Originally appeared in the article, "3 Under-the-Radar Signs You Actually Have Great Gut Health," by Jordan Galloway in Well + Good on April 29, 2022.
Learning to trust your gut can be hard, especially if you have intestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or digestive and autoimmune diseases like celiac or Crohn’s. And even if you don’t, you likely still experience everyday gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, gas, or constipation from time to time. The point? Figuring out ways to support your G.I. system is a very important part of optimizing your overall health, as is understanding the signs of a healthy gut. After all, a well-balanced microbiome is associated with longevity, lower instances of anxiety and depression, and can also lessen your risk of developing chronic conditions.
All sorts of things can help improve your gut health, including exercise, reducing stress, eating foods that support your microbiome regularly (looking at you, fiber-filled leafy greens, avocados, and foods rich in both prebiotics and probiotics).
Of course, being able to recognize the signs of bad gut health will help you gauge your progress. But perhaps equally beneficial is the ability to identify signs of a healthy gut. Below are three a gastroenterologist says are green flags that things are moving in the right direction.
3 positive signs of a healthy gut that you may be overlooking
1. Your morning routine includes a regular BM
Everyone’s rise-and-shine rituals look different—maybe you start your day with meditation or a warm glass of lemon (or lime) water to rehydrate. But one thing they should all have in common is a bowel movement, says gastroenterologist Mark Pimentel, MD, associate professor of medicine and gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “People often don’t know what 'normal' is when it comes to bowel movements, but you should—in an ideal world—wake up in the morning and have one,” he says. “It’s absolutely critical. We call it a diurnal pattern, meaning it’s on the clock. The physiology of the gut is designed in a way such that when you wake up in the morning, the colon wakes up, contracts, and gets all the material from yesterday in a position in which it can be removed.”
Not currently on this cycle? Consider adopting some of these golden rules of consistently healthy poops, according to doctors. (And BTW, if you're pooping regularly but at a slightly different time of day, that's great too.)
2. You get the gurgles
It’s a common misconception, Dr. Pimentel says, that the sounds of your stomach growling always indicate that you’re hungry. Instead, he says it’s also often a sign of a healthy gut going into what he calls "dishwasher mode."
“That gurgling sounds is called the migrating motor complex,” Dr. Pimentel explains. “Every 90 minutes, when you don’t eat, that cleaning wave comes through. So when you hear that, don’t be embarrassed. It’s a beautiful thing."
According to Dr. Pimentel, the human gut is designed with two computer programs: the eating mode and the cleaning mode. "You need time to clean up like a dishwasher. If you eat all day, you’re not leaving time for the 'cleaning' portion, which the gut requires in order to prepare for your next meal.”
3. You feel energized and clear-headed
Turns out, not needing an afternoon nap (or coffee pick-me-up) may just be a sign that your G.I. tract is on track. The science behind this, according to Dr. Pimentel, is simple: Whether we're aware of it or not, the process of digestion requires significant energy. “When you’re busy digesting all the time or you're experiencing issues with digestion, more of your energy stores are going towards your stomach and not necessarily your brain, lungs, and other internal systems. When digestion is smooth, you'll likely feel less fatigued, because your energy can be used elsewhere in the body.”