Updated: Oct 21
When discovering the importance of gut health, it's vital to understand everything. From the gut-brain connection directly influencing your mental health to the gut microbiome, with about 200 different species of microorganisms impacting your gut, your entire body is impacted when your gut is unhealthy.
My gut-healing journey started in 2022. I did two food sensitivity tests that said I was sensitive to 66 food items. Many people have concerns about food sensitivity tests because some claim they pick up on foods you consume most often. This was not my experience.
I was already plant-based when I did my food sensitivity tests, but the tests indicated a sensitivity to most animal products. This sensitivity wasn't too surprising for me, considering I dealt with migraines simply from smelling most animal products, let alone eating them. Overall, that result wasn't a big deal for me, but it was a bit more difficult when other foods came up and had to be eliminated.
Of course, after months of planning, I started (and completed) a 66-food elimination diet and found I only had sensitivities to a handful of foods that I frequently consumed. I used my elimination diet to focus on healing my gut. I noticed a drastic difference in my overall health and felt amazing. Interestingly, after focusing on my gut health, I was no longer sensitive to some of the foods I was originally sensitive to.
At the end of this blog, I will discuss the beginner, intermediate, and advanced steps that can be taken to positively influence gut health. When preparing to heal your gut, I highly recommend taking a food sensitivity test through companies like Check My Body Health (includes gut health analysis) or EverlyWell and executing an elimination diet to ensure you do what's best for your body. Now, for the moment you've been waiting for – gut health.
Understanding Gut Health
We've all heard of gut health, followed by terms like "leaky gut" and "elimination diet," but we often don't understand their importance. Gut health is the foundation of health. We have the gut-brain connection, which directly influences your mental health, associating anxiety with stomach problems and vice versa (1). Then you have overall gut health, or the "gut microbiome," with about 200 different species of microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi living in your gut (2).
Gut health is an important topic because poor gut health is linked to several health concerns, including:
That's basically everything out there, so yes — gut health matters.
Contrarily, when beneficial probiotic bacterial strains are consumed, the health benefits are endless. For instance, having a large variety of bacteria in the gut may help reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriatic arthritis (36). If you read my blog, The Importance of Probiotics, you know that's where bacteria or probiotic strains come in, so let's discuss several strains and their benefits:
Lactobacillus acidophilus supports lactose digestion and a healthy immune system while helping balance the microbiome to reduce gastrointestinal problems and alleviate mild, occasional constipation (37).
Lactobacillus rhamnosus assists with healthy weight management while supporting digestive, immune, and women's health (37).
Lactobacillus reuteri promotes oral health while supporting heart and women's health (37).
Lactobacillus plantarum supports digestion and a healthy immune system while relieving occasional bloating and intestinal discomfort (37).
Lactobacillus gasseri supports digestion and a healthy immune system while assisting with healthy weight management (37).
Bifidobacterium lactis supports a healthy immune system and digestion while relieving occasional constipation (37).
Bifidobacterium bifidum supports a healthy immune system while aiding digestion, especially lactose (37).
Bifidobacterium longum supports digestion, the immune system, and stress responses while relieving occasional constipation (37).
Bifidobacterium infants utilize the special sugars in breast milk to minimize gastrointestinal distress due to microbiome composition while aiding in human milk digestion and colonizing the infant microbiome with healthy bacteria (37).
The Gut-Brain Connection
The brain directly influences the gut and the intestines, associating anxiety with stomach problems and vice versa (1). When something transpires, inducing substantial mental or emotional pain, it is a "gut-wrenching" experience for a reason.
Disguised in the walls of the digestive system, this "brain in your gut," or enteric nervous system (ENS), is changing the interpretation of digestion, mindset, health, and even the way you think. The ENS may activate powerful emotional changes, often overlooked by individuals struggling with irritable bowel syndrome and functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, stomach upset, and pain. The brain and gastrointestinal systems are interconnected, resulting in heartburn, abdominal cramps, or loose stools (38).
The gastrointestinal tract is hypersensitive to emotions such as anger, anxiety, sorrow, and contentment — all of these feelings, amongst many others, can initiate symptoms in the gut. Therefore, an individual's stomach or intestinal distress can be the reason or consequence of anxiety, stress, or even depression (39).
Mainstream medicine is catching onto the gut-brain connection. For this reason, it's becoming more common to see antidepressant medication prescribed to treat bowel disorders (39).
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
Many wonder how to know if you need to focus on gut healing. The answer is nearly all of us do, and the body gives us many clues. Of course, we must slow down long enough to evaluate and interpret what's happening. Some key indicators of an unhealthy gut include (40,41):
Unintentional weight changes
If you read Earthley's guide, The Gut Health Support Guide, which I co-wrote, you know experiencing more subtle symptoms (usually not associated with gut health) may occur. If you're experiencing the following symptoms, you may need to focus on healing your gut:
Low back pain (with no apparent physical cause)
White/yellow coating on the tongue
Chronic congestion or mild productive cough
Bloating/pain in the center of your abdomen, just below your ribs
Tiny white bumps on arms or legs
Trouble falling asleep before 2 and 3 a.m. or waking between 2 and 4 a.m. and being unable to fall back to sleep
Difficulty waking/feeling alert in the morning
Mild, aching pain around joints or along the inside/outside of arms and legs (feels like you need to stretch/move, but that doesn't quite make it go away)
Urine has a bacon-like smell (this can also be a urinary tract infection)
Intense and frequent sugar cravings
Inability to lose weight, despite diet/exercise changes
Irregular menstrual cycle
It doesn't seem like these symptoms could all be related, but they can be. Candida overgrowth, for example, can cause several of the symptoms listed. Now, let's discuss what influences gut health.
Influences on Gut Health
We live in a modern world, with technology advancing daily. In other words, gut-influencing factors surround us, whether helpful or harmful. Some of the most common threats to gut health include the following:
Sedentary lifestyle (42)
Drinking too much alcohol (43)
Cigarette smoking (44)
Not getting enough sleep (45)
High stress levels (46)
Mold exposure (47)
Environmental pollutants (48)
Pesticides on produce (49)
Ultra-processed foods (50)
Of course, there are also many ways to positively influence and heal gut concerns. Healing the gut may look different for everyone, depending on where you are on your journey. I recommend starting with the beginner steps and working through the intermediate and advanced steps to maximize your gut-healing potential.
Beginner steps to positively influence gut health:
Increase water consumption.
Focus on consuming whole foods.
Intermediate steps to positively influence gut health:
Advanced steps to positively influence gut health:
Eliminate or limit pharmaceutical medications (do this to the best of your ability with the help of a trusted medical professional).
⚠️ Warning: The Holistic Hipppie is not a functional medicine practitioner. The FDA has not evaluated these statements. This content is not medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or replace medical guidance. The Holistic Hipppie assumes no liability for the application of the information discussed.