How’s your gut health?

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 4 min read

Have you ever had a gut feeling about something? There’s a reason why the phrase trust your gut exists. From the butterflies you feel in your stomach when your crush says hello to the nausea you experience before a big presentation – what happens in your gut can affect how you feel and plays a big role in your overall health and well-being. That’s why it’s important to understand when your gut may need a little help and what you can do to promote gut health.

Decoding the gut microbiome

Many of us think of the brain as being akin to grand central station for all bodily processes. But it turns out that our bodies don’t operate that way. It’s not just a top-down communication system. In fact, the gut microbiome has been coined the second brain and that’s because it’s constantly sending messages to the nervous system and vital organs like your brain, heart, lungs and liver. And those messages – both the good and bad – affect your whole body.

Why gut health matters

Your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses. And when the health and ratio of these microorganisms is balanced, you tend to feel pretty good physically, mentally and emotionally. But when there’s an imbalance in the types or ratios of these microorganisms, it can affect everything from your digestion and how well you sleep to how often you get sick and your overall mood.

A healthy gut means your body is able to properly digest food and – even more important – metabolize or use the vitamins and nutrients from that food. Gut health is also vital to your immune health. That’s because roughly 80% of immune-producing cells live in the gut.

When your gut is healthy, its walls are fortified and able keep harmful bacteria, viruses and other pathogens out. But things like stress, alcohol, being sedentary and eating processed foods really do a number on your gut and trigger inflammation and the overgrowth of harmful pathogens that can make you sick.

Signs of an imbalanced gut

Gut health is a big deal. But it’s something that most people don’t pay attention to or know how to evaluate. How do you know if your gut microbiome needs a reset? Look to your body! It’s really smart and sends clues when something is off with your physical, mental or emotional health.

Some signs of an imbalanced gut

  • Headaches
  • Bloating and gas
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Heartburn and/or acid reflux
  • Joint pain
  • Acne and/or skin rashes
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Unexplained weight gain

While these symptoms can definitely be signs that you need to tend to your gut health, it’s always wise to consult with your primary care provider. They can assess your symptoms and, if necessary, provide additional diagnostic testing to get to the bottom of what your body is trying to communicate.

Tips to improve gut health

From what you eat and how you sleep to how you move and manage stress, everything you do either positively or negatively affects the health of your gut microbiome. Viruses and infections can also create imbalances in your gut as can the medications you take to feel better.


Never take antibiotics unless they are prescribed. While antibiotics are great at neutralizing harmful bacteria, they also reduce the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut. If taking antibiotics, eat a variety of gut-friendly foods to help restore your gut flora and get back in balance.

The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to promote gut health. It’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress, move your body every day and get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Additionally, your diet plays a leading role in either promoting or impairing gut health. Are the foods you eat helping or hurting your gut? Take steps today to incorporate more of these foods into your daily diet – your gut will thank you.

Gut-friendly foods

Foods with vital nutrients

A variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables (organic is best!) provides your gut with vital nutrients.

  • Apples
  • Kale
  • Oranges
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Berries

High fiber foods

High-fiber foods help lower bad cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels and keep your bowels happy.

  • Oatmeal
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Whole grains

Probiotic foods

Fermented foods contain beneficial microbes known as probiotics that support good gut bacteria.

  • Yogurt (watch the sugar!)
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Tempeh

Prebiotic foods

Prebiotic foods help to feed the beneficial microorganisms produced by eating probiotic foods.

  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Soybeans
  • Artichokes

Prioritizing your health

Good gut health and good overall health go hand-in-hand. Start paying attention to the messages your gut sends. If something feels off with your digestion, it’s a clue that you probably need to focus on incorporating more gut-friendly foods into your diet and making sure you’re getting plenty of sleep and exercise.

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