How to know your digestive system is not functioning properly

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

While modern science proves that this may not be entirely true—for instance, genetic diseases do not start in the gut—there is evidence that many chronic metabolic diseases do, in fact, begin in the gut.


According to Brooke Alpert, RDN, a nutritionist in NYC, your gut is home to over 100 trillion bacteria, and while some of them help you stay healthy, others are just toxic. Some of these bad bacteria can “leak” through a compromised (weakened) gut lining and enter the bloodstream.

When this happens, our immune system mounts an attack against them, resulting in a chronic inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation has been strongly linked to many of the world’s most serious diseases. (You don’t have to suffer in silence with digestive problems anymore.)

In many cases, there may not be any signs or symptoms—like stomach ache, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation—so you may not be aware that there is a problem with your gut. But there are other seemingly unrelated outward signs that point to a not-so-happy inside.

You never miss cold and flu season. Your gut health and immune system are inextricably linked. Did you know that approximately 70 to 80 percent of your immune system is located within your digestive system? In fact, the gut mucosa connects with the largest population of immune cells in the body. These are also known as gastrointestinal immune cells. If you’re constantly getting sick, there’s a good chance that these cells aren’t up to par. The best thing to do in such a case is to resort to a healthy diet, which helps promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut.

You have itchy, blistery rashes on your elbows and knees. It may look like eczema or dermatitis, but it could be a sign of celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that makes you hypersensitive to gluten. Up to 25 percent of people with celiac disease present with this rash, and it’s not always accompanied by any gastrointestinal symptoms. (The worse your digestive system…the worse your health.)

Your teeth look yellowish and raggedy. If you notice that your teeth are suddenly losing their luster and turning yellow, you might want to see a gastroenterologist rather than a dentist. That’s because this problem could be caused by undiagnosed gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux.  You might notice that the cusp of the upper and lower molars (large flat teeth at the back of your mouth) show dissolved or eroded areas. This happens when the acid that comes up from your esophagus eats away at the teeth at the back of your mouth.
You’re depressed. According to a recent study done at McMaster University in Canada, certain types of bacteria in your gut can increase your risk of developing anxiety or depression. The presence of bad bacteria promotes the release of inflammatory substances called cytokines. These cytokines travel to your brain, where they disrupt the good mood neurotransmitters and trigger a bout of depression. The best way to fight this is to eat healthily. The “good” bacteria in your gut will use molecules from these healthy foods to fight off the “bad” bacteria that can fuss up your mood.


Your body feels tired and sore. Too much bad bacteria can interfere with your body’s ability to break down and digest food, triggering vitamin and mineral deficiencies. While a combo of antibiotics to kill bad bacteria and probiotics to boost good bacteria again may help you reclaim your zest, you cannot underestimate the power of healthy foods.

With all that said, it seems like Hippocrates was right about the gut. Support your overall health by taking care of your gut, and don’t overlook these simple indications that something may be afoot in your digestive department.

Related: 7 fixes for common digestive problems


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