The “Signal in the Noise” - How to Know if Your Gut Microbiome is Off-Kilter
Our health depends in part on the state of our gut microbiome, or the flora comprising our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Specifically, for our body to function at its best, we need our gut to host a balanced environment consisting of various beneficial bacteria and minimize potentially harmful bacteria. Too few “good” bacteria, too many potentially harmful bacteria, or too little microbiome diversity can all cause problems.
When we experience stress, illness, or aging; have subpar lifestyle habits; or take antibiotics, we can throw our composition of bacteria out of balance.1 The result can be troubling symptoms and even more concerning health challenges. To find out more about subpar gut health plus possible solutions, read on.
Possible red flags
Any of these symptoms could signal that your gut microbiome is not in peak condition.
Mild Cramps, Occasional Gas & Bloating
Certain microbes are known to produce a lot of gas which can contribute to intestinal discomfort in the form of occasional stomach cramps, gas, and bloating.
Occasional Diarrhea or Constipation
A disruption in the ecosystem of the gut can also impact your regular bowel routines. Higher levels of methane-producing bacteria in the intestines has been associated with slower intestinal transit time leading to constipation. On the other hand, having too many harmful bacteria causes a decline in the number of beneficial bacteria. These invading bacteria can produce substances that affect normal gut function which can promote diarrhea.
Bad Breath (halitosis)
Housing an abundance of microbes that can break down sulfur in the gut causes the release of foul-smelling gas to be expelled through the mouth.
Mood Swings and Anxiousness
It’s true that your gut health is linked to your brain health. The activity of your gut bacteria can have an effect on signals to the brain which can change how well you deal with stress and emotions.
Your microbiome plays an important role in digestion and nutrient absorption. An imbalance or lack of diversity in the microbiome can negatively impact digestion causing fatigue and feeling less energized.
An increased population of certain bacteria has been associated with changes in digestive hormones affecting appetite and satiety.
Scientists have unveiled the connection between the gut microbiome and skin health. The gut microbiome plays a role in skin homeostasis and therefore an imbalance can negatively impact skin integrity and function causing red, patchy, irritated skin.
If you experience these conditions for several days or more, consider making an appointment with your doctor. Let your medical practitioner know if you experience blood in your stool or unexplained weight loss, both of which could signal more serious issues.
Ways to check your gut health
To evaluate your gut health directly, consider taking an at-home microbiome test to learn about the types of flora in your GI tract. Simply send a stool sample and receive a report back with detailed information.
If experiencing frequent and/or severe symptoms, you can see a gastroenterologist (GI doctor), who might order blood and stool tests or recommend other procedures, like an x-ray, CT scan, colonoscopy, enteroscopy, endoscopy, or barium swallow or enema. The procedures give them a window into your GI tract and help them assess the movement of food and waste through your digestive system.
How to improve your gut health
The following lifestyle changes could benefit your gut microbiome and your gut health in general:
Consume a probiotic supplement with live active cultures or eat probiotic foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and pickles.
If you plan on taking a probiotic supplement, inquire which strains of bacteria would most benefit your health.
Eat foods rich in prebiotics (indigestible carbohydrates that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut). Good sources include artichokes, onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, and leeks.
If certain foods or drinks upset your stomach, try cutting them out of your diet. Dairy, gluten, caffeine, eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts are some of the more common offenders when it comes to food allergies and intolerances.
Exercise. Movement of your body also helps food move through your GI tract. A 2017 paper makes the case that exercise can also have a beneficial effect on the gut microbiome.2
1 Zhang, YJ. et al. (2015). [Gut bacteria and human health]. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, PubMed Central®
2 Monda, V. et al. (2017). [Gut microbiota and exercise benefits]. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, PubMed Central®
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Metcalf, J. et al. (2022). [Gut microbe imbalance]. One Health Institute, Colorado State University.
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