How do you know whether your gut is healthy or in really bad shape? The answer is in the symptoms you may or may not notice. That’s because an unhealthy gut can lead to all sorts of varying symptoms, some serious and some not so serious. The point is to stay on the lookout and get immediate help from a trained medical professional if you suspect a gut problem.

What is the Gut?

You have probably heard the term “gut” used to mean the same thing as the stomach or a specific part of the digestive system. Even popular television shows that feature MDs as hosts misuse the term. According to medical dictionaries, the gut consists of 10 things: the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, the pancreas, the liver, the gallbladder, the small intestines, the colon, and the rectum. In essence, the gut is the entire digestive tract, not just the stomach or the small intestines or the first portion of the gastrointestinal tract.

Keep that point in mind when you consider the many symptoms of an unhealthy gut.

The Most Common Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut

No one person will exhibit all the common symptoms of poor gut health. In fact, some people can have a very unhealthy gut and display no symptoms at all, though that would be a very rare situation. In typical cases of people who suffer from below-average gut health, one or more of the following symptoms will usually be present.

  • Sleep disturbances and disorders: The entire family of sleep disturbances includes conditions like full-blown insomnia or just low-quality sleep on an average night. The bigger problem is that inadequate sleep leads to chronic fatigue, a dangerous condition. Your body needs serotonin in order to sleep soundly. Serotonin is a hormone that happens to be produced inside the gut. With a weak or unhealthy gut, you won’t have enough serotonin to produce high-grade sleep and will be in danger of developing fatigue-related disorders.
  • Skin disorders, including acne, scaling, and excessive dryness: Dry skin, eczema, acne, and various kinds of scaling can be a direct result of an unhealthy gut. When a leaky gut allows certain types of proteins to escape into a part of the body where they should not be, these proteins often show up in the skin and lead to multiple types of damage.
  • Mental health issues, like depression, mood disorders, and anxiety: When the gut does not work correctly, the body is unable to properly use serotonin, vitamin D and dopamine. Why is that so important? Because these three chemicals are essential for mental health. Without enough of them, or if they’re not being absorbed properly by the body, your mood can swing from unhealthy highs to dangerous lows. A common result is high levels of anxiety, noticeable moodiness, and even depression.
  • Blood pressure problems: One of the roles of the gut is to desalinate, or remove salt, from some of the foods we eat. When the gut is unable to perform this task, extra salt gets into our blood and can lead to hypertension, a potentially deadly condition.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Insulin, serotonin, and dopamine are just three of the key hormones the body needs to perform its basic work. In fact, when even one hormone leaks from the gut or can’t be absorbed by the body due to a malfunctioning gut, many things can happen. The brain can suffer long-term damage (see “Brain disorders, below), you can become moody and depressed (see “Mental health,” below), and your entire insulin system can break down (see “Diabetes,” below). In short, a bad gut can throw off hormone production, storage and absorption.
  • Weight loss and weight gain (unintended): When you drop or add a few pounds but didn’t intend to, you might have an unhealthy gut. When gut health is out of order, the body struggles to keep blood sugar levels right, absorb enough nutrients, store fat in the right way and more. Weight loss and weight gain have different mechanisms, but both, when they are unintended, can result from a leaky or otherwise weakened gut.
  • Many kinds of headaches, including migraines: One of the most common symptoms of an under-performing gut is pain, primarily in the form of tension and migraine headaches. The mechanism at work is the gut’s inability to maintain proper fluid levels, which has a direct effect on blood flow, capillary function and pain above the brow area and around the sinus cavities.
  • Brain disorders: Long-term gut problems can even affect the brain in very direct, dangerous ways. For example, when essential hormones aren’t delivered to the brain every day, the body has no alternative but to begin “shutting down” some of the core parts of its operating processes. That includes proper brain function.
  • Diabetes: A poorly functioning gut is unable to do its part to maintain the body’s insulin response system, a complex process that regulates dozens of vital chemical systems within the body. So, when the gut functions improperly, the entire insulin response cycle can be thrown. Eventually, the result can be diabetes.
  • Brittle or extremely dry hair, baldness: Our bodies need fats and other nutrients to keep our hair soft and pliable. When the gut is unable to process all of the nutrients that we ingest in the form of food, hair can be left brittle, dry and susceptible to falling out. This is actually the first stage of symptoms that can later evolve into hair follicle death and severely dry skin.
  • Bodily inflammation: A classic symptom of leaky gut syndrome, or just an unhealthy gut, is generalized inflammation. Chemical components that help maintain the body’s equilibrium, especially in terms of tissue health, are out of whack when the gut malfunctions. That means the possibility of swelling and tissue water-retention, conditions that are not only painful but can be life-threatening.
  • Yeast infections: The gut regulates so many chemical processes in the human body that it’s not surprising that a weak gut can lead to frequent yeast infection, even in women who are otherwise not susceptible to this type of health challenge.

If you suffer from a leaky gut or suspect that you do. Many of the symptoms listed above tend to get worse very quickly. In fact, the majority of them can lead to serious, long-term health conditions.