5 Unexpected Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut

by JJ Virgin

When I wrote The Virgin Diet over a decade ago, most people weren’t talking about gut health, and some experts were quick to dismiss gut conditions like leaky gut. 

Things are different today. Gut health has jumped to the front of the line as more studies reveal that the gut—or more specifically, the trillions of bacteria that inhabit your gut—is the center of your overall health.  

When your gut works well, you feel and look better, weight loss comes easier, and you don’t struggle with post-meal issues like gas and bloating. But when those trillions of bacteria fall out of balance and the bad guys dominate (a condition called dysbiosis) all sorts of havoc can ensue.  

Read more about dysbiosis in this blog. 

“Unfortunately, the modern world isn’t kind to your gut flora,” says Kellyann Petrucci, ND, in Dr. Kellyann's Bone Broth Diet. “A typical diet high in sugar, carbs, and artificial chemicals and low in critical nutrients can kill off huge swaths of beneficial flora, while allowing levels of bad bacteria to skyrocket. Infections, antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), stress, diet, alcohol, and many medications can also unbalance your gut flora.” 

Dysbiosis Can Create Further Gut Issues 

When those trillions of bacteria fall out of balance, other gut issues are sure to follow. Dysbiosis can lead to leaky gut, for one, which I wrote about extensively in The Virgin Diet 

“Between the antibiotics, eating the wrong foods that feed the bad organisms, the toxins you are exposed to in your environment, and the resulting dysbiosis, over a period of days to months you develop a leaky gut,” says Vincent Pedre, MD, in Happy Gut. 

When your gut is leaky, food particles slip into places they don’t belong. They then trigger an immune response, which can make you inflamed, gain weight, and crave the very food that is hurting you. 

Left unchecked, leaky gut can lead to food intolerances, candida, and small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO). These gut issues can manifest in obvious ways. If you’re running to the bathroom after meals, struggle with constipation, or have other digestive woes, those are sure signs that your gut has gone wrong.  

Other symptoms of an unhealthy gut aren’t so obvious. You may never suspect that, say, a skin breakout or getting sick for the second time this month has anything to do with your gut. Since the gut is a foundational piece of our overall health, it can impact areas we may not realize are even connected.  

Read on to learn some of the unexpected symptoms that may arise where digestive imbalance may be the root cause.

“I don't believe that being vegetarian alone can fix the gut, and a lot of times, it does a lot of damage to the gut,” Vincent Pedre, MD, said in a recent interview for the upcoming What to Eat, When to Eat, and Why Summit. We’ve brought together so many of the world’s top experts to help you determine what to eat for gut health and so much more. This summit happens September 12-18. It's FREE, so learn more and register here. 

Unhealthy Gut Symptom #1: You Get Sick a Lot 

Immune health came front and center during the pandemic. But while researchers emphasized things like social distancing and hand washing, they overlooked a critical aspect of immune health: the gut.  

After all, your gut houses about 70-80% of your body’s immune cells.1 When your gut is sick, those immune cells can’t perform at their best. 

“The immune system, which is primarily in the gut, is influenced and actually taught by the gut microbiome,” says Patrick Hanaway, MD. “The microbiome helps determine the vitality of the immune system, as well as its ‘set-point' for the pro-inflammatory response to infection.”2 

Among its damage, dysbiosis can dysregulate immune responses. This can create inflammation, oxidative stress, and insulin resistance—a triple whammy against your immune system.3  

If you’re calling in sick frequently or cold and flu season seems to hit you extra hard, support your immune system by healing your gut.  

Solutions: 

  • Learn how to maintain a strong immune system in this episode. 
  • L-glutamine is an essential amino acid critical for so many things, including immune and digestive health.* Glutamine Superdust is a convenient, easy-to-mix powder that provides efficacious doses of this multitasking amino acid. Order it here. 

Unhealthy Gut Symptom #2: You Struggle With Skin Issues 

Skin problems like acne can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. If you’re like most people, you resort to expensive skincare regimens and invasive medications to handle these issues. But research shows that your gut has a dramatic impact on your skin health, including acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis.4 

Remember that I mentioned that your gut microbiome helps regulate the immune system? Well, dysbiosis unfavorably alters that immune response, which can lead to the development of skin problems. 

Consider rosacea, a chronic inflammatory skin disease characterized by recurrent episodes of facial flushing. Researchers believe the gut microbiome and its associated inflammatory effects could be a contributing factor in rosacea's development.5 

If skin conditions wreck your self-esteem and weekend plans, your gut might be the issue.  

Solutions: 

  • Learn more here about how making your gut happy clears up your skin too. 
  • Collagen is a protein that helps strengthen and hydrate skin. Loss of collagen with age can lead to dry skin, wrinkles, and other problems. Collagen Peptides Powder contains a unique blend of patented collagen peptides supported by clinical research showing their ability to support collagen production, bone strength, joint health and integrity, skin health, and more.* 

Unhealthy Gut Symptom #3: You Have a Hard Time Managing Stress 

Last-minute deadlines, upcoming family gatherings, and financial worries are among the many ways that stress appears these days. Studies show that the pandemic has accelerated levels of stress along with anxiety, depressive disorder, and insomnia.6 

Like other symptoms I mention here, the gut-stress connection is a two-way street. Chronic stress can contribute to dysbiosis and go on to create leaky gut and other gut problems.7 Conversely, imbalances in those trillions of gut microbes could impact how you respond to stress.8 

“[W]e now know that your gut mirrors every emotion that arises in your brain,” says Emeran Mayer, MD, in The Mind-Gut Connection. “Amazingly, the majority of patients suffering from abnormal gut reactions have no idea that their gut problems reflect their emotional state.” 

Stress is everywhere these days. The key is to support your gut and find effective ways to manage stress. 

Solutions: 

  • Listen here to learn simple, effective ways to manage stress. 
  • In one study, probiotics improved sleep while reducing stress and cortisol levels in Japanese medical students.9 Flora Harmony provides 50 billion colony-forming units (CFU) of the 10 most highly researched probiotic strains in every capsule to provide the gut support you need. Learn more and order Flora Harmony here. 

Unhealthy Gut Symptom #4: You Often Feel Moody 

Every one of us has one of those “off” days where things don’t go well. But if you frequently struggle with anxiety, depression, or just a blah feeling, your gut could be sending you an SOS.  

Your gut produces more than 30 neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers that carry messages from one part of your body to another, including serotonin. In fact, about 95% of this feel-good neurotransmitter is produced in the gut.10 

Healthy levels of serotonin mean that you feel focused, emotionally stable, happier, and calmer. Researchers attribute low serotonin levels, on the other hand, to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.11 

While depression and other mood disorders are multidimensional and might require working with a functional medicine doctor, addressing your gut can go a long way toward creating a calmer, more steady mood. 

Solutions: 

  • Eat by the plate. The magic trifecta of healthy fats, fiber, and protein helps balance blood sugar, so you don’t suffer the spikes and crashes that can lead to moodiness. Learn how to eat by the plate here. 
  • Listen here to learn more about how food impacts your mood. 

Unhealthy Gut Symptom #5: You Carry a Toxic Burden 

Toxins are nearly everywhere, including the food you eat and many products you use daily. You can’t eliminate these toxins, but you can minimize their impact. And focusing on gut health is an often-overlooked way to do that.  

When you think about detoxification organs, you probably think of your liver and kidneys. But we sometimes overlook the gut as a detoxification system.  

“The gut and liver work together to remove noxious substances derived from food, your environment, gut microbes, and even the operation of your own metabolism and hormones,” says Pedre in Happy Gut. 

Research shows that environmental toxins can contribute to dysbiosis and impact your gut’s ability to detoxify. Conversely, a healthy gut can metabolize many environmental chemicals, supporting the body’s detoxification abilities.12 

Detoxing well means that your body effectively expels those toxins. In other words, you want to breathe, sweat, pee, or poop them out. A healthy gut is essential for eliminating those toxins. 

Solutions: 

  • Take this quiz to determine your level of toxic burden. 
  • Fiber is critical for detoxification. Fiber binds excess hormones, environmental toxins, and more, which you eliminate in your stool. That’s why I want you to get 50 grams of fiber daily. Getting that amount from food alone can be a challenge. Extra Fiber can help. Every serving combines fiber from fruits, vegetables, roots, seeds, and tree extracts including a prebiotic that supports the growth of friendly bacteria.* Order Extra Fiber here. 

Final Thoughts: Addressing Food Intolerance to Heal Your Gut 

An unhealthy gut can take its toll on your skin, immune system, mood, and other issues that you may never suspect originated from your gut. Gut healing isn’t an overnight process. But the good news is that eliminating the seven foods most likely to create gut damage can deliver dramatic results in just 21 days.  

On The Virgin Diet, I’ll show you how to eliminate those triggers and replace them with delicious, gut-healing foods. Along with the right nutrients and some simple lifestyle strategies, you’ve got a powerful way to reclaim your gut, lose weight, and better manage things like stress and moodiness that can take your day down.  

The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. 

References: 

  1. Wiertsema SP, van Bergenhenegouwen J, Garssen J, Knippels LMJ. The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 9;13(3):886. doi: 10.3390/nu13030886. PMID: 33803407; PMCID: PMC8001875. 
  2. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/gut-health-immune-response/ 
  3. Yoo JY, Groer M, Dutra SVO, Sarkar A, McSkimming DI. Gut Microbiota and Immune System Interactions. Microorganisms. 2020 Oct 15;8(10):1587. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms8101587. Erratum in: Microorganisms. 2020 Dec 21;8(12): PMID: 33076307; PMCID: PMC7602490. 
  4. Ellis SR, Nguyen M, Vaughn AR, Notay M, Burney WA, Sandhu S, Sivamani RK. The Skin and Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Common Dermatologic Conditions. Microorganisms. 2019 Nov 11;7(11):550. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms7110550. PMID: 31717915; PMCID: PMC6920876. 
  5. Daou H, Paradiso M, Hennessy K, Seminario-Vidal L. Rosacea and the Microbiome: A Systematic Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2021 Feb;11(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s13555-020-00460-1. Epub 2020 Nov 10. PMID: 33170492; PMCID: PMC7859152. 
  6. Didriksen M, Werge T, Nissen J, Schwinn M, Sørensen E, Nielsen KR, Bruun MT, Banasik K, Hansen TF, Erikstrup C, Ostrowski SR, Jennum PJ, Hjalgrim H, Ullum H, Pedersen OB. Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Sleep Quality, Stress Level and Health-Related Quality of Life-A Large Prospective Cohort Study on Adult Danes. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 17;18(14):7610. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18147610. PMID: 34300061; PMCID: PMC8307688. 
  7. Madison A, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2019 Aug;28:105-110. doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011. Epub 2019 Mar 25. PMID: 32395568; PMCID: PMC7213601. 
  8. Madison A, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2019 Aug;28:105-110. doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011. Epub 2019 Mar 25. PMID: 32395568; PMCID: PMC7213601. 
  9. Nishida K, Sawada D, Kuwano Y, Tanaka H, Sugawara T, Aoki Y, Fujiwara S, Rokutan K: Daily administration of paraprobiotic Lactobacillus gasseriCP2305 ameliorates chronic stress associated symptoms in Japanese medical students. J Funct Foods 2017, 36:112–121. 
  10.  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/ 
  11.  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22572-serotonin 
  12.  Claus SP, Guillou H, Ellero-Simatos S. The gut microbiota: a major player in the toxicity of environmental pollutants? NPJ Biofilms Microbiomes. 2016 May 4;2:16003. doi: 10.1038/npjbiofilms.2016.3. Erratum in: NPJ Biofilms Microbiomes. 2017 Jun 22;3:17001. PMID: 28721242; PMCID: PMC5515271.