systems influence our bodies’ other processes and overall wellness. 

In PREDICT1, a 2021 landmark study, researchers identified strong links between the gut microbiome (its bacterial ecosystem), diet, and related risks for potential diseases and conditions. The study uncovered certain biomarkers in the gut related to conditions like obesity and cardiovascular disease, suggesting that, “...we may be able to modify our gut microbiome to optimize our health.”  

Other studies have found links between gut health and myriad other conditions, from diabetes and autoimmune diseases to mental health, brain function, skin health, and fertility

With such far reaching implications, keeping our gut health in check could be of critical importance. 

Gut Health Red Flags

So how do you know if your gut is trying to tell you something? When gut health falls out of balance, here are key signs to look for:

1. Low Energy & Mood 

Feeling fatigued, or a little blue? Most of our body’s natural mood booster, serotonin, is produced in the gut. When the gut is inflamed or healthy gut bacteria are out of balance, our serotonin levels can be impacted, leading to troubled sleep, low energy, and low mood. 

If you’re experiencing unexplained fatigue or feeling a bit irritable, your gut could be trying to get your attention.

2. Headaches & Migraines

Gut health could be to blame for the pain of migraines and chronic headaches. When an excess of certain nitrate-producing bacteria are present in the gut, they can trigger the unmistakable agony of migraines or frequent headaches. 

If headaches are stopping you in your tracks more often than usual, some gut balancing diet and lifestyle shifts may be in order. 

3. Poor Digestion

When our gut microbiome is unbalanced, bacteria is unable to properly break down food. This can impede our ability to absorb nutrients and may lead to intolerances of certain foods, like gluten or dairy. Less than optimal food digestion can cause troublesome symptoms like uncomfortable gas, bloating, heartburn, and acid reflux, and may also affect regularity, causing issues with elimination such as constipation or diarrhea. 

Ongoing discomfort like daily heartburn might mean your digestive health is in need of review. 

4. Low Immunity

According to UCLA Health, “Seventy percent of the immune system is located in the gut.” Our gut bacteria and our immune defense is directly linked, meaning that imbalances in the microbiome could be behind frequent illness and infection, and in some cases, autoimmune disorders like celiac disease and multiple sclerosis

Suddenly falling ill with every common cold? Check in on your gut health and get back to feeling your best.

5. Cravings

If you’ve been experiencing persistent cravings, they could be your gut’s way of crying out for help. Each of our gut bacteria – or microbiota – require specific nutrients to grow and thrive. The gut microbiome can impact the food choices we make by signaling the brain to reach for treats containing specific nutrients. Cravings could be calling out a deficiency in nutrients that gut flora need to maintain a healthy environment. This also means that balancing gut health may help cravings subside. 

If you can’t stop reaching for sugary snacks, it might be time for a gut check.

6. Chronic Bad Breath

If you’re struggling with unpleasant breath odor that you can’t seem to get under control, it could be time to look at balancing your gut. While bad breath can stem from other things, like poor dental hygiene, poor gut health – and even certain gastrointestinal conditions – could be at play. 

If the dentist hasn’t been able to solve your bad breath woes, an unhealthy gut could be the problem.

7. Unintentional Weight Changes

According to Forbes, “[T]he gut microbiome can play a role in weight gain and weight loss. So, if you’re eating normally but seem to be slowly gaining—or losing—weight, poor gut health and lack of diversity in your microbiome may be to blame.” However, unintentional changes in weight can also point to more serious health concerns, so be sure to check in with your doctor. 

Unexpected or unwanted changes to the number on the scale might signal a digestive disturbance.

8. Skin Issues

The close link between the health of the gut and our skin, referred to as the Gut-Skin Axis, can be responsible for a host of symptoms from breakouts to signs of aging. Gut health is closely tied to immunity, which impacts the health of every organ, and the skin is no exception. An unhealthy gut environment can create vulnerabilities in skin’s natural defenses, leaving complexions vulnerable to infection, inflammation, and potential skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. Other ways gut imbalances may show up in skin health include dryness, sensitivity, and a breakdown of skin’s collagen resulting in thinning and sagging. 

Frequent breakouts or a lackluster complexion might be trying to tell you your gut microbiome could use a little help.  

9. Hormonal Imbalances

Research shows that another way subpar gut health presents itself is through imbalances in our hormones. In particular, troubles in the gut can lead to disruptions in estrogen production, and have been linked to diseases like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and even infertility. 

If you’re experiencing signs of hormonal concern, like irregular menstrual cycles or worsening PMS, it may be time to take your gut health into consideration. 

10. Brain Fog 

Gut and brain health have been shown to be closely connected, and brain fog could be a sign that your gut needs attention. In fact, the gut contains a network of neurons, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), so vast that it has been referred to as the “second brain” by scientists. Through this neural web, the gut and brain are in constant communication. Studies suggest that imbalances in the gut can impact brain function, causing symptoms like emotional shifts and brain fog, by disrupting optimal levels of neurotransmitters impacted by digestion. 

If cognitive clarity seems to be eluding you, it could be time for your gut health to take center stage.  

Get Your Gut Health Back on Track

If you think your gut may be in trouble, taking action by making a few small changes could be the key to improving your gut health and better supporting your whole body. 

Balance your microbiome. Increase the presence of healthy bacteria in your gut with probiotics, beneficial live bacteria that work to establish and maintain a balanced gut microbiome. Adding probiotic-rich fermented foods or incorporating a probiotic supplement into your wellness regimen can go a long way towards supporting and improving gut health, as well as related skin conditions. Because antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria while they’re in your system, probiotics can be especially helpful to rebalancing gut health following a course of antibiotic drugs. 

Try opting for a yogurt at breakfast or adding pickles to your sandwich for a fermented food boost to your gut health. Or, research balancing probiotic supplements to help you get back on track. 

Get stress under control. Stress can cause major disturbances to digestive peace, triggering inflammation and leading to discomfort, GI distress, and decreased nutrient absorption. This is thought to be a result of the gut-brain connection; and because the two are so significantly linked, digestive upset can also be a source of stress. Minimizing or better managing the stressors in your life can play a crucial role in interrupting this brain-gut stress cycle. 

Carve out some time in your day to connect with loved ones, put down the phone, and close your laptop. Strong social connections have been shown to drastically improve our ability to cope with stress, while excessive screen time has been linked to increased stress, depression, and anxiety. 

Eat a gut healthy diet. A balanced, fiber-rich diet is essential to healing and maintaining the gut. Be sure to opt for high fiber foods like fruits and vegetables. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “These foods provide the fiber needed to build good bacteria and guard gut health.” It is also recommended to choose whole foods over processed foods, as processed foods may contain unhealthy sugars and fats that can disrupt the gut microbiome, and often lose most of their balancing nutritional value during processing. 

Eliminating certain foods like dairy and gluten may also help to heal the gut, as they are the frequent culprits behind signs of intolerance such as stomach pain and nausea. Cutting sugar, alcohol, and even meat have also shown to be helpful in the quest for gut health.

Stock up on fresh produce and whole grains, which contain prebiotics– a type of fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut. They can also serve as a beneficial counterpart to probiotics in healing an imbalanced gut by making the digestive aid of probiotics more effective. 

If salads aren’t your thing, try a tasty fruit, veggie, and yogurt smoothie. For an added boost, you can even blend in skin-supporting nutrients to help turn the tables on any skin troubles poor gut health may have caused, like premature signs of aging. 

Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water isn’t just important for quenching thirst and hydrating skin and other vital organs, it’s also a key element in proper digestion. According to the Mayo Clinic, proper hydration helps to break down the food we eat in order to promote better nutrient absorption and supports more regular elimination. 

Aim for about ​​15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of hydrating fluids a day for men, and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day for women. Stash a refillable water bottle in your bag or at your desk, and be sure to keep it full throughout the day. 

Keep it moving. Regular exercise can be a crucial element in aiding healthy digestion. Physical activity strengthens not only our visible muscles, but our digestive muscles as well, boosting the body’s ability to eliminate waste. This means not only more regularity and lessened constipation, but more complete removal of harmful waste from the gut, preventing leftover toxins from causing trouble for the gut microbiome. 

Try adding an extra 20 minute walk into your day. Walking has been widely praised for its benefits for not only digestive health, but stress management and improved sleep as well. 

Sleep on it. The Gut-Brain connection strikes again: Poor sleep can lead to poor gut health, and poor gut health can impact the quality of our sleep. According to, “Anything that negatively impacts sleep would negatively impact gut health since the communication between the gut and brain is bidirectional.” A lack of sleep has also been shown to lead us toward less nutritional food choices, which can then negatively impact the gut microbiome. 

Luckily, you’re already familiar with the tips pros recommend for correcting the gut-sleep conundrum: managing stress, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of exercise. 

Start by establishing a solid sleep routine. Set a bedtime and wake up time, and stick to them daily to help your body establish a consistent sleep rhythm. 

And finally: 

Call your doctor. If you’re noticing any of the above red flags, consider checking in with your physician to rule out the possibility of serious conditions. 

Learning to recognize and interpret our bodies’ warning signs is key to complete health, but we have to know what to look out for. And just as each of our bodies is unique, there may not be a one size fits all approach to optimal gut health. 

But by getting ahead of any potential gut health risks with proper nutrition and lifestyle choices, and being mindful of the signs of an unsteady gut microbiome, we can do our best to create a bodily ecosystem we thrive in. 

Listen to your gut; it is the second brain, after all. 

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