Photo: Getty / Peter Nicholson
If your gut is acting up, you might experience abdominal cramping or digestion issues. And yes, it can be super uncomfortable and hard to deal with, especially if it becomes chronic. However, poor gut health can mess with other areas of the body, too, affecting your health in many other ways besides stomach pain, diarrhea, excess gas, bloating or constipation.
What's more, unfortunately, is that the signs of gut complications outside of digestion problems can be tricky to spot, as these symptoms can often be caused by other factors too. Still, if you notice any of these, you might want to see a doctor or gastroenterologist to figure out if what's going on is gut-related so you can start healing your gut.
If you're chronically tired, it might be from your gut. "The majority of the body's serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. When you have an unhealthy gut, you may not have enough serotonin, or its use may be impaired," says Sam Presicci, M.C.N., RD, LD, CPT, lead registered dietitian at Snap Kitchen.
And it can lead to sleeping issues, like insomnia or poor sleep from disruptions in the night, which will most certainly lead to fatigue in general, due to a deficit in hours of sleep.
The gut-skin axis has had research experts asking if our gut health impacts our skin. One study found that there was a relationship between gut health and inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. "Skin conditions often originate in the gut. Inflammation caused by poor food choices or food intolerances can lead to leaky gut, which essentially means that proteins are able to travel out of the digestive tract and into the body," Presicci says. These leaked proteins can irritate the skin, causing issues like rashes, breakouts and more.
Related: What Is Leaky Gut?
Anxiety and Depression
Just like with fatigue, serotonin impacts mood, too, so if you're not getting enough from poor gut health, you also might notice you're having the blues a whole lot more. "While poor gut health is only one reason for anxiety and depression, it's an important one," says Presicci.
Improving gut health can boost your mood, since your body is better able to produce and utilize serotonin. That way you'll feel happier (and so will your gut!). Speak to a therapist to discuss potential medications and treatment options to see if they feel that your gut health could be part of a larger overall treatment plan.
"The gut and the immune system are closely linked, according to studies," adds Presicci, "and a gut that's leaky, or not functioning properly, can increase inflammation and alter function of the immune system." In some cases, this leads to autoimmune conditions, where the body attacks its own tissues rather than invaders.
Related: Try Our 30-Day Gut Health Challenge
An imbalance of bacteria in the gut may lead to food sensitivities or intolerances, too. "If you notice you have symptoms like bloating, diarrhea or gas after eating certain foods, you may have a sensitivity," says Presicci.
However, keep in mind that you may also have a larger underlying issue, like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Candida overgrowth or something else entirely. If that's the case, a doctor can give you some good tips for managing or healing these conditions.
"Though there isn't a lot of research, some studies suggest there's a relationship between gut health and food sensitivities," explains Presicci. "Once you've ruled out underlying conditions through gut testing, you can improve your bacterial balance by removing excess sugar, eating fiber-rich foods (like a wide variety of veggies!), drinking bone broth and eating probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha and fermented veggies," she says, all of which should get your gut back on track and clear up any discomfort after eating certain foods.
Related: What to Eat If You Have IBS