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by Joanna Foley, RD, CLT March 16, 2021 4 min read

The gut has become a popular health topic due to its emerging role in overall wellness. There are a variety of diet and lifestyle factors that contribute to an unfavorable gut environment, which can lead to a host of unpleasant symptoms or over time the development of more severe health conditions. Gut health has also been closely linked as an underlying root cause in autoimmune disorders.

Gut Issues — What Can Go Wrong?

Your gut is made up of trillions of microorganisms that make up your microbiome. Having a healthy balance of these microorganisms is key to keeping not only your digestion but also many other aspects of your health functioning optimally.

A range of diet and lifestyle factors can influence the health of your microbiome. Eating a variety of fresh produce that contains essential nutrients and fiber, getting adequate sleep, exercise, managing stress levels and incorporating probiotics from foods or supportive supplements can all improve the health of your gut. Alternatively, food sensitivities, eating a highly-processed diet, the use of antibiotics and high stress are just a few factors that can disrupt the healthy balance of your microbiome and lead to dysbiosis.

Other main underlying root causes behind digestive issues and gut dysbiosis include:

  • Bacterial Overgrowth and Infections. While certain bacteria are beneficial, such as those found in probiotics, other strains can disrupt the balance of the microbiome if they grow and multiply in high amounts. This can imbalance can contribute to disruptions in the body, including small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. SIBO is a severe condition affecting the small intestine. It occurs when bacteria that normally grow in other parts of the gut start growing in the small intestine. Left untreated, SIBO can cause pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition due to the loss of nutrients. H. pylori is a bacteria that affects the stomach which is commonly linked to contaminated food or water and poor living conditions. It has also been associated with further complications including stomach ulcers, gastritis and more.

  • Yeast and fungus.Many types of yeast and fungi live in and on the human body.While some levels are normal, an overgrowth may lead to other issues such as increased intestinal permeability, which then triggers everything from food sensitivities to brain fog, mood disturbances, fatigue and more. Candida is one type of yeast normally found in small amounts in the mouth and intestines and on the skin. At normal levels, it's not problematic. However, when there is an overgrowth of Candida it can lead to an infection known as candidiasis.

  • Parasites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parasites are organisms that live on or in a host organism and feed off of it for survival at the expense of its host. Studies show that parasites that affect the gut, including various types of intestinal worms, also contribute to an imbalanced microbiome.

  • Viral infections. Viruses are tiny germs that can invade and damage healthy cells and lead to illness. Research shows that they can contribute to dysbiosis by disrupting the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut. The stomach flu is one example of an intestinal virus.

How Do I Know if I Have Gut Issues?

Common signs and symptoms of a gut imbalance can include:

Painful digestion IBS or irritable bowel syndrome and intestine pain or Intestinal discomfort inflammation problem or constipation as barbed wire with 3D illustration elements.

Gut Health and Autoimmune Disease — What's the Connection?

Your microbiome plays a critical role in regulating your immune system, which protects the body by fighting off harmful invaders including viruses and higher amounts of unfriendly bacteria. The immune system is designed to tell the difference between healthy and harmful cells, however, if the gut environment is compromised the immune system response can mistakenly attack the cells it is meant to protect and lead to a variety of autoimmune diseases as outlined by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association.

Research shows that having dysbiosis can lead to inappropriate levels of inflammation, which can cause a disruption in the proper functioning of the immune system and potentially lead to autoimmunity. In addition, some studies show that having an autoimmune disorder can also cause harm to the gastrointestinal tract and microbial balance, showing that this connection goes in both directions.

We cannot ignore that the root cause of compromised immunity can be directly linked to the gut. The good news is that taking action to support a healthy gut microbiome and a strong immune system can help rebalance the body, protect it from further dysbiosis and put it in the best position to function optimally. Working with a health coach can help you identify the underlying reason behind any digestive distress or gut issue you may be dealing with.

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