According to a 2019 CSIRO report on Gut Health and Weight Loss, up to 50% of Australians experience digestive issues each year with 1 in 7 experiencing gut symptoms which affect their quality of life (1). So, whether we talk about it or not, many of us are struggling with our gut.
Our gut includes the stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, gallbladder, liver and more. It’s a very complex system with multiple organs that all need to function well to ensure a healthy gut. Scientific research is ongoing to better understand this essential and intricate system, but there are some things which are becoming generally accepted as ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ for your gut.
I’m not a medical professional and I’m not pretending to be, but I am a person with a gut that has not always been cooperative. Through my own experiences and research to understand a sensitive gut and what classifies as normal, here’s what I have learned about constipation and the importance of a well-functioning gut.
What does a normal, healthy gut feel like?
A healthy, functioning gut mostly feels like nothing at all: it does its job without you noticing. Occasional gas or bloating are part of the process and are likely due to how you digest certain foods. Consistent constipation, bloating, pain or cramping and other signs of digestive discomfort are considered abnormal and should be addressed with your preferred health professional.
What counts as constipation?
It takes over a day for food to travel entirely through the digestive process and exit the body, anywhere from 24-60 hours. Factors such as stress, lifestyle choices, dietary intolerances or chronic conditions may affect this speed (i.e. faster or slower). Medical experts generally agree that a regular pooping schedule could be anywhere from 3 times per week up to 3 times per day. If you’re going less than twice per week, that’s a medically accepted definition of constipation (2).
Frequency is only one factor in assessing constipation. It’s also important to consider the consistency of your stool. Hard and lumpy are classic signs of constipation. CSIRO has a helpful chart on stool consistency in their post ‘Is My Gut Healthy?’
If you’re a podcast listener, Low Tox Life has multiple, highly informative gut health episodes to choose from:
- Show #44: Constipation Poop Cast with Lynda Griparic
- Show #123: Dr Vincent Pedre on gut health where science meets woo woo
- Show #135: The Gut and its Microbiota with Dr Jason Hawrelak
- Show #177 – Asha Evertsz on Skin Health – Part 2
The trouble with chronic constipation
During digestion, our body absorbs the nutrients it needs and throws away what it does not. The purpose of poop is to remove these waste products from our body. Chronic constipation means this waste is not being removed effectively. The longer this waste stays in our body, the more likely it is to impact our gut health such as through an overgrowth of bacteria, gut inflammation or a leaky gut (3). While constipation can be relieved through laxatives, the adverse affects of being constipated are not so easily recognised or treated.
5 subtle signs of an unhealthy gut
Excessive bloating, gas and constipation are obvious signs that your gut is struggling because they start and end in your gut. But poor gut health (dysbiosis) does not always stay in the gut. Here are 5 subtle health issues that may actually be coming from your gut.
1. Bad breath
If you have unpleasant breath that teeth brushing doesn’t fix, it’s probably not related to bacteria in your mouth. There are many different gut issues that can lead to bad breath such as IBS, SIBO and even constipation (4). Bad breath is usually accompanied by other, more noticeable gut symptoms which means you realise there is a gut issue and seek treatment. However, not many of us realise the bad breath was connected to the gut in the first place. If persistent bad breath without major gut symptoms is an issue, you may want to investigate further with your doctor.
2. Skin inflammation
Acne, rosacea, eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions aren’t always caused by what you put on the surface of your skin. While external factors can irritate existing inflammation, internal factors can easily be the cause of your inflamed skin. If it seems like nothing you do is able to improve your skin, working with a medical professional to investigate your gut health may be the missing link.
There are two main ways that poor gut health can lead to fatigue. First, an unhealthy gut can affect your sleep quality which may be why you’re waking up tired despite a full night’s rest (5).
Second, is the connection between gut health and our immune system. Around 70-80% of your immune cells exist within the gut, which makes sense when you consider its main job is to process toxins and waste. When our immune system is under stress, we often feel more tired. Considering how much of our immune system resides in our gut, it’s hardly surprising that an unbalanced gut can lead to fatigue (6).
4. Headaches and migraines
Your brain and your gut may live far apart in the body but they are still closely connected. Some research suggests people who suffer frequently from headaches or migraines are more likely to experience negative digestive symptoms, like reflux, constipation or nausea (7). It’s too early to say how many headaches or migraines are gut-related, but it’s definitely a symptom worth exploring.
5. Mood disruption
We don’t call them gut feelings for nothing. The gut-brain connection can also alter your moods. According to Harvard Health, stress, anxiety and even depression can be either a symptom from an unhealthy gut or the cause of your gut issues (8).
What should you do next?
If any of the information in this article has made you wonder about your own gut health, the next step is working with your preferred health provider on a solution. From your GP to a dietician or Chinese Medicine, there are many different methods for improving gut health. You may also like to start keeping a diary of your symptoms. It’s easy to forget how you feel between one day and the next, but tracking symptoms even for a short period can put into perspective your overall health.
Used throughout: The CSIRO Healthy Gut Diet by Michael Conlon, Pennie Taylor, and Tony Bird
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone. They are for informational purposes only and do not constitute, nor are intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice. It is advisable to seek the guidance of medical professionals before making any changes. Considerable efforts are made to ensure all information is up to date and accurate however, any action users choose to undertake as a result of any article will be done at their own risk.
Julia is a Melbourne-based writer specialising in content marketing and digital content. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her sipping hot tea, reading a great book and planning the next big travel adventure. Visit Work With Me if you’d like to collaborate.