Medically reviewed by Mary Ahern MS, RDN, RYT January 22, 2024| Written by Godfrey Makonere Wesutsa

Gut Health

The gut is part of the digestive or gastrointestinal system comprising the stomach, small intestines (Ileum), and large intestines (Colon). The primary function of your stomach and intestines is to ensure the absorption of nutrients from your food and facilitate the excretion of waste. An integral part of gut health revolves around the microbiome, or the bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the stomach and the digestive system.

The stomach and intestines comprise many microbiomes. These microbes, especially bacteria, are known for breaking down food and converting it into essential nutrients that the body needs. However, not all microbes are good since some bacteria harm your health because they cause discomfort and other illnesses

Interestingly, certain bacteria are more frequently present in people with conditions like obesity, cancer, autism, and so on. So, the availability of beneficial or harmful microbiomes can be used as an indicator in determining gut health.

However, the food you eat plays a significant factor in impacting the type of bacteria in the gut. It’s because the food has both acute and long-term effects in promoting a conducive environment for either beneficial or harmful bacteria. 

According to,Jay Pasricha, M.D.director of Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, bad gut health affects not only the digestive system but also the physical and mental health.

Actions That Lead to Bad Gut Health

Poor Diet

Research indicates that apoor diet comprises food that lacks fiber. Fiber, an indigestible component of carbohydrates, is the main food source for the beneficial microbes in the GI tract. Consuming fiber-rich foods promotes the prebiotic nature of healthy microbiomes. 

In other words, a lack of fiber will starve beneficial bacteria leading to decreased beneficial activities in the gut.

That said, a poor diet also includes low-nutrientprocessed foods, typically rich in sugar. Studies indicate that such low-nutrient processed foods establish a conducive environment for the survival of harmful microorganisms. It’s because the harmful bacteria thrive on high sugar content in food. 

Since the body’s immune system tries to keep these bacteria under control; the body ends up suffering inflammation in various tissues. And so, consuming processed foods can often lead to chronic inflammation of the gut. 

Additionally, poor diet also affects food breakdown in the stomach and the small intestines. In this case, the active beneficial gut microbes end up producing harmful metabolites. After all, unhealthy foods will break down into smaller unhealthy particles. 

So if a person consumes an unhealthy diet for long; odds are that person will weaken his gut lining and make it susceptible to inflammation. 

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can significantly affect gut health through the secretion of stress hormones. In the long run, this may cause gut permeability. Excess of certain hormones especially cortisol, often results in the loosening of the intestinal lining. When that happens, harmful substances seep through the digestive system, causing inflammation and bad gut health.    

Moreover, the gut comprises many significant microbes that aid in digestion and immune function. Research findings indicate that chronic stress affects the balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria. 

It’s because stress hormones inhibit certain aspects of daily life such as eating, water intake, and other activities. Since these activities enhance the flourishing of beneficial bacteria; a lack of these can make the gut pretty harsh for beneficial bacteria. 

Consequently, mostly harmful bacteria survive. However, some of these tend to ingest the gut lining, causinginflammatory bowel disease

Lastly, the gut plays a vital role in enhancing immune system functioning. So, stress can trigger an immune response, thereby, making your body susceptible to autoimmune conditions and gut inflammation.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption 

Excessive alcohol consumption can harm gut health by disrupting the composition of gut microbiota. The excess alcohol leads to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut and minimizes the levels of the beneficial bacteria. It’s because harmful microbiomes can survive in abnormal gastrointestinal conditions, unlike the beneficial ones. 

Since the alcohol component disrupts gut conditions, this causes a microbiome imbalance calleddysbiosis which results in inflammation of the gut.

Alcohol also interferes with the absorption of vital nutrients and triggers malabsorption in the digestive system. This is confirmed by research where most alcoholics were found to be suffering from some nutritional deficiency. Besides, alcohol also affects appetite. 

Continuous excess alcohol consumption can result in alcoholic gastritis, and pancreatitis, and may also move to other body organs like liver disease.


Water is essential in promoting gut health through digestion and absorption.  Water has been termed the “forgotten nutrient” when it comes to microbiome research since the focus is commonly on diet and not water. 

One recent study has demonstrated that there is a difference in microbiome composition between heavy water drinkers and low water drinkers, but more research is needed. 

The Signs of Bad Gut Health

Digestive Discomfort

Indigestion, gas, and bloating are challenges of digestive discomfort that may indicate problems with your gut. Bloating might indicate dysbiosis in the gut because of trouble breaking down specific components of meals. This dysbiosis of the gut microbiota may be a result of indigestion; promoting excessive flatulence.

Stomach pains may indicate inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Similarly, constipation or diarrhea may reveal abnormalities in your gut.

Irregular Bowel Movement

Chronicconstipation and diarrhea are common signs of an existing gut problem. A constant disruption in bowel movements might indicate a microbiome imbalance in the gut flora by the harmful microbes. 

Consuming a low-fiber diet causes constipation. Meanwhile, it’s the gut inflammation that causesdiarrhea. Acute constipation or diarrhea, while uncomfortable, is usually not caused by microbe imbalance in the intestines. Rather, these are issues mainly associated with stomach overreacting to acute problems - such as stomach flu.

Food Sensitivities 

The Abrupt onset offood sensitivitiesmay indicate poor gut health. You may have problems with the gut's capacity to digest and absorb nutrients, resulting in food sensitivities effectively.

Research suggests that changes in the gut lining caused by microbiome imbalance may lead to food sensitivities and are one of the signs and symptoms of impaired gut health.

Things Someone With A Bad Gut Can Do to Improve Their Gut

Adopt a Gut-Friendly Diet

Your gut health requires incorporating whole, nutrient-dense, high fiber, foods into your diet. So, you should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. These foods provide vital nutrients that promote a diverse microbiota necessary for a healthy gut. 

Food rich in fiber content is crucial because it provides a conducive environment in the gut for beneficial microbiomes to flourish and allows steady bowel movement. Some soluble fibers include legumes and fruits, while insoluble ones are vegetables and whole grains.

Stay Hydrated and Consume Fermented Food.

Routine adequate hydration is essential for a healthy gut. Water intake plays a critical role in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. 

Apart from hydration, incorporating fermented food in your diet is also advised because they are rich in prebiotic beneficial bacteria that enhance gut health. 

Some foods, such as yogurt, kombucha, kefir, and kimchi, are excellent options for supporting prebiotics in the gut.

Limit Processed Foods and Added Sugars

Overconsumption of processed foods and sugar can result in an imbalance in gut bacteria. Therefore, you should reduce your intake of processed foods and added sugars because they may promote the flourishing of harmful bacteria that may result in poor gut health.

Consider Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements are one of the alternative options to enhance gut health. The supplement promotes beneficial microbiota, hence reducing the imbalance in the gut

However, you must consult a healthcare professional to determine and recommend an effective probiotic that aligns with your current condition.

Get Regular Exercise

Regular physical activity has many health benefits, including a healthier gut microbiome. Engaging in physical activities enhances body metabolisms that ensure food intake, absorption, and overall body wellness. 

Regular exercise activities, including walking, cycling, and jogging, should be done consistently.

Working out promotes healthy bacteria in the gut, which minimizes inflammation and enhances immune function. According to research, moderate endurance workouts can enhance gut health regardless of some influential factors like eating habits. 

To achieve gut health, you should make it a norm to exercise regularly.

Prioritize Sleep and Manage Stress

Quality sleep of about 7-8 hours daily is essential for gut and overall health. Research indicates that quality sleep enhances the repair and regeneration of your digestive system and the whole body. 

Stress management is essential for gut health as chronic stress can cause hormonal disturbances as well as appetite variations. And so, stress may cause a person to over-eat or not eat enough. 

So, if you are experiencing chronic stress, then a good idea is to engage in stress-relieving activities such as meditation and yoga.

Consult with a Healthcare Professional

Suppose your gut problems persist despite incorporating various methods to combat the issue. It is advisable to seek guidance from a healthcare professional. They can conduct different tests to locate the underlying problem and offer effective treatment options to prevent adverse conditions that could result in other health complications.

If you are under cancer treatment, you must always inform the care team whenever you notice any bowel changes or rapid weight gain or loss.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption negatively affects your microbiome. It leads to gut irritation and causes gastritis. The irritation can lead to inflammation, which causes bacterial infections, ulcers, and chronic discomfort.

If you want to have a healthy gut, you should limit your alcohol consumption to help prevent intestinal and gut inflammation.


Your gut is digesting food for you. And so, it’s the part of your body that gives you the energy to live. That’s why you must have a healthy gut with a balanced microbiome, proper digestion, and absorption of nutrients. An imbalance in the gut’s regular function may result in issues like constipation, diarrhea, weight gain, and bloating. 

But you can avoid all that and keep your gut healthy by simply making healthy diet choices and choosing a more active lifestyle.