Common Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut – Plus What Can Help?


Think you know the common symptoms of an unhealthy gut? Healthista spoke to The gut experts – Professor Barbara Ryan and Elaine McGowan RD who reveal the indicators plus what can help

Bowel disease can cause many different symptoms, depending on which part of the digestive system is affected.

Symptoms are things you experience and signs are changes you can find on physical examination.

It is better to view symptoms as indicators of a possible underlying digestive problem than as an indicator of an unhealthy gut, as the term “unhealthy gut” is not scientific.

It is better to view symptoms as indicators of a possible underlying digestive problem

When considering bowel disease, it’s helpful to think of “the upper gastrointestinal tract” (GIT) and the lower GIT.

The upper GIT includes the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). It also includes the organs attached to this part of the gut, namely the gallbladder and the pancreas.

Upper GI symptoms are usually related to eating or not eating food (fasting). Sometimes the type of food eaten is important, but in some cases the fact that you ate something will trigger the symptoms.

Common Upper GI Symptoms:
  • Heartburn: a burning sensation behind the breastbone
  • Farmers (farmers)
  • Dyspepsia: an acid burning/pain sensation in the central upper abdomen
  • Nausea: a sick feeling/feeling of wanting to vomit
  • Anorexia: loss of appetite (not anorexia nervosa)
  • Postprandial Pain: Pain After Eating
  • Post-prandial fullness: feeling excessively full after eating
  • Bloating in the upper abdomen: a feeling of bloating
  • Dysphagia/odynophagia (difficulty or pain when swallowing)

symptoms of an unhealthy gut woman holding the upper part of the throat

The lower GI intestinal tract is significantly longer than the upper gastrointestinal tract and starts from the top down, it includes the small intestine and the large intestine (colon).

A hallmark of lower GI symptoms is that they are usually related to passing a bowel movement. Very often they get worse before passing a bowel movement and are relieved afterwards, although some people may find that the pain temporarily gets worse after passing a bowel movement.

Common Lower GI Symptoms:
  • Abdominal bloating: An uncomfortably full feeling, often accompanied by visible distention: “I look like I’m 6 months pregnant”
  • Abdominal pain/cramps
  • Excessive flatus: wind expelled from the anus
  • Constipation: hard or irregular bowel movements, or the need to strain excessively
  • Diarrhea: Very loose bowel movements, or increased frequency of bowel movements
  • Nocturnal Diarrhea: Waking Up With Diarrhea
  • Borborygmi: Loud gurgling or rumbling sounds from the gut
  • Change in gut pattern
  • Change in stool appearance
  • Blood or mucus in the stool
  • Incontinence: difficulty controlling the passage of stool causing leakage (accidents)

All of these symptoms can have many causes, most of which are not serious.

If you experience any new digestive or intestinal symptoms, it is important not to self-diagnose and make an appointment to discuss these with your GP or GP to decide what, if any, further investigation is needed.

Read more: IBS or SIBO Symptoms? How to distinguish these common intestinal problems from each other?

symptoms of an unhealthy intestinal constipation woman sat on toilet

Dealing with Constipation…

Fiber: In general, 20-35 g of fiber per day is recommended. Fiber is found in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Some easy sources of fiber include:

  • 2 kiwis or 2 small oranges (clementines) per day
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseeds — take one heaping teaspoon to two tablespoons — of whole or ground flaxseeds or flaxseeds. They can be added to porridge, cereal, yogurt, soups and salads. They should be taken with plenty of liquid and it is important to start with a small amount and increase gradually
  • Psyllium husk, also known as Ispaghula, helps relieve constipation. It can be purchased as whole psyllium husks, psyllium husk powder, or in capsules

Liquid: Drink 1.5-2.5 liters of fluid per day. Water is the best source, but herbal and decaffeinated teas and coffees can contribute to your daily fluid intake.

Caffeine: Strong tea, coffee, and 80 to 90 percent dark chocolate all contain caffeine and can act as a gut stimulant to keep you regular.

Sorbitol: Prunes and apricots contain sorbitol, a great natural laxative.

symptoms of an unhealthy gut kiwi help with constipation and diarrhea

Dealing with diarrhea and loose stools…

Caffeine: Reduce your caffeine intake (remember that caffeine is present in both tea and coffee).

Fiber: Be fiber conscious! Is your intake too high? If so, try reducing it to about 18 to 20 g of fiber per day, then gradually increase the level as your symptoms improve.

Sweeteners: Avoid sweeteners that have “ol” at the end, especially xylitol, sorbitol, and foods that contain them. These are present in many low-fat foods.

Onions and garlicDiet: Cut these out of your diet on a short-term basis to see if it helps reduce your symptoms.

Fruits (fructose): Reduce your intake of fruit to three small pieces per day.

Alcohol: Should be kept to a minimum.

If you are experiencing constipation or diarrhea, you should consult your primary care physician or a registered dietitian.

What are the big no-nos when you’re struggling with your gut health?

1. Do not diagnose yourself. If you experience new or persistent bowel symptoms it is important that you see your GP, but do not turn to Dr Google.

2. Don’t start cutting foods from your diet without getting professional advice. If you suspect that certain foods may be triggering some of your uncomfortable gut symptoms, keep a food diary and symptom tracker and take it to your primary care physician or registered dietitian to discuss.

don’t turn to Dr Google

3. Do not do an IgG food intolerance test, these tests are not scientifically validated and very expensive! They tell more about dietary intake than about real food intolerances.

4. Don’t start taking a probiotic without doing your homework. There are so many probiotics available right now and different strains do different things – look for evidence that a particular probiotic works.

The British Society of Gastroenterology advises that it is reasonable to try a probiotic for up to 12 weeks to see if there is any effect. However, the American Gastroenterology Association does not recommend the use of probiotics for IBS or most other gut conditions.

Read more: Symptoms of Depression? This probiotic has been PROVEN to help

symptoms of an unhealthy gut antibiotics and gut health

Restoring Your Microbiome After Antibiotics

Most antibiotics have a broad spectrum of action and thus have the ability to ‘kill’ many different types of bacteria, including those in the gut.

They will never completely eradicate the gut microbiota (GM) (there are over 50 trillion bacteria in the gut, mainly the colon), but they can certainly alter the balance and mix of the GM as you ingest them.

Antibiotics disrupt the balance that normally exists between the different types of GM in the gut. This is associated with reduced GM diversity, but not necessarily a reduced total number of bacteria in the gut, as some bacteria not susceptible to the specific antibiotic will multiply to take up the ‘free space’ in the gut.

Studies have shown that the GM tends to spontaneously return to normal over time. In children, this has been reported to take about four weeks, while in adults it can take up to six weeks, although some of the baseline GM remained undetectable for up to six months, even after a short course of antibiotics, so some subtle changes may be longer lasting.

For most people, therefore, time is all it takes for the GM to recover.

Read more: Do I need antibiotics?

gut microbiota (GM) tend to spontaneously return to normal over time

Antibiotic-related changes in the GM can lead to “antibiotic-associated diarrhea” in some cases, and in more severe cases, an overgrowth of a harmful bacteria called Clostridium Difficile, or C. Diff for short, or an overgrowth of candida, a fungus that is found in the gut in 50 percent of people.

The rationale for using probiotics in combination with antibiotics is to accelerate the recovery of a disrupted GM and to prevent potentially harmful bacteria (such as C. Diff) from taking over the ‘spaces’ as a result of antibiotic use.

There are many studies on the effects of probiotics in different contexts. All probiotics are not created equal and have a potential benefit in some situations, but not in others.

There is some evidence that two probiotics, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii, may reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children, and that it is reasonable to use them in this context.

In adults, research results are conflicting, and some recent studies have shown that probiotics can alter the recovery pathway of genetically modified organisms after antibiotic use compared to no intervention9.

Taking a probiotic while on an antibiotic is not unreasonable to prevent diarrhea, but it probably isn’t necessary for most people and comes at a higher cost.

Diet plays an important role in promoting a healthy mix of bacteria in the GM, and a diet high in fiber, plant foods, and low in saturated fats is beneficial to the GM at all times.

the gut experts

Professor Barbara Ryan and Elaine McGowan RD are The Gut Experts and authors of What every woman should know about her gutpublished by Sheldon Press, £16.99

Follow The Gut Experts on Instagram @thegutexperts