What is gut health?
Gut health is a general term for the physical state and function of your entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Unsure what your GI tract is? Sometimes called the ‘digestive tract’, your GI tract is a part of your digestive system that’s made up of your mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus.
Why is gut health important?
The reason that gut health has become such a major topic in healthcare is that it’s responsible for many different things in your body (but more on that later).
Ultimately though, a healthy gut is important because it allows you to receive vital nutrients from the foods you eat.2
The term ‘gut health’ can also refer to the balance of bacteria in your gut.1
What are the symptoms of poor gut health?
Harris Interactive questioned over 1,849 adults – 50% male and 50% female – across the UK for the Holland & Barrett Gut Health Survey (this study is also known as the Gut Health – Needs, Triggers and Barriers survey).3
One of the areas researchers focused on was gut symptoms.
Experiencing gut symptoms is very common and not necessarily something to worry about, however, if you have persistent symptoms, it may be a sign your gut needs some TLC. You may be able to make some changes to support your gut and improve your symptoms.
Bloating or gas 30%
Bloating is where your belly feels tight, full and extended – and is usually a result of excess gas.
As the name suggests, heartburn is where you experience a burning sensation in your chest that is painful – and it usually happens after eating or when lying down.
It’s caused when acid travels up from the stomach towards the throat.
Another symptom that causes a burning pain in your body is indigestion. This is where the acid in your stomach irritates the lining of stomach or throat.4
Heartburn can be a symptom of indigestion.
You’ll probably know this one already, but another key sign that your gut isn’t at its best is if you’re frequently having loose or watery poos.
Handpicked content: Beautiful Stool Chart
The opposite issue to diarrhoea, constipation is where you haven’t had a poo in over three days and they’re often hard, lumpy and take a lot of effort to get out.
Stomach pain 25%
This can be a result of feeling gassy, bloated, constipated, experiencing diarrhoea or having acid reflux.
Acid reflux 24%
Acid reflux is where the acid from your stomach travels up towards your throat – causing a burning sensation.5
If you ever get heartburn, it’s important to know that it can be a symptom of acid reflux.
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a very common digestive system issue which can affect your gut health.
Feeling full to the point of discomfort was another common symptom of gut health issues according to our survey.
Similarly, 11% of survey participants said they experienced a heavy feeling due to poor gut health.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 7%
Like acid reflux, but a long-term condition that may lead to complications over time.6
Gastritis is what happens when the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed, usually after it’s been damaged in some way.7
The main symptom of acid reflux or indigestion, regurgitation is where a combination of gastric juices and potentially undigested food comes back up the oesophagus and into the mouth.
Ulcerative colitis 2%
This is a long-term health condition where the colon and rectum are inflamed – and as a result, little ulcers develop on the lining of the colon.
Common symptoms of this condition include recurrent diarrhoea, tummy pain and needing to go to the loo a lot.8 This condition would be diagnosed by your doctor.
Crohn's disease 2%
A type of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease is a lifelong condition that causes the digestive system to become inflamed. It often shows itself through diarrhoea, stomach ache, blood in your stools, fatigue and weight loss.9
This condition would be diagnosed by your doctor.
Coeliac disease 2%
A disease caused by bad reactions to gluten, Coeliac disease is a condition where your immune system attacks itself when you eat something containing gluten.
Symptoms of this include diarrhoea, stomach ache, bloating, excess wind, indigestion and constipation.10
If you’re concerned you may have this condition, it’s important to get a diagnosis from your doctor.
What does gut health affect?
If you’re just starting to learn about gut health, you may be interested to discover it affects a lot more than your digestive system.
As part of the same survey we’ve mentioned above, the participants were asked the extent to which their gut health issues affected them in the following areas:
Yes, that’s right! Your gut health can have a huge impact on your mood.
Did you know that roughly 95% of your body’s serotonin (aka one of the happy hormones) is made in the gut?11
For more information on this, check out our article on how the brain and gut are connected.
Ability to rest, relax and sleep 54%
Another area that gut health affects is your ability to relax and get a good night’s sleep. It’s thought that rest is influenced by your microbiota via the brain-gut axis.12
Stress and anxiety levels 52%
On a similar note, participants in our survey also noted that stress and anxiety levels are impacted by gut health. This is also likely caused by the gut-brain axis.13
Energy levels 50%
If you feel tired all the time, even if you sleep well – it may be down to your gut. This is because your gut health impacts how your body absorbs and uses nutrients from your food.14
Your productivity levels can also be affected as a result of poor gut health.
Gut microbes have also been found to interact with your diet, and ultimately have an impact on your weight.15
Learn more about this area by checking out our article on why a healthy gut could be the key to weight loss.
Ability to exercise 40%
Another area that was found to be affected by the gut is the ability to exercise – who knew?
Ability to do daily tasks 37%
In addition to the ability to exercise, your ability to do daily tasks may also be impacted by your gut health.
Immune system 34%
Gut microbiota (all the bacteria that lives there) has been scientifically proven to have a serious impact on your immune system.16
Check out our guide to the human microbiome for more information on how these are linked.
If you have blemish-prone skin but you seem to be doing everything right with your skincare routine, it might be worth investing in your gut health.
Scientists have found there’s a link between gut bacteria and human skin.17
You might be surprised about this one, but 24% of the participants on the Gut Health Survey said that gut health impacted their personal relationships.
And there have been studies to back this up too, as close social relationships have been found to correlate with a healthy composition of the human microbiome.18
Where to get gut health advice
It’s also worth noting that 60% of the participants in our Gut Health Survey claimed that they feel uncomfortable speaking to their friends or family about their gut health.
In addition to this, only 22% felt knowledgeable about gut health despite trying to find out more about it.
So, where should you go for advice?
Firstly, you can take our gut health questionnaire to find out a little bit more about your own experience. Or, for more in-depth support, speak directly with a qualified gut health expert via video call for personalised and private advice.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 17 October 2022
- Harris Interactive questioned over 1,000 adults across the UK for the Holland & Barrett Gut Health Survey.