Gut health is intrinsically linked to overall well-being, so it’s vital that you look after it. There are hundreds of different types of bacteria living in your digestive tract and they play a key role in your well-being. When these bacteria are healthy and balanced, you’ll feel well. Your body will feel strong and vibrant, your mind will be clear and bright, and you’ll have all the energy you need to get the most out of life. When things start going awry, the impact on your health can be significant.
There is an increasing body of research building up that demonstrates a strong connection between gut health and things like autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances, energy levels, skin issues, and even mood. It begins a cycle that slowly spirals downward: poor gut health can make you feel unwell and unmotivated, meaning you make unhealthy lifestyle choices such as eating junk food or staying sedentary for long periods on the couch, which contributes to poor gut health.
If this is something that’s been weighing on your mind, stick with us. We’re going to discuss some signs and symptoms that indicate your gut health could be out of balance, as well as five practical things you can do to start getting your gut microbiome back on track.
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How Do You Know If Your Gut is Unhealthy?
Do you constantly have an upset stomach? Do you struggle with gas, bloating, nausea, constipation, or diarrhea? If digestive issues are affecting your quality of life, making you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a functional medicine doctor. They will take a holistic approach that includes a detailed history, physical examination, and potentially some laboratory tests as well. This will help your doctor get an overview of what’s happening and why – for example, if your symptoms are being triggered by lifestyle factors or food intolerances.
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss could also indicate your gut health is out of balance. Gut microbiome play an important role in absorbing nutrients, regulating blood sugar, creating and storing fat, and powering the rest of your body’s functions. This can also be linked to hormonal issues, such as insulin resistance or thyroid imbalances, which are best treated early.
It’s especially important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing any kind of abdominal pain. This could indicate something needs urgent attention, so don’t delay scheduling an appointment.
Gut health can also be linked to things like poor sleep, low mood, chronic skin irritation, and many other issues. If you’re generally feeling unwell, or you have a whole range of seemingly unrelated symptoms that are reducing your quality of life, it’s worth consulting a functional medicine doctor.
We’re not here to put band-aid solutions on health issues – we’re here to find and treat the root cause so we can help you optimize your health and restore your well-being. You have a right to live a life of abundance, so if you’re not feeling your best, you owe it to yourself to find out why.
Sound familiar? Learn more about thyroid and autoimmune conditions.
Practical Steps to Improving Gut Health
Lots of things can contribute to poor gut health. Constantly feeling stressed, struggling to get enough sleep, finding yourself sitting still for long periods of time, eating a lot of processed foods, choosing sugary or caffeinated drinks over water, or taking medication such as antibiotics all play a part.
Here are five simple things you can do to start improving your gut health today.
1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Hydration is essential when it comes to gut health. Water plays a key role in keeping you regular, softening stools and making bowel movements easier. However, water has also been shown to benefit the lining of the intestines and the balance of the gut microbiome. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend about 15.5 cups of water a day for men and 11.5 cups of water per day for women. This is a simple step you can do at home.
2. Change Your Diet
A healthy diet gives us the fuel we need not just to survive, but thrive. The best way to improve your diet is to focus on fresh foods and introduce more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Highly-processed foods often have no nutritional benefit – essentially, you’re eating empty calories. They will give you a spike of energy, followed by a crash, and can cause the bacteria inside your gut to become unbalanced. Sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, is especially bad for this because it can also lead to inflammation in your digestive tract and the rest of your body. Taking drugs like antibiotics unnecessarily can also have a detrimental impact to your gut microbiome.
The best way to do change your diet isn’t to do a dramatic overhaul, but make sustainable changes over time. Add whole grains to breakfast. Eat carrots with lunch. Include broccoli in your dinner. Swap red meats for chicken or fish. Replace energy drinks and sodas with lemon water. These are small but important dietary changes anyone can try to start restoring gut health and feeling better. You may also benefit from probiotics, fermented foods, and supplements. It’s best to discuss these with your functional medicine doctor, who will be able to recommend a plan tailored to your needs.
3. Identify Key Stressors
Stress can make your digestive system grind to a screeching halt. In the short-term, it can severely impact colonic activity, which can change the profile of your gut microbiome by introducing stress hormones and inflammation to your gastro-intestinal tract and alter things like appetite and mood. In the long-term, it can contribute to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
One of the things we recommend to all our members is to identify key stressors in your life and start making a plan to either transform them or remove them from your life. This is beneficial to all systems in your body, not just your gut microbiome, and can make you feel better very quickly. If you’re struggling to make change, guidance from our team may be a big help.
4. Prioritize Your Sleep
Be honest with yourself: how much sleep have you been getting this week? It’s easy to give-up an hour or two of sleep if you’re busy and stressed. However, this creates a false economy within your body, and begins a cycle that stops your body from getting the rest it needs to heal overnight. Increased stress, as we’ve just discussed, can cause many disruptions to healthy digestion, including disruptions to your gut bacteria, bloating, inflammation, stomach pain, and even food sensitivities.
There’s no secret to getting a good night’s sleep. Start by setting an alarm to make yourself go to bed on time, so you can increase your changes of actually getting the 7-9 hours you need. Reduce your caffeine intake, drink plenty of water, and avoid sugary foods before bed. You might also find it helpful to remove screens from your bedroom – for example, you can charge your phone in the kitchen instead – to limit the amount of blue light and reduce distractions. This is incredibly important, so it’s worth investing the time to find out what will work best for you.
5. Try Functional Medicine
Functional medicine is different to conventional medicine because it takes a holistic approach to restoring your health and well-being. Functional medicine doctors go through all the same training as regular doctors, including medical school and a residency, but they do additional advanced clinical training in functional medicine to ensure they can provide the best possible care for patients. If you’d like to lean more about the benefits of this approach, you can read more here.
It can be both curative and preventative. If you’re experiencing specific issues – for example, your gut health issues are reducing your quality of life – Tri-Cities Functional Medicine can help you get on track and prevent them from occurring again. They can also help you optimize your lifestyle to reduce the risks of developing issues like diabetes or hypertension in the future.
Dr. Joseph Radawi focuses on the underlying causes of your health issues, not just your symptoms. This includes looking closely at genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can be contributing to the problems you’re having. After doing a complete evaluation, including an in-depth history and functional medicine labs and tests, Dr. Radawi will create an individualized plan that targets your specific needs so you can achieve the best health possible for many years to come.
Ready to take control of your gut health? Take the first step and call our team.
Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout East Tennessee and into Virginia and North Carolina. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, and Abingdon, VA.