In January, some of us who made a New Year’s resolution to improve our health actually get started. We usually focus on eating well and exercising to look and feel great overall. We want to maintain a healthy weight, get glowing skin, and feel energized. Unfortunately, many people don’t focus on specifically ensuring their gut is in good shape. This is a mistake, since gut health can play a role in everything from your immune system, to your mood and of course, your digestion.
Gut bacteria line our gastrointestinal tract, and while “bacteria” might sound like a bad thing, most of it is beneficial bacteria. This “good” bacteria helps us digest food and fight off foreign substances, along with boosting our immune system and even assisting in brain function. However, if you don’t take care of your gut, the percentage of harmful bacteria can increase and overtake the friendly variety, causing uncomfortable symptoms that can lead to long-term issues, including health problems.
This is why it is so important to be aware of these 10 symptoms of an unhealthy gut:
- Stomach Problems
If you feel bloated, don’t be so quick to blame water weight! An unhealthy gut can cause a number of gastrointestinal issues, including gas, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea. Many stomach problems, such as reflux, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel disease all have a link to an imbalanced microbiome.
- Mood Problems
It might sound surprising to you, but the brain and the gut are actually linked, and even minor changes in your gut bacteria can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s estimated that about 90 percent of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the digestive tract, so if you’re mood is off, your gut may be the reason why. Note that even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, if you find that your mood is fluctuating, you can still look to your gut health to find a happy solution.
- Problems Sleeping
Your gut health can also play a role in how well you sleep. An unhealthy gut can mess with your body’s natural circadian rhythms, which can throw off your sleep/wake cycle. It can also affect your levels of certain hormones, such as serotonin, melatonin, dopamine and GABA, which, in addition to regulating mood, help you get a good night’s rest.
- Problems Focusing
If you’re distracted by Facebook from time to time, that’s one thing. But if if you find yourself struggling with concentration more regularly, your gut might be undernourished. Since there is a strong connection between your gut and your brain, an imbalance of bacteria or weaknesses in the gut membrane could result in you having trouble focusing. The stress brought on by digestive discomfort could lead to problems with completing assignments, procrastination, poor concentration, as well as trouble remembering things.
- Frequent Infections
An unhealthy gut can weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to yeast infections, vaginal infections, bladder infections and more. When your good bacteria is low and there’s a higher presence of bad bacteria, these infections begin to pop up.
- Skin Rashes and Eczema
Your skin might seem far removed from your gut, but what goes on inside can have a profound effect on the outside. Problems with gut health can cause skin issues, such as rashes, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. An inflamed gut is unable to absorb all the necessary nutrients for healthy skin, and it also is unable to keep out unwanted toxins. This can end up triggering inflammation in the body, which is the source of many skin problems.
- Frequent Sickness
Since an unhealthy gut weakens your immune system, you’re more prone to frequent illnesses. In a healthy person, gut microbes stimulate the immune system, but these microbes can get disrupted by factors such as diet, antibiotics, and other lifestyle factors, leaving you sick more often. 
- Weight Gain
Research shows that gut bacteria can alter the way we store fat, affect how we balance levels of glucose in the blood, and impact our response to hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and fullness. When the balance of bacteria is off, it can leave you susceptible to unwanted weight gain. 
- Food Sensitivities
A leaky gut is when the intestinal barrier becomes more permeable than normal, allowing substances to pass through to the bloodstream. This condition can cause an increase of the passage of allergens and increase inflammatory reactions. This can leave you prone to more food allergies or intolerances. Good gut bacteria can actually help prevent against food allergies, which makes probiotic therapies important.
Just like unbalanced gut bacteria can cause stomach problems such as indigestion, it may cause also cause acid reflux and heartburn. Managing your gut health can help you get rid of uncomfortable symptoms that make you feel a burning or “spicy” sensation in your throat or chest areas.
Now that you know your gut can affect every part of your body, it’s essential to begin focusing on its health. If you want to give your gut the attention it deserves, start by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, as well as incorporating fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, into your diet.