7 Weird Side Effects of an Unhealthy Gut

Your gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem made up of billions of microorganisms. When your good intestinal flora are flourishing, all is groovy with your gut (and your overall health). But when you have gut problems, like an overgrowth of disease-promoting microbes, some weird things can happen — and we're not just talking about bloating, gas and constipation.

Gut problems may be to blame for your sugar cravings. (Image: Elizabeth Fernandez/Moment/GettyImages)

Here, we spotlight seven of the most surprising results of a microbiome that's off-kilter, plus a few tips on how to get your gut back on track.

1. Auto-Brewery Syndrome

Probably the strangest thing that can occur when your gut is out of whack? It can brew beer. As crazy as it sounds, it can happen.

An August 2019 case report in BMJ Open Gastroenterology highlights the diagnosis of a patient who became drunk off his own gut juices thanks to a rare condition called gut fermentation syndrome. Otherwise known as auto-brewery syndrome, this disorder is caused by endogenous gut microbiota that ferment carbohydrates into ethanol, says Lee Ann Chen, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health, who goes on to explain that "affected individuals become drunk despite not actually ingesting any alcohol."

The authors of the BMJ report noted that the patient had just taken a long course of antibiotics, which they believe altered his microbiome, allowing fungal yeast to form in his gut. Treatment included a short-term no-carb diet and probiotics.

2. Bad Breath

When it comes to bad breath, you probably attribute certain foods (onions and garlic, we're looking at you) or poor oral health to the problem. But just like bacteria can linger on your tongue and produce stinky breath, other types of menacing microbes found in your gut can lead to unpleasant mouth odors too.

Case in point: Helicobacter pylori. The most frequent cause of gastritis, this bacterium has been linked to halitosis (chronic bad breath), according to research published in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Dentistry of Tehran University of Medical Sciences. Other symptoms of an H. pylori infection include an ache or burning in the abdomen, frequent burping and unintentional weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.

3. Sugar Cravings

Have a relentless sweet tooth? Gut problems may be to blame.

If you have an imbalance in your gut flora, you may be harboring too many harmful microbes. The problem? Some of these pesky yeast or fungi depend on sugar to survive. And here's the kicker: To get the sugar they need, they'll stimulate your cravings for sweets. In fact, they can even steer you toward certain foods by making them seem tastier, according to an October 2014 study in BioEssays.

Gut problems can mess with your circadian rhythm and keep you from a good night's sleep. (Image: KrisCole/iStock/GettyImages)

4. Insomnia

Trouble catching zzzs? Your gut problems may be contributing to your sleep issues. That's because your microbiome is related to your circadian rhythms and plays a role in regulating sleep, according to a December 2018 review published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

What's more, stress — one of the main causes of sleep disturbance — may also mess with your gut microbes and lead to inflammation. And when that happens, your circadian rhythms could get thrown out of whack, and you might experience a lack of shuteye.

Conversely, when your gut is all good, you're more likely to sleep soundly. Indeed, an October 2017 study in Sleep Medicine found a positive correlation between sleep quality and higher levels of beneficial gut microbes.

5. A Dip in Mental Health

What's happening in your gut directly affects what's going on in your head — literally. The gut-brain axis refers to this interaction between your microbiome and your nervous system.

So, if you're feeling blue, your gut may have something to do with it. Research shows that changes in your gut flora can induce feelings of anxiety or depression, according to the same December 2018 review in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

6. A Dampened Immune System

The healthy bacteria in your gut can help keep your immune system in tip-top shape and protect you from foreign invaders. But when the balance is off in your microbiome, your body may be more vulnerable to disease — and not just gastrointestinal illnesses.

"Clinical and pre-clinical (i.e. animal) studies suggest that the gut microbiome plays a critical role in the normal development of the immune system, which impacts susceptibility to a wide range of diseases," says Dr. Chen.

As a matter of fact, preliminary research shows that the presence of certain strains of gut bacteria may help prevent heart disease and some cancers, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

7. Skin Issues

When it comes to healthy, glowing skin, beauty isn't skin deep. Indeed, it goes way deeper, down to your gut. In a balanced state, your gut helps stave off infection and disease. But when it's not functioning optimally, your skin may be the first place to show the signs.

In fact, your gut microbiome communicates with your skin in multiple ways, according to a July 2018 review published in Frontiers in Microbiology. For example, an imbalance of gut bacteria can activate the body's inflammatory response, which may trigger psoriasis, eczema and acne.

Though much is still unknown about the complex relationship between the gut and skin, preliminary findings suggest that probiotics and prebiotics — which can increase the diversity of your intestinal flora — may improve skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and eczema, according to a November 2017 review in the World Journal of Dermatology.

Fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut contain good bacteria that can promote a healthy gut. (Image: marekuliasz/iStock/GettyImages)

How to Send Gut Problems Packing

There are a few things you can do to help prevent a gut imbalance and boost your body's good bacteria:

  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotics that can deplete good gut bacteria, says Dr. Chen. In other words, make sure you're only taking antibiotics when you truly need them. But if and when you do need these drugs, consider taking a probiotic supplement after your course is through. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, some research suggests probiotics can boost the immune system, reduce inflammation and prevent or treat diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
  • Follow a healthy, varied diet that encourages a diverse ecosystem in your gut, says Dr. Chen. Prebiotics, or the plant fibers found in many fruits and vegetables, can help stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Incorporate more fermented foods into your diet that contain probiotics (live bacteria). Examples include sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
Load Comments
PARTNER & LICENSEE OF THE LIVESTRONG FOUNDATION

Copyright © 2019 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use , Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy . The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.