Just like any part of our body, the gut can start to function abnormally or become diseased. When a problem affects the structure of the gut such as an ulcer, or inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s its referred to as an organic disease. However, when there isn’t an obvious sign of structural abnormality it is often referred to as a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This is how acid reflux and IBS are classified. Basically, the gut isn’t functioning properly. Diagnostic tests might not show anything to be wrong, which is incredibly frustrating for those who are suffering. Unfortunately, most common tests aren’t designed to pick up on a functional disorder of the gut.

A functional gastrointestinal disorder has the ability to affect any part of your gut and localised symptoms can vary from bloating to abdominal cramps depending on which part of the gut has been disturbed. In today’s world of high stress, processed meals, antibiotics and chemicals in our food (and food-supply chain) many people suffer from poor digestion. It’s possible that many symptoms will over lap and it’s important not to ignore or dismiss any problem you may be suffering from. There are consequences long-term to continual bloating or constipation.


With almost 1 in 3 suffering from digestive problems in the UK, most people know that bloating, constipation, heartburn and gas are signs that something is amiss with their intestinal health. If you are having more than 3 bowel movements a day, or less then 3 per week then there is a possibility you could have IBS. If you feel very full after eating it might mean your stomach acid levels are too low or if you suffer with constipation regularly then there is a chance that your large bowel isn’t working quite as efficiently to remove toxins from the body as it should. All these are more obvious signs that your gut health has been compromised and it would be advisable to see a professional to help assess ways in which you can heal your gut. Letting these symptoms get worse or go untreated could be at the detriment of your future health – if the gut is compromised it won’t be long before your immune system starts to suffer too.


As Hippocrates famously said ‘All disease begins in the gut’. Even thousands of years ago healers would often look at giving those with general malaise yoghurt enemas to help heal their symptoms. They knew that something in the yoghurt, probiotics as we know them today, would be able to heal their gut. Roll forward a few millennia and today we are recognising more and more that many of the common inflammatory illnesses can indicate your digestive system may be under attack and need some assistance. From brittle nails to arthritis, here are some of the lesser known indicators of poor digestion that you should watch out for.


1. Acne & Other Skin Conditions

Many skin conditions (like acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis or rosacea) actually begin in the digestive system. There is a real need to stress that inflammatory problems of the skin may appear to be totally unrelated to the gut but they are caused by digestive problems. If you have dry or flaky skin, your body could be struggling to digest fat due to the fact it is low in the enzyme lipase. Similarly, if your body is not breaking down food properly, you won’t be absorbing vitamins like A, E and K which are essential for smooth and glowing skin. Vitamin A is key in preventing acne. Not only does it help the skin repair itself but it boosts the immune system so you can fight off the acne-causing bacteria. Vitamin K prevents redness, spots and speeds up healing; and the antioxidant qualities of Vitamin E are essential for clear and healthy skin. Low levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut can also cause inflammation which leads to puffy skin and uneven skin tone. While, pimples are the body’s way of eliminating excess toxins and debris which the gut struggles to eliminate.

2. Food Intolerances & Allergies

At Thrive Holistic Health common digestive problems are sometimes thought to be an underlying factor in the development of food allergies in children. While it is important to identify and avoid the foods that cause a reaction, it’s also important to take steps to improve overall digestive health. Food intolerances can sometimes be caused by a lack of certain digestive enzymes. For example, if you are deficient in the lactase enzyme, then you may not be able to digest lactose from dairy products – making you ‘lactose intolerant’. Often, food intolerances develop when the gut lining has been compromised and the good bacteria is no longer able to create a strong barrier to prevent unwanted microbes and particles getting into the blood stream. Food intolerance testing would be important here to identify and remove the triggers of inflammation and to help the gut heal.

3. Inflammatory Illnesses: Arthritis, Asthma, Migraines and Autoimmunity

Poor digestion wreaks havoc across the entire body, with many now believing that it could be a contributing factor in the development of inflammatory disease and autoimmunity. Since digestive issues leads to a compromised gut lining, intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut) unwanted particles are able to enter the blood stream. This can lead to systemic inflammation reactions being triggered by the immune system, which can cause joint pain, breathing problems, headaches and over time the development of serious autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Psoriasis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Research supports that these kinds of autoimmune responses may be reversed through removing trigger foods and following a gut healing protocol.

4. Bad Breath

If you’re experiencing bad breath that won’t go away no matter how much you brush your teeth or you use mouth wash regularly to no avail then you may have to look a little deeper into your digestive system to find out what is going on. Caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, the smell may even get worse after you eat something sugary, because the bad, pathogenic, bacteria residing in your small intestine is feeding off the sugar. Digestive system disorders, such as acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease), are also a cause of foul smelling breath. Taking a high dose of probiotics, digestive enzymes and eating rich probiotic fermented foods can help your body better digest foods and feed the good bacteria. These foods also improve the flora in your mouth leading to better smelling breath in no time.

5. Body Odour

Impaired digestion enables toxins and chemicals to develop in the gut which, if we aren’t able to eliminate quickly will be absorbed back into the body and eliminated through the skin in the form of sweat. Often, if we eat lots of protein daily these heavy foods can be difficult for the body to digest owing to the fact that a lot of stomach acid is required to break the fibres down. Undigested food can then make its way to the large bowel where bad bacteria will feast and ferment these undigested fibres to produce chemicals that then re-circulate around the body. A 2006 study published in the ‘Chemical Senses’ journal reported that the participants on a non-meat diet had a significantly more attractive, more pleasant and less intense smell than the meat-eating participants. If you are experiencing a rise in body odor, especially after eating, then you might be eating a little too much protein or your stomach acid and digestive enzymes levels may be lower than ideal. Look to incorporate a few lighter meals into your routine and opt for a few vegetarian options.

6. Tiredness after Eating

If you need a post-lunch nap then you may be suffering from a sluggish digestive system. When your system is under strain your body will need to direct more energy to your gut to enable proper digestion and absorption. You are left feeling tired. If your portion sizes are a little bigger than they should be then your body will struggle to fuel your digestive system and you’ll feel sleepy. Try smaller meals or soups/smoothies to give your system a break. Taking a short walk after your meal has been shown improve digestion – plus the fresh air should help give you a burst of energy. You could also try taking a spoonful of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water before each meal, as this is hugely beneficial for some in helping digestive issues.

7. Iron Deficiency / Anaemia

Have you been diagnosed with iron deficiency, or suspect you are anaemic? Gastrointestinal blood loss is cited as one of the most common causes of iron deficiency in men and in post-menopausal women. An inflamed gut could to food undigested food causing havoc along the intestines and cause the gut lining to become irritated and possibly bleed. There are often no obvious signs and symptoms of this blood loss aside from the usual symptoms you experience with anaemia such as fatigue. In addition, good levels of stomach acid are required to absorb the essential B12 vitamin. This vitamin aids in the development of red blood cells and if we aren’t absorbing enough then our red blood cells won’t develop properly, causing typical signs of anaemia – this is known as Pernicious Anaemia. Obtaining blood tests and arranging a stomach acid test might be required to help identify your cause of anaemia.

8. Brittle Nails and thinning hair

Brittle nails and thinning hair can be a good indicator you aren’t producing enough stomach acid to digest food properly. This means your body won’t be absorbing nutrients like protein, calcium and zinc from your foods – which are all essential for great nails and hair. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, unhealthy nails and hair are considered to be a common physical sign of poor digestion because they reflect your ability to absorb and digest nutrients. The American Academy of Dermatology sites digestive problems as one of the main causes of ingrown toenails. In addition, an iron deficiency (as mentioned above) can cause the nail bed to be thin and concave and have raised ridges or spoon-shaped nails.

9. Difficulty Maintaining Weight

Weight loss can be a symptom of a digestive problem due to the inability to fully absorb food nutrients, while gut inflammation can directly affect metabolism. Whereas a few digestive issues, including slow bowel movements, may cause weight gain. People who are struggling with acid reflux or stomach ulcers often eat frequently to temporarily decrease their pain. This is because the saliva and food, neutralize the acid, but once the food is digested there is even more pain from rebound acid production. The bloating caused by poor digestion, by food intolerances and even from medications taken to relieve the symptoms of poor digestion can also be confused for weight gain.

10. Low Mood and Depression

Sadly, an initial misdiagnosis of depression is often given to people who are suffering from IBS. When the gut is compromised vital neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA which can be tested for by Thrive holistic health Coaches produced in the gut by our good bacteria, start to diminish. Eating too much sugar and high fat foods, even artificial sweeteners, will kill off the vital good bacteria needed to maintain our happiness. These neurotransmitters are responsible for helping keep us calm and enjoying life, but when they run low we can feel tired, over whelmed and we lose focus and concentration. Recent studies have found that prescribing probiotics to someone who is feeling low can boost their mood and improve signs of IBS at the same time.


Overall, a healthy diet rich in whole foods, probiotics and fermented foods goes a long way to ensuring your digestive system remains healthy and fully functioning.


While all of these symptoms in isolation don’t necessarily point to a digestive issue, it is vitally important that you pay attention to your body and if you notice several symptoms together there could be a problem with your gut health. Consulting with a Holistic Health Practitioner, is the first step in being able to identify if your symptoms are being caused by a compromised gut. Expert help can direct you to appropriate food intolerance testing and comprehensive stool analysis to identify exactly what the problem is and then work with you to create eating plans, offer supplements advice and recommend alternative therapies to help you heal your gut and say goodbye to these symptoms for good. 

To start your journey to improved health and to Look Feel & Perform Better contact us today…

In Health & Happiness