So now that we’ve brought up gut health and how it influences the immune system, you might like to know how to recognize signs of gut dysfunction (also known as dysbiosis). Some of these signs might seem obvious, while others may not appear related to the gut at all on the surface. Take a look; there me more than you though to symptoms you’ve been letting slide!
Common (but not necessarily well-known) indicators that something is “off” include:
- DIGESTIVE DISCOMFORT– This can include a broad spectrum of symptoms like gas/ bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
- UNINTENTIONAL WEIGHT CHANGES– an imbalanced gut microbiome prevents the body from absorbing nutrients, which can cause insulin resistance, leading to excess storage of fat. Altered hormone levels caused by dysbiosis can even lead to conditions related to thyroid function such as Hashimoto’s disease, known for impairing metabolism and contributing to weight gain. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a condition called Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO) can occur, which results in excessive, unintentional weight loss.
- CHRONIC FATIGUE– Feeling like your energy has been drained, even when you’ve had adequate sleep? The hormone serotonin, which promotes sleep and mood stability, is actually produced primarily in the gut. When serotonin levels are out of balance, it’s more difficult to achieve the restorative sleep needed to function. Beyond lacking energy to get through the day, serotonin levels are incredibly important as it is, according to a report from California Institute of Technology, “estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract. In fact, altered levels of this peripheral serotonin have been linked to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.” Those are a big deal, and definitely worth investigation!
- SKIN CHANGES– Imbalanced gut is commonly linked to skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. Under normal conditions, women may notice increased skin irritation during or leading up to menstruation, due to shifts in hormone levels. Skin issues resulting from gut imbalance are very similar in that they are a result of imbalance, and generally improve as the microbiome reaches a balanced state.
- AUTOIMMUNE SYMPTOMS– Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body, resulting in a range of symptoms from fatigue and muscles aches to neurological complications such as tingling and numbness along nerve pathways and brain “fog.” When we refer to autoimmune symptoms resulting from gut imbalance, it is specifically related to the protein zonulin. When the zonulin pathways are deregulated, autoimmune, inflammation, and neoplastic disorders can occur.
- FOOD ALLERGIES/ INTOLERANCE– Gluten intolerance is often the primary trigger in those experiencing autoimmune symptoms, and although they may not be as severe as those of celiac disease, symptoms still disrupt life in a significant way. Dairy allergies are increadibly common as well. Sensitivities to other foods can also occur, seemingly out of nowhere. Extreme digestive discomfort may occur when starchy foods (potatoes, rice, flour, corn, etc.) or processed sugar (corn syrup, refined white sugar, etc.) are eaten. This is simply because in those with an imbalanced gut, the immune system becomes overwhelmed with the load of toxins entering the body, and is unable to digest them efficiently. If you’re looking to eliminate foods from your diet as a means of determining sensitivities, but don’t know where to start, gluten, dairy, and sugar should be the first to go. You may find they don’t need to be eliminated forever, but because those are such common triggers, it’s worth cutting them out for a period (at least 1 month), then gradually reintroducing.
When reflecting on symptoms, you may find you experience one, all, or even more than what’s listed. Regardless, these are all signs you should check in with your doctor and reevaluate your nutrition.
The best way to prepare for a discussion with your medical provider is to track your symptoms over a period of time, including what happens and what you eat before, during and after the symptoms occur. This helps you both to identify patterns and possible triggers, taking some of the guess work out of the mix.
I’m sharing this because in my personal experience, my initial symptoms were very much GI-related and lead to the eventual removal of my gall bladder. However, years passed, and the triggers that ultimately grabbed my attention and caused me to really change the way I eat and approach nutrition had nothing to do with stomach cramps, bloating, or bowel discomfort. Instead, they were neurological. When I consumed wheat/ gluten, I noticed tingling along my spine, swelling in my lips, extreme mood swings, and eventually spurts of vertigo lasting a week at a time.
The good news is that my symptoms improved drastically within a WEEK of eliminating gluten! Since officially going gluten-free one year ago, I have also noticed sugar consumption is directly related to my dry, itchy skin (most likely eczema), and that my allergies and asthma are less sever when I eliminate dairy. These finding have been slow and gradual, requiring a LOT of patience, and some initial willpower, but now that I know the result is feeling energized, healthy, and able to stay active with Teddy & Elijah, my two little bundles of energy, it’s significantly easier to sustain!
Keep an eye out on Instagram & Facebook for recipes and easy ways to incorporate blood-sugar-balancing, healthy-gut-promoting foods into your family’s meals!