You know what they say — you are what you eat, and scientists are beginning to agree. Researchers have discovered an undeniable connection between the gut and the rest of the body.
Essentially, your digestive system is home to a microbiome of bacteria that aid in proper digestion, nutrient absorption and inflammation reduction. However, if your stomach and intestines lack microbe diversity or there’s an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria, you can experience a range of health issues. Even a diet rich in so-called healthy foods can have unexpected adverse effects.
Luckily, you can improve gut — and overall — health by familiarizing yourself with these unexpected issues and adjusting your diet accordingly.
1. Energy Levels
It’s normal for your energy levels to fluctuate throughout the day. However, if you’re consistently waking up with brain fog or feel more fatigued than usual, your diet may be to blame. White bread, alcohol, fried foods and even coffee can cause you to feel lethargic for various reasons. Eventually, these lethargy-inducing foods can disrupt your sleep schedule and sap your energy in the long term so it’s harder to bounce back.
2. Mood Fluctuations
Switching to a new diet can make you more irritable, regardless of how healthy it is. However, these effects are usually short-lived. It’s foods like red meat, high-fat dairy products, refined grains, potatoes, and sweets that fuel long-term bouts of anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, a diet that’s rich in fish, nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables and olive oil can reduce your risk of developing these and other mental illnesses. Fill up on these foods to keep mood fluctuations to a minimum and maintain a healthy, happy outlook.
3. Memory and Cognition
Recent scientific discoveries have also linked microbiome activity with memory and cognition. That’s because a damaged gut lining can cause inflammation in the stomach and the brain, inhibiting your ability to think clearly. Eventually, imbalances in gut microbes can also contribute to amyloid plaques in the brain, which raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other memory-related illnesses. Fill up on brain-boosting foods that contain omega-3s, nutrients that play a key role in brain development and inflammation reduction.
4. Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is often a result of inflammation, which you now know to be a direct byproduct of a poor diet. What you eat can either support your immune system or alter it so it acts abnormally and causes persistent low-grade inflammation. Over time, this can damage healthy cells and organs and cause pain in joints, muscles and tissues. Luckily, you can reduce and even prevent chronic pain and inflammation by avoiding processed items and filling up on whole foods instead.
5. Sickness and Disease
Chronic inflammation and subsequent physical deterioration can compromise your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to seasonal illnesses like the flu. If you continue to fill up on empty calories and processed foods, you can develop more serious issues like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Vitamin deficiencies can also cause many health problems that can affect everything from your hair to your hearing. Therefore, it’s best to maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet to prevent illness and disease.
6. Skin Conditions
The bacteria living in your gut microbiome protect your intestinal lining against damage. When this is compromised, partially digested food can leak into your bloodstream and travel to other parts of your body, including your skin. Consequently, you may suffer acne, rosacea and other skin conditions like hives. Keep your intestinal lining intact and even treat some problems by swapping processed foods for whole ones. Probiotics like yogurt and kefir may help, too.
7. Digestive Distress
While not as serious as heart disease or chronic pain, digestive distress can be highly uncomfortable. Surprisingly, it’s not just unhealthy foods that can leave you bloated, constipated and gassy. Cruciferous vegetables, legumes and other nutritious items can send you running to the bathroom, too. This adverse effect is more common if you dramatically alter your diet overnight. Avoid these nasty side effects by making a slower, more sustainable transition. Your body — and your housemates — will thank you.
Developing a Sustainable Diet
Everyone’s gut microbiome is different, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all diet to heal and protect your body. Instead, you must experiment with other foods to determine which best serve you and your personal health goals. Keep a food diary and make notes about how your meals make you feel. Which ingredients can you swap to feel and look better? Eventually, you’ll find a sustainable eating plan that’s right for you. Just be patient and enjoy the process of trying new foods and recipes.