“Normally two or three cups of coffee does it, but not for the past few mornings,” my 28-year-old patient Mary told me during our initial consultation. “And then it happened: I was on the Q train yesterday, and bam, after being constipated, I suddenly had to go right that minute.”
I appreciated Mary’s frankness, and I couldn’t help think about how she was also my archetypical patient. She frequently felt tired, her joints hurt, recovering from a trip to the gym felt akin to having taken a boot camp class, migraines happened more days than not, and losing mental focus felt normal.
As we talked, Mary sipped a big plastic cup of cold brew. “I go from coffee to cabernet,” she half-joked, discussing how she “dialed down” her caffeine fix with a few glasses of wine when she got home from work.
Like most patients I see, Mary’s problems stemmed from one massive source: a gut out of balance. I had to remind her that running to the bathroom and feeling spacey were not normal, and that using over-the-counter or pharmaceutical drugs was not the answer.
As a medical doctor who specializes in gut problems like leaky gut and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), when I tell patients everything starts in your gut, I’m not joking.
Headaches, migraines, allergies, autoimmunity, weight gain, acne, skin rashes, yeast infections, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, immune challenges, even the way you sense pain—they all relate to the condition and health of your gut.
These are among the most common signs of a gut out-of-balance I see in my practice. How many of these 15 do you regularly experience?
1. You’re not having regular bowel movements or you suffer from constipation.
Poor sleep, dehydration, and thyroid issues are among the many reasons you might struggle with constipation—often the result of an unbalanced gut microbiome. Bowel movements should occur at least once daily so that waste and toxins are efficiently removed from the body via the stool. The first and most important treatment for constipation: Drink at least 64 fluid ounces of water daily and don’t dehydrate with caffeine. The second important intervention—increase fiber. You can do this by upping your greens, but it is often helpful to add a fiber supplement, like Renew Life’s Fiber Smart powder.
2. You have bloating, gas, and other post-meal issues.
Contrary to what some patients believe, these are not normal symptoms after you eat. They suggest everything from poor digestion to yeast overgrowth, like Candida, or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) in your small intestine.
3. You have frequent loose stools or diarrhea or need to run to the bathroom right after you eat.
Along with gas, bloating, and constipation, diarrhea gets placed under the umbrella term “irritable bowel syndrome” (IBS), which gives these symptoms a name but does nothing to clarify the true underlying cause(s) or the treatment. Worth repeating: Bolting to the bathroom after a meal is not normal and is a sign that your gut microbiome is out-of-whack.
4. You get frequent yeast infections.
The standard American diet (SAD) is full of sugar, processed foods, and food additives that promote the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast. Frequent yeast infections are almost definitely a sign your gut microbiota is harboring an overgrowth of yeast and losing favorable bacteria. Women are particularly prone to this, and for that reason, this probiotic is a great choice to create harmony in the vaginal flora.
5. You get sick often.
About 70 percent of your immune system lies in your gut, and one of your gut’s primary roles is to maintain an immune barrier to the outside world. Frequent colds and other illnesses could signify compromised gut health.
6. You have strong cravings for refined carbohydrates like bread.
Gut yeast feeds on simple carbohydrates found in white starches, sugars, fruit, processed foods, juices, and, of course, sweets and desserts. People with yeast overgrowth will crave more of these foods. Create a better balance of good gut bacteria to yeast by using tools like intermittent fasting, a low-sugar diet, and a high-potency probiotic.
7. You eat more sugar (desserts) than you care to admit.
You might have a sweet tooth, but overeating chocolate cake isn’t a lack of willpower. Yeast overgrowth and other gut issues often lead to sugar cravings, and those high-sugar foods feed yeast. That leads to the production of neurotoxins that cause symptoms like mental fog, mood swings, headaches, problems with memory retention, poor concentration, inability to focus, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
8. You have difficulty losing weight no matter what you do.
Gut bacteria can alter the way you store fat, your sensitivity to hormones signals that let you know you’re full, and the way your body balances blood glucose levels. The wrong type of microbial diversity (or lack of diversity) can set the stage for obesity and its associated diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. Leaky gut and other gut conditions can also keep your immune system in overdrive, leaving you inflamed and struggling to lose weight.
9. You are constantly tired, no matter how much rest you get.
If you’re getting eight hours of solid sleep nightly yet feel sluggish and fatigued throughout the day, gut conditions, like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and leaky gut could be among the culprits.
10. You have acid reflux, which you treat with medications.
If you are like the millions of people around the world who suffer from acid indigestion, heartburn, excessive burping, gas, bloating in your upper abdomen soon after you eat, or nausea before or after meals, you have a stomach acid imbalance. Before you turn to medication (which could do more harm than good), look at your diet and lifestyle. You may be suffering from low stomach acid instead.
11. Your doctor has put you on one or more courses of antibiotics.
Most infections are viral, yet many antibiotics only kill bacteria. Most of the time, rest and immune support are enough to resolve these infections, and among their chronic damage, repeatedly using antibiotics can seriously affect your gut flora. The good news is you can start to repair your out-of-whack gut ecosystem with a high-potency probiotic.
12. You struggle with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, or other painful conditions.
As experts better understand the association between gut inflammation and pain, more studies show gut inflammation contributes to painful conditions like osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, the latter of which affects up to 12 percent of the population.
13. You frequently feel anxious or depressed.
As your “second brain,” your gut can affect your mood and the way your brain functions just like your brain talks to your gut. Unfavorable gut bugs interfere with your brain’s ability to do its job, triggering mood disorders including anxiety and depression.
14. You have trouble remembering things and frequently have brain fog.
Remember that gut-brain connection? Yeast overgrowth, leaky gut, and other gut conditions can leave you feeling mentally fuzzy and frequently struggling with issues like remembering where you left your car keys. It’s not all in your head! Your gut health affects your brain health.
15. You break out in hives regularly.
Dysbiosis (or an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bugs in your gut) can lead to things like leaky gut. Your immune system does not recognize partially digested food particles (proteins), so it attacks, resulting in food sensitivities that can manifest as hives, allergies, acne, and other skin problems.
From that list, you can understand how pretty much every problem originates to some degree—and oftentimes, to a massive degree—from your gut.
This article was created in collaboration with functional medicine certified doctor Vincent Pedre M.D.