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What causes an unhealthy gut?

We’ve already covered the signs of an unhealthy gut. We think it’s time we were clear about what lifestyle factors can cause these side effects, and what we should avoid in order to protect our gut.

Alterations or imbalances to our microbiome

A microbial imbalance – caused by drinking alcohol, bad diet or taking antibiotics – is what happens when one colony of microbes increases or decreases. To make up for the change, another colony will do the same. All resulting in a vicious cycle, leaving your gut completely out of sync.

A microbial imbalance (dysbiosis) – caused by stress, too much alcohol, bad diet or taking antibiotics – is what happens when there’s a disruption in the harmonious levels of good and bad bacteria in the gut. It shows itself as a decline in the bacteria that benefit health, as an increase in disease-causing bacteria, or as a restriction of bacteria diversity. Dysbiosis has been linked to digestive problems and some chronic diseases.


An unbalanced diet

Eating too much sugar, fat or refined carbohydrates plays havoc with the ecosystem of good bacteria living in our colon, which in turn affects our immune system, mood, skin, weight and hormone balance.

It’s crucial that we look after our gut bacteria and keep it thriving and as diverse as possible and making the right diet and lifestyle choices is one of the best ways to help maintain healthy gut balance. In particular eating a diet rich in prebiotic fibre encourages good bacteria in the gut to grow, leaving less space for bad bacteria to take hold. These foods include onions, garlic, chicory, apples, bananas and oats.

Food intolerances

We’ve already touched on this topic in our article about the difference between allergies and intolerances, here’s a recap: a true allergy happens when the immune system sees food as an invader and involves antibodies in its response. Whereas an intolerance doesn’t trigger the immune system, and is often a result of the digestive system being unable to completely break down food due to lack of enzymes. Symptoms to look out for are nausea, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. There aren’t any official ‘tests’ for food intolerance, but if you’re experiencing symptoms it’s important to consult your GP or dietitian, they might advise an exclusion diet to help identify the problem food.


Although it happens in our brain, high levels of stress can be hard on your whole body – that includes your gut. In fact, a recent study showed that stress can have the same damaging impact to the gut as a high fat diet. Central to the communication of the gut and brain Is the gut microbiota, which Influences how much Inflammation occurs throughout the body and the brain. Stress signals disrupt the health of these bacteria living in our gut, leading to inflammation, immune problems and gastrointestinal issues. Increasing research suggests that by taking care of our gut health through our diet, we can positively impact our mood and wellbeing.1,2.

While these general points are helpful to be aware of, it’s important to know that all bodies are different – what upsets the stomach of one person might be fine for another. Always visit your GP to be sure.


1Mayer, EA. The neurobiology of stress and gastrointestinal disease. Gut 2000;47;861-869.


2 Galley, J. D., Bailey, M. T. (2014) Impact of stressor exposure on the interplay between commensal microbiota and host inflammation. Gut Microbes, 5:3, 390 – 396.