Ignoring a little stomach pain after a big dinner may not be taxing, but if you find yourself frequently dealing with—and ignoring—bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or other symptoms, your gut is likely trying to get a message to you that it needs a little extra care. Ignoring these signs won’t just leave you with uncomfortable symptoms, they can lead to bigger problems.
Here are some of the consequences of ignoring your gut:
Believe it or not, poor gut health can affect your mood. This is because 70% of the serotonin that is made within our body comes from the gut. If you have poor gut health, the amount of tryptophan that can be turned into serotonin can be compromised, leading to low mood symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
If you are experiencing a low mood as a result of poor gut health, it could also mean that you are not getting enough of the right nutrients. For example, if you are not absorbing an adequate amount of B vitamins or vitamin C, as well as amino acids that are necessary to create certain neurotransmitters and antibodies, then that may well affect your mood.
It can be easy to eat junk food when you feel down, but this exacerbates the problem. Do your best to eat foods high in tryptophan and a wide range of vitamins to help your body get the essential nutrients it needs to elevate your mood.
Another thing that is affected by poor gut health is your immunity.
Your gut is responsible for up to 70% of your immunity so if it’s not feeling so hot, you’re probably not going to, either.
Similar to mood, immunity levels are also affected by the nutrients you absorb from the food that you eat. If you are not taking in enough amino acids, which are responsible for the production of certain antibodies, then your immunity to foreign bodies will not be optimized.
Immunity can be heightened with specific micronutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc, or selenium, so if you are deficient in one or more of these micronutrients both your gut health and immune system will be negatively affected.
Metabolism can also be affected by poor gut health. Studies show that the growth of certain bad bacteria is likely to contribute to a poor metabolism.
A study carried out at UCLA proved this using rats. They took bad bacteria from unhealthy rats and put it into healthy rats, which subsequently began to gain weight.
This is evidence that allowing bad bacteria to build up in your gut can increase your likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome or obesity, and the comorbidities that develop from those, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and weight gain.
The last thing that can be affected by poor gut health is your energy levels. As touched on above, if you do not have a healthy gut environment, then your body will be less efficient at absorbing the necessary nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, and so you will find that your body is deficient in these micronutrients.
The deficiencies of these vital nutrients can lead to a decline in energy levels since certain amino acids and micronutrients are necessary for energy production.
If you’re experiencing gut discomfort, such as bloating, along with fatigue and a loss of quality to your skin or hair, you may be suffering from a nutrient deficiency caused by an imbalance in your gut’s microbiome.
What is your gut trying to tell you?
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms I have discussed above, there are several things that your gut may be trying to tell you, so it’s worth making some changes to your diet and lifestyle to improve your gut health. You can:
Take a probiotic, either in the form of yogurt, fermented foods, or with a daily supplement. This probiotic will help to increase the number of good bacteria in your gut to create a more balanced microbiome.
You are ingesting too many chemicals by eating a large quantity of processed foods. You need to ensure that you are eating fresh food (organic if you can) so that you know exactly what is going into your body.
You are not getting enough sleep. Your microbiome is negatively affected if you are not getting enough sleep and, conversely, your sleep is affected by your microbiome because you need serotonin to help you get a good night’s sleep. You need to look after your gut so that you can sleep well and maintain that gut health.
You’re not getting enough exercise. Exercise helps your body have regular bowel movements, so if you’re struggling with constipation, try taking regular walks throughout the day to keep your body moving. Even swapping from sitting to standing at your desk can make a difference.
Ignoring your gut will not only affect your digestive health but your general health as well, both physically and mentally. Making small changes to your lifestyle and diet can help you to improve your gut health and make you feel better all-round.
However, if you find that your gut discomfort persists, see your general practitioner or gastroenterologist to ensure that you don’t have an issue that needs further investigation or treatment guided by a doctor. In some cases, medical intervention and guidance will be the best way to get back to full health.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.