How healthy is your gut?

In this guest blog post, Dr Megan Rossi, an award-winning gut health scientist, Sunday Times bestselling author, dietitian and founder of The Gut Health Doctor looks at the role your gut plays in your overall health and how to find out if it's in good shape.

When you think of gut health, you may naturally think of digestive health. But your gut is not only an important organ in its own right, it also influences all your other organs. This means that it can have a huge impact on whatever your health goals might be, whether it's weight management, hormone balance, mental health or evening hitting a new personal best.

Your gut microbiota (or GM for ease) is the scientific name given to the trillions of microbes, including bacteria, that live in your gut. And it is incredibly powerful! It has the ability to influence how long you live and has been linked with lowering your risk of over 70 chronic conditions, from type 2 diabetes to dementia, heart disease and several cancers.

So, knowing this, you might be wondering whether your gut is performing at its best…

How good is your gut health?

Unlike for most other organs, there is currently no single assessment to determine how healthy your gut is. Which is why I developed a Gut Health Quiz, based on hundreds of scientific papers, including the work from our research team at King's College London. More on my free Gut Health Quiz below.

The empowering thing is that, unlike your genetic makeup, you have the ability to improve your gut health simply by looking after your GM, which means that a big part of your personal health is in your hands. Still need convincing about the importance of a healthy gut? Let's explore some of the most critical gut connections.

The gut-immune connection

Around 70% of immune cells exist in your gut (alongside your GM), meaning that the gut plays a key role in your immunity. Your microbes teach your immune cells what they need to protect you against (e.g. flu-causing viruses) and what is safe (e.g. the protein in peanuts). This helps explain the research findings from my colleagues at King's College London which showed that people who ate a more varied diet full of plants (which nourish your gut bacteria) had a 40% lower risk of becoming unwell with Covid-19. For me, this is a compelling sign that nourishing your gut microbes helps nourish your immunity, and certainly something I see play out in my clinic too.

The gut-metabolism connection

There is a strong connection between your GM and your metabolism and you can use this to help you achieve your 'happy weight', along with other fitness goals. One study found that increased fibre intake, regardless of calorie intake or type of diet, resulted in a healthier weight for participants. Again, a great sign that feeding your gut the fibre it needs (i.e. 30 plant points a week) can help you to look and feel your best inside and out.

The gut-skin connection

Did you know that you have billions of microbes on your skin? The science shows that the microbes in our gut and on our skin can communicate. This may explain why many skin conditions such as eczema and even premature ageing, have been linked to gut health. That being said, skin research is still in its early days but, in my opinion, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by upping your plant points and assessing how it helps improve your skin health.

The gut-brain connection

We all know about gut feelings. This has a scientific basis because the gut and the brain are literally connected through hundreds of millions of nerves. This means that what's going on in your brain can influence what's going on in your gut and vice versa. Disruptions in this system have been linked to conditions like depression, anxiety, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Learn more about the relationship between food and mood.

So how can you tell if your gut is healthy?

You can take my free quiz now to find out your gut health score and, in the process, learn how to improve your gut health.

If you want to get even more savvy on the factors affecting gut health (beyond eating your 30 plant points a week), then digest these little nuggets below.


There is growing awareness that antibiotics not only kill the overgrown and 'bad' bacteria but also harm the beneficial guys. Further research has suggested that over a quarter of non-antibiotic medications (of the more than 900 tested) can potentially impact the growth of our gut microbes. Obviously, medications such as antibiotics are incredibly important, and if you need it, you need it. But the next time your GP explains that they may not be necessary, it's worth taking them seriously (my hubby is an NHS GP and every day has patients requesting antibiotics even when not indicated). Similarly, if you're taking medication because it's easier than changing your lifestyle, for example relying on sleeping pills instead of working on your sleep hygiene, then it might be worth having a rethink of the potential harm you could be doing.

Food avoidance

Sadly many people avoid certain (healthy) foods in their quest to avoid gut issues or achieve optimal health. The reality is that cutting out foods, with the exception of food allergies or Coeliac disease, is likely to reduce gut bacteria diversity and could potentially put your health at risk. In many cases, I encourage having small amounts of foods even if you feel you have an intolerance (which, unlike food allergies, don't involve the immune system), for example, some yoghurt or cheese in the case of lactose intolerance. This is because complete avoidance can often make you more sensitive in the long term, and also puts you at a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies.

Lack of sleep

It takes just two days of getting less sleep than you need to affect your gut bacteria. Have you noticed a lack of sleep can worsen your gut symptoms? Or make you more hungry and likely to reach for nutrient-poor and energy-dense foods like sweets and ice cream? Most people need 7-9 hours a night, so if you're not achieving this, it might be worth implementing some sleep hygiene practices such as putting screens away 2 hours before bed and exposing your face to bright light first thing in the morning. Learn about more sleep hygiene tips.


Stress is a common cause of gut-related symptoms (you can blame that gut-brain connection). Chronic stress can lead to low-grade inflammation throughout the body and other problems, such as leaky gut, where the barrier of cells that lets in the good guys (nutrients) and keeps out the bad guys (pathogens) gets challenged. But, don't worry, we all get a leaky gut from time to time and removing stress (or other triggers) will improve it.

Lack of exercise

Research shows that regular exercise (at least three times a week) can significantly improve gut bacteria diversity. Our microbes, like us, get a positive 'hit' from exercise. It also helps keep the bowel moving, which for anyone who's ever been constipated will appreciate is a real mood booster in itself. Hopefully, thanks to The Body Coach routines, this isn't cause for concern!

All things considered, gut health is so important for everyone, and not just for those with digestive symptoms**. If you want to feel your best and future-proof your health, then take my free Gut Health Quiz for recommendations on small tweaks you can make to your daily habits to give your gut some extra love.

To find out more about how to look after your gut, you can join The Gut Health Doctor free monthly newsletter and receive lots of gut-loving education and recipes and follow @theguthealthdoctor.

*Any decision regarding changing medication should be made under guidance from your healthcare professional.

**It's normal to experience gut health symptoms occasionally but if you're seeing patterns, and they're getting you down or affecting your daily activities, it's time to speak to your GP. It can also be easy to overlook symptoms that are not continuous, so I'd encourage you to get anything you're concerned about checked out. There are many gut conditions which present in a similar way, so accurate diagnosis is essential.

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