Fatigue, poor sleep, anxiety: The surprising symptoms you may be suffering due to poor gut health

woman sore stomach
The gut is so key to the body's processing scientists often call it "a second brain". Photo credit: Getty Images.

There's a reason we call it a "gut feeling": The gut is where so many of the body's processes take the palace, scientists often refer it to as a 'second brain'.

The enteric nervous system (ENS) has more than 100 million nerve cells that all connect to the brain and can affect our mood, energy levels, digestion, sleep quality... the list goes on. 

But new research suggests that while two-thirds of Kiwis experience gut-related issues, many don't recognise them as symptoms of poor gut health and will often just wait for them to pass - or get worse - instead of seeking professional help promptly.

Naturopath for supplement company Good Health Sharlene Ronayne says more education is needed around the role the gastrointestinal tract or gut plays in our overall sense of wellbeing. 

"Interestingly, almost all of the consults I have with people can be linked back to gut health," Ronayne told Newshub. 

"The types of symptoms I discuss with clients, pharmacists and everyday Kiwis in my role include bloating, wind, fatigue and mood swings."

She says the gut is one of the most important parts of the body. 

"It's here that your body digests and breaks down the foods you eat and absorbs key nutrients to fuel and maintain your body - but this basic process is only possible with a healthy digestive system offering good gut flora and healthy supportive immune cells." 

Good Health has put together a 'Good Gut Guide' as a way of supporting gut health, but other brands also have supplements that may offer some relief including BePures's 'Digest Assist' and Clinicians' 'Multiflora Digest'. 

Ronayne has revealed the top five surprising symptoms you may be suffering without realising they can be linked back to poor gut health: 


Good Health surveyed 1000 New Zealanders and over a third reported that they suffer from fatigue, which isn't surprising amid the current circumstances. Many Aucklanders may be feeling exhausted during lockdown, and this can be heightened by an inability to digest your food properly. Our energy levels are determined by how well we digest our food and absorb nutrients. Dense nutrient foods help boost and maintain your energy levels, but we won't get the most out of these foods if our digestive processes are out of kilter. 

Sleep disturbance

An unhealthy gut may contribute to sleep disturbances such as insomnia or poor sleep, and therefore lead to chronic fatigue. The majority of the body's serotonin - a hormone that affects mood and sleep - is produced in the gut. So gut damage can impair your ability to sleep well.

Skin issues

Skin concerns like eczema and dermatitis may be potentially related to an unhealthy gut. When the gut lining is irritated or inflamed due to a compromised digestive system, over time this results in what we call a "leaky gut". This is when food particles are improperly digested, absorbed into the bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory immune response, which erupts in the skin.

Irregular moods

A healthy gut communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and well-being. So yes, your mood may very well be linked to the bacteria, or lack of, in your gut. Unfortunately, this can also cause a cycle of poor gut health, as stress can make wind, bloating or discomfort be felt more easily. In fact, almost 40 percent of Kiwis reported stress as a trigger for their gut-related symptoms.


A bit gassy? This comes down to how your food is digested. In a healthy gut, undigested food passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, where bacteria break down the food, producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. However, poor digestion and absorption of foods in the small intestine allows more undigested food to reach the bacteria in the colon. The more undigested food the bacteria have to deal with, the more gas they produce, leading to symptoms of bloating, wind and a colicky bowel.

Ronayne suggests anyone wanting to improve their gut health firstly consult with a qualified doctor, naturopath, nutritionist or pharmacist to understand if supplements could be right for their health concerns.