There are trillions of bacteria in your “gut,” or gastrointestinal tract. This area includes the esophagus, stomach, large intestine, and small intestine. Some of those bacteria, or gut flora, are harmful. But you might not know there are also a lot of beneficial bacteria. When there’s a good balance between the two, your gut will usually work as it should. When the harmful microbes outnumber the bad, your gut health may suffer.

Here are five signs that your gut may be out of whack, and information on what you can do to fix the situation.

1. Leaky Gut Syndrome

The lining of the digestive system is designed to only allow substances of a certain size to pass through to the intestines. When you have leaky gut, a condition also known as intestinal permeability, harmful substances may leak into your bloodstream. These include waste and undigested food, as well as harmful viruses and bacteria. A leaky gut can also make it harder for your small intestine to absorb the nutrients you need from the food you consume.1

As a result, you might experience a variety of troubling symptoms. These include cramping and bloating, fatigue, headache, and painful joints. Leaky gut can also contribute to several digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.2

2. Acne Breakouts

acne breakoutThis is a very frustrating condition, one that can greatly affect your self-confidence. If you are beyond the age where people typically stop having acne breakouts, your gut health may be partially to blame.

There is solid scientific evidence that harmful gut flora could play a role in causing skin problems.3

3. Irritability

There is a growing acceptance in the medical community of something called the “gut-brain axis.” This means there’s a link between gut flora and mood. Scientists have known for a long time that emotional signals can pass from the brain to the gut. That’s why you experience “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re nervous or excited. But know there is research that shows the signals go the other way, as well. As a result, your gut might have an effect on your overall mood.4

4. Constipation

Feeling like you need to “go,” but you can’t, is a troubling feeling. Research indicates that an imbalance between good and bad microbes in the gut could potentially be a contributing factor to constipation.5 Interestingly, however, a microbial imbalance can also lead to the opposite problem – diarrhea. When you take antibiotics, they kill harmful bacteria. But they also kill good ones. This can result in an increased risk of a diarrhea attack. There’s even a name for this condition – antibiotic-associated diarrhea, or AAD.6

5. Trouble Sleeping

Are you having problems getting enough shut-eye? This could be another sign that your gut health is out of whack. The problem might have to do with your circadian rhythm, or internal clock. It’s the main reason that you tend to feel energized, and tired, at the same time each day.7

REM Sleep | NucificThe circadian rhythm goes through cycles at regular intervals. You will usually feel most tired between the hours of 2-4 a.m. and between 1-3 p.m.— right after you have lunch. Of course, not everyone has the same internal clock. You might be a night owl – or an early riser.8

The part of the brain that controls your circadian rhythm is known as the hypothalamus. But other factors can play a role in how your personal internal clock works. Your eyes signal the brain that it’s time to start feeling tired. The brain then signals the body to release a hormone known as melatonin. This, in turn, makes your whole body tired.9

So, what does your gut health have to do with your sleep quality? You might find it harder to sleep if your gut flora are out of balance. This can occur if you tend to snack at different times of the day, rather than eat at a set time. Your “gut microbiome,” the collection of harmful and beneficial microbes, can become disrupted. This can lead to a disturbance in your circadian rhythm.10

How Probiotics Can Help

Probiotics are bacteria and other microorganisms that help bolster the number of good microbes in your gut. You can find probiotics in certain foods (such as sauerkraut and yogurt) or you can purchase them as supplements.

There is evidence that probiotics can help your gut health in many ways. They play a role in making sure your metabolism works properly by changing the composition of the gut microbiome. They also help strengthen the intestinal walls, making you less likely to suffer from leaky gut syndrome.11

Studies also show that probiotics play a role in helping to re-establish the proper balance between good and bad microbes in the gut after they’ve been compromised in some way. One meta-analysis of over 60 different studies showed that 83 percent of probiotic products helped restore the microbiome after it had been disrupted due to illness or antibiotic use.12

Follow Your Gut

It’s very important that you pay attention to your gut health. It can potentially affect everything from your mood to your sleep cycle. If you start showing the signs of a problem, talk to your doctor. They will be able to determine the reason for the issue and help you determine the best possible plan to address it.

For more about gut health, keep reading here:
Are You Deficient in Digestive Enzymes? (How To Know)
Why Examining the Color and Shape of Your Stool is Important


Sources
1. http://www.clinsci.org/content/82/5/471
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1856434/
3. http://www.jidonline.org/article/S0022-202X(15)36405-8/abstract
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214655
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4951383/
6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/antibiotic-associated-diarrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20352231
7. https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/biology-of-sleep-circadian-rhythms-sleep-stages.htm
8. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-drive-and-your-body-clock
9. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/what-circadian-rhythm
10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27793218
11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21992949
12. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/8/e005047

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About the Author

Suzan Cory

Suzan Cory is a freelance writer and editor that specializes in health and nutrition. She holds a green belt in karate and enjoys gardening. When she's not researching and writing about the latest health news, you'll find her hiking with her two dogs. She lives in Colorado with her husband.