There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained in the gut flora – there should be a wide range of species, and the good bacteria needs to be in the majority for the gut flora to do its job. However, our modern lifestyle does not create the best conditions for our gut flora to stay in top shape – diets low in fibre, high stress, a sedentary lifestyle, etc., can contribute to the depletion of the gut flora. But how do you actually know if your gut flora is out of balance?
The telltale sign that the gut flora is not in the best shape is a variety of stomach problems, such as bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and constipation. The stomach can also become bloated and gassy, often in conjunction with a meal or a few hours after eating when digestion has kicked into gear.
When the gut and digestive system are not functioning properly, it uses a lot of energy and can make you feel tired, often after eating. Additionally, the hormone serotonin, which affects mood and sleep among other things, is also produced in the gut. Any disruption to the gut flora can therefore affect serotonin production and can, for example, disturb our sleep. A lack of variety in gut flora species has also been shown to be linked to conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (Source).
Poor gut health has been linked to a variety of skin conditions including acne and eczema. Research suggests that inflammation is the likely culprit in this scenario. When the gut flora gets out of balance due to things like prolonged stress or a course of antibiotics, the proportion of inflammation-promoting bad bacteria increases, which can in turn cause skin problems (Source).
When your gut is not functioning properly, it is obviously difficult not to let your mood be affected, but the reason behind this may actually be more physiological in nature than you might think. The gut and brain are interconnected and in constant communication via the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem down to the digestive system. Several of the hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate our mood are also produced in the gut.
Around 70% of the body’s immune system is in the gut. Many researchers therefore believe that a disruption in the balance of the gut flora may be linked to a weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to infection. Autoimmune diseases, where the immune system is overactive and the body attacks and damages its own tissues, have also been linked to gut health. (Source).
If you discover that you may have an imbalance in your gut flora (check out Stig’s three gut health tests), unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. A healthy lifestyle is the key to a healthy and well-functioning body – including healthy gut flora. A healthy lifestyle should therefore include: