There's nothing worse than feeling sick to the stomach because of your stomach day in and day out. But that's how nearly half of Australians feel daily. According to the CSIRO, at least 50% of Australian adults experience unpleasant gut symptoms such as bloating, gas and constipation, and 1 in 7 experience distressing symptoms. This is an alarming statistic.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that certain (if not all) gut conditions can ruin your life and confidence. Especially for a woman. The constant bloating upset stomach and disrupted bathroom schedules will ruin anyone's confidence. When you are constantly bloated, it makes you feel like you’re putting on weight when you’re not, which further ruins your self-esteem.
So, what causes bad gut health?
A bad gut is usually the result of a lack of good bacteria and overrun with lots of bad bacteria. Bad bacteria is what causes all of the aforementioned symptoms.
A diet high in processed sugar and packaged foods, excessive use of antibiotics, very high protein diets and diets full of muscle-building 'protein bars and protein powders', excessive use of artificial sweeteners and a range of lifestyle factors can severely impact your gut health. These include poor sleep quality, high-stress levels, excessive alcohol consumption and prolonged inactivity such as sitting at a desk all day and not exercising after or before work. All these factors can significantly harm your good gut bacteria.
When your gut bacteria is imbalanced, digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or bloating begin to appear.
There are several ways an unhealthy gut may display itself. Here are five of the most common signs:
- A frequently upset stomach. Stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn are all signs of an unhealthy gut. A balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste.
- A high-sugar diet. A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can significantly decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause increased sugar cravings, which can damage your gut still further because you'll eat more sweets more frequently.
- Unintentional or unexplainable weight changes. Gaining or losing weight without making changes to your diet or exercise habits may be a sign of an unhealthy gut. This happened to me, I gained about 7kg without realising it. An imbalanced gut can diminish your body’s capacity to absorb nutrients, store fat and regulate blood sugar. Weight loss may be caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), while weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance or the urge to overeat due to decreased nutrient absorption.
- Sleep disturbances or constant fatigue. An ailing gut may contribute to sleep disturbances such as insomnia or poor sleep, and therefore lead to chronic fatigue (which can be fatal). The bulk of the body’s serotonin, the hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. Therefore, gut damage can severely undermine your ability to sleep well.
- Skin irritations. Skin conditions like eczema and acne may be related to a wounded gut. It is well-known by health professionals that inflammation in the gut caused by a poor diet or food allergies can cause increased “leaking” of certain proteins out into the body, which can, in turn, irritate the skin and cause conditions such as eczema. But that's a whole other article.
Now that we've identified some of the key pointers of a bad gut, let us get to the good news. You can improve your gut health!
The following are some lifestyle changes you can try implementing daily to improve your gut health:
- BREATHE! Try focusing on taking long, slow and deep breaths throughout the day! This activates our digestive systems and reduces our heart rate, thereby reducing stress.
- DRINK PLENTY OF WATER! Water flushes out toxins and helps keep everything moving in your body, including your digestive system. Aim to drink lots of water between meals, not during meals.
- PRIORITISE SLEEP! I mean, really prioritise your sleep. That means no electronic devices 1 hour before bed, getting at least 8 hours of quality sleep and aiming to get up at the same time each day. This can be a real struggle for many.
- REDUCE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION! To an absolute minimum of 1-2 standard drinks a week.
- AVOID REFINED FLOURS, SUGARS, PRESERVATIVES, COLOURING & FLAVOURINGS! That means all foods with more than a few ingredients on the label.
- SWAP EXCESS COFFEE FOR HERBAL TEAS. You may want to drink decaffeinated coffee for a while and give your gut a break.
- FOCUS ON HOW YOU FEEL. NOT WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. This was a big one for me. Instead of excessively focusing on losing or gaining weight, listen to your body and what it's telling you. This may include only eating when you’re hungry, not when its ‘time to eat’ or when others might be eating. Eat mindfully, if you feel like some chocolate, eat some or you’ll crave it later and this could lead to binge eating.
- MOVE YOUR BODY. Find an exercise you enjoy and do it regularly. Aim for one hour per day.
- EAT IN A CALM STATE. (AWAY FROM ANY DISTRACTIONS and UNDER NO STRESS) This means no TV, and not eating when you are under the influence of stress, as this can cause indigestion and further gut irritation.
- EAT WHOLE, REAL FOODS AT EVERY MEAL. This means a lot of colourful vegetables, legumes and complex carbohydrates and proteins. (More on this in a future article).
So, we know what can cause a bad gut and how you can improve your gut health. It's important to remember that the gut needs time to heal. By implementing all these lifestyle changes, you can heal your gut slowly and prevent further bad gut flora from forming.
Note: If you have any concerns, you should consult a doctor or Gastroenterologist. This article is not intended to provide specialty medical advice, and the points in this article may not apply to everyone.
Always seek professional medical advice when in doubt.
Despina Karp is an accredited makeup artist, beautician and lifestyle writer based in Sydney, Australia. She is currently studying Skin Health and Nutrition and is passionate about makeovers and healing skin (and health) conditions from the inside out. Follow her here for all things skin, health and beauty.