In This Article
In This Article
You might already be aware that a healthy gastrointestinal tract is essential to maintaining good health overall. After all, its main job is to digest the food and convert it into nutrients that your body can absorb.
While it may sound like a simple process, nutrient absorption is critical. If your body fails to absorb nutrients efficiently, you may lack the energy and nutrition needed to function properly.
But, you may be surprised to know that the gut influences many aspects of your health, including those you may think have nothing to do with digestion. Several studies show that it can affect your immune system and mental health.1,2
Health experts established the connection between healthy gut flora and your overall health. A healthy gut means it has abundant beneficial bacteria to support your wellness.
Your gut plays a vital role in your overall well-being, so you should always make sure it's in top shape. Here are the tell-tale signs of a healthy gut and some indicators of poor gut health.
Gut transit time is how long your GI tract takes to digest and pass food. Gut transit time might often be overlooked, but it is actually an important marker of good gut health.
One study shows that gut bacteria produce more harmful byproducts the longer it takes for food to pass through your colon.6 Meanwhile, a shorter transit time is a sign of a healthy intestinal wall.
Gut transit time varies widely among people. But it shouldn't be too short or too long.
As a general rule, health experts consider a gut transit time of less than ten hours or more than 72 hours to be outside the normal range.
But women's transit time may extend up to 100 hours.7 It's still normal since their colons have to go around their uterus and ovaries, making the colon's path more complicated, at least according to some studies.8
Women's hormones also affect how their GI tract functions.
Your gut transit time, or how long your GI tract takes to break down and pass food, can mirror your digestive system's health. Generally, gut transit time shouldn't be less than ten hours or more than 72 hours.
The appearance of your stool may also reveal digestive issues. It's essential to check any changes in its color, shape, and texture as they may indicate digestive health problems.
A healthy stool may be soft or firm. It should be well-formed and have a medium to dark brown color. You must pass it easily in a single large go—with only a few smaller pieces.
According to the Bristol Stool Chart, a healthy stool is shaped like a sausage or a snake. It must remain intact when being flushed.9
The appearance of your stool reveals some digestive issues. Make sure to check any changes in its color, shape, and texture—they can be signs of digestive health problems.
Another sign of a healthy gut is when you can comfortably move your bowels. You should be able to poop without feeling pain or straining yourself.
When you experience pain or discomfort, or if you have to push too hard when pooping, these could be signs of digestive issues, including:
Comfortable bowel movements are an indication of a healthy gut. Any pain or discomfort when trying to pass stool can be signs of digestive problems.
Other signs of a healthy gut include having minimal digestive symptoms, such as bloating and gas. When gut bacteria digest the food you eat, they naturally produce gas as a byproduct.
Passing gas ten to 20 times a day shows healthy gut activity. It’s normal, so don’t hold back the gas. You may end up experiencing bloating from the trapped gas.
A little bloatedness and gas are also normal after a huge meal. But, people who experience these symptoms more often after eating certain foods may have a food intolerance.
If you don't experience any of the digestive health issues below, it's a sign that you have a healthy gut.
Minimal or mild digestive issues, like bloating and gas, are normal and are signs of a healthy gut. They can usually happen after a huge meal. However, other digestive symptoms, like abdominal pain or vomiting, may indicate something else.
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Balance is vital to your gut health. Maintaining a healthy balance in your gut microbiome can help you prevent dysbiosis.
Gut dysbiosis occurs when too many harmful bacteria overwhelm the population of beneficial bacteria in your gut. It can lead to an unhealthy gut.
Some of the things that can throw off the balance in your gut flora are:
Health experts have found that dysbiosis may cause leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other medical conditions.3
Gut health is influenced by a number of factors, including your diet, physical activity, rest, stress management, and lifestyle. These factors can contribute to a gut imbalance or gut dysbiosis.
Your gut microbiome is also affected by things you have no control over. A perfect example of it would be the way you were born.
Even though you don't have full control over it, study shows that it greatly affects the bacteria in your gut.
Babies delivered vaginally have a more diverse microbiome than those born via C-section. It's because they were exposed to different bacteria as they passed through their mother's birth canal.4
The environment you grew up in may also influence your gut microbiome. Take, for example, growing up in very clean surroundings; sounds ideal, doesn't it?
But even that has its downsides. Studies show that exposure to reasonable amounts of germs and bacteria isn't all that bad, as it can help strengthen your gut flora.5
Uncontrollable factors like your manner of delivery (vaginal or C-section) and the environment you grew up in have an impact on your gut microbiome. For instance, vaginal births contribute to a more diverse gut flora due to exposure to different bacteria during birth.
Understanding the condition of your gut health is essential for keeping its overall well-being. There are many options to do so, but here are the two common ways.
Apart from taking note of unusual digestive symptoms, like bloating or constipation, you can also do a visual inspection of your stool.
The appearance of your stool can give insights into how efficient your digestion is. It can also give you an idea of your gut's ability to absorb foods.
Start with the color of your stool since it’s what most of you often notice first. Normal stool ranges from all shades of brown.
But on rare occasions that you observe a different color, you can refer to this guide to learn what it means:
Next, observe the shape of your stool. With the help of the Bristol Stool Chart, you can determine some gut health problems.
If you are closer to type one stool, you have constipation, and if you are closer to type seven, you have diarrhea. Both of these are serious problems.
If you always feel something other than type three or four, you might want to talk to a doctor or a nutritionist.
A visual inspection of your stool is the easiest way to check how your gut is doing. Observe the color and shape and reference the Bristol Stool Chart.
Gut microbiome kits are available so you can test your gut health in the comfort of your home.
A gut test can tell you about the bacteria present in your gut microbiome. It can also reveal where your symptoms are coming from.
Depending on the gut testing company, you can get customized dietary and probiotic recommendations for your needs.
A visual inspection of your stool can be the easiest and most convenient way to check your gut health. But an at-home microbiome test can provide a more comprehensive assessment of your gut.
Improving your gut health doesn't have to be hard. By making a few simple habits and lifestyle changes, you can get your gut microbiome balance back on track. Here are some tips to get you started.
Having a diverse diet means eating a variety of nutritious foods. It can help increase your gut microbiome diversity.
Don’t forget to add prebiotics and probiotics to your diet.
Prebiotics are dietary fibers that act as food sources for your intestinal bacteria. Some examples of prebiotic foods are:
Meanwhile, probiotic foods encourage the growth in the population of healthy bacteria in your gut. Sources of probiotics are fermented foods, such as:
You should also eat polyphenol-rich foods. They're excellent food sources for a specific strain of good bacteria in your gut called Bifidobacteria. Some examples of this are:
Avoid unhealthy foods such as processed foods, fried foods, artificial sugars, and fructose-rich foods.
A healthy diet is well-balanced. If you’re having difficulty putting a meal plan in place, talk to a qualified nutritionist for dietary support.
Switching to a healthy and nutritious diet enhances your gut microbiome diversity. Make sure to include foods rich in probiotics, prebiotics, and polyphenol since they encourage the growth of friendly gut bacteria.
Dietary supplements are your friend if you feel you’re not getting enough probiotics, prebiotics, and fiber from foods. You can try taking digestive supplements to help enhance your gut health.
Some gut health supplements come in preformulated blends that you can purchase over the counter. But if you're willing to stretch your budget, you can go for customized supplements tailored to your gut needs.
Aside from digestive supplements, fiber supplements are also available over the counter and can help with more specific digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea.
If you feel you're not getting adequate probiotics, prebiotics, or fibers from your meals, you should try dietary supplements. Dietary supplements can supply the needed nutrients to improve your gut health.
Just like your body’s sleep-wake cycle, your gut has its rhythm, too. Disrupting this rhythm may have damaging effects on the bacteria in your gut.
A recent study reveals that sleep deprivation causes changes in the gut microbiome. It showed an increase in the number of bacteria linked with:10
The length and quality of your sleep are important to keep your gut bacteria healthy and happy. Sleep deprivation can affect the bacterial diversity in your gut microbiota.11
Your gut has a rhythm closely related to your body's sleep-wake cycle. Getting enough sleep helps prevent drastic changes in your gut microbiome composition that causes different systemic health problems.
You probably already know that being unable to manage your stress levels can have detrimental effects on the body.
But do you know that stress also alters the normal balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut microbiome? That's right; stress can set off or worsen your digestive symptoms.
The gut-brain connection explains why stress and other psychological factors affect your digestive tract.2
To help manage your digestive symptoms caused by stress, you need to go to the root cause. Identifying your triggers can help you mitigate your stress.
You can also try these simple tips to improve your stress management and response:
Stress can influence the balance in your gut microbiome. Good stress management and response can greatly contribute to improving your gut health.
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