SIGNS OF AN UNHEALTHY GUT
Stress is widely known to have a negative impact on gut bacteria (1). One study that focused on university students found that as their stress levels increased throughout the semester, certain health-promoting gut bacteria decreased (2). This is because immune cells act as messengers that convey psychological stress to the gut (3) and the heightened inflammation that stress triggers boosts pathogenic bacteria. As the name suggests, these aren’t the good guys and can cause what’s known as dysbiosis (damaged or impaired microflora) that affect the gut barrier (4).
Your gut and the brain constantly communicate through something called the gut-brain axis (5). If you think about how your stomach might ache whenever you feel nervous or anxious about something - that’s a classic example of how emotions and stress can perturb gut motility.
This active brain-gut microbiome connection can also influence sleep quality. One study found that, microbiome diversity was positively correlated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time, but was negatively correlated with wake after sleep onset (6).
Digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome are a common response to low quality and low diverse gut microflora (7) and through the gut-brain axis, these conditions can negatively impact mood (8). Additionally, more than 90% of the key mood stabilizing hormone, serotonin, in the human body is produced in the gut, therefore it is conceivable that serotonin secreted by gut microflora can influence the level of serotonin in our brain and then affect behaviour and mood (9). Good bacteria in our guts are also known from the production of some beneficial substances which may exert a direct antidepressant-like effect (10).
Skin health issues can be a sign of an unhealthy gut. When inflammation occurs in the gut as a result of poor diet, this could cause the leaking of certain proteins that cause skin irritations (11).
A PLACE FOR PROBIOTICS
While we can take on lifestyle changes to lessen the impact of health disorders on the gut, probiotics can also play an important role in supporting gut microflora and the healthy functioning of our guts (12). This dual strategy is a positive way to help improve gut health and create a healthy and diverse microbiome.