Placeholder Discover the Importance of the Intestine: A Journey through Digestive Health Holland & Barrett

How does your gut affect the rest of your body?

¿Cómo afecta tu intestino al resto de tu cuerpo?

With the help of Anojan Arulananthan, our Retail Health Leader, we share our knowledge on all things gut health and the effects the gut has on the rest of the body.

So let's start with the most important question, what is the gut?

Your gut is your gastrointestinal system (the GI tract) and includes your stomach, intestines, and colon. It digests and absorbs nutrients from food and excretes waste.

There are around 200 different species of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in your large intestine. The bacteria and other microorganisms in your gut are known as your gut microbiome. Bacteria help break down food, turning it into nutrients your body can use.

Anojan says: "When people think of their intestine, they mostly think of the small and large intestine (belly). In reality, the intestine encompasses everything from the mouth to the anus. Did you know that the digestion process begins in the mouth? The intestine has several functions:

  • food decomposition
  • Nutrient absorption
  • Enzyme production
  • Waste disposal
  • "It acts as a defense mechanism."

What is a healthy intestine?

Most people tend to think of a healthy gut as one without symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or cramps.

However, although there is no agreed consensus on what defines a healthy gut, most health professionals will agree that 'good gut health' refers to the positive interactions and harmony between the microorganisms that live in your intestine and your intestine itself.

What are the symptoms of an unhealthy intestine?

When we talk about an unhealthy gut, we are usually referring to an 'imbalance' (dysbiosis) in the gut microbiome.

There are many obvious and common symptoms of an unhealthy gut. These can include gastrointestinal discomfort, such as bloating, flatulence, pain, or change in bowel habits, as well as weight fluctuations, intolerances, and even autoimmune conditions.

But what are some of the lesser-known symptoms of an unhealthy gut? Well, these can be:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • skin irritation
  • Increased stress or anxiety

What areas of the body can the intestine affect and how?

It is important to remember that the intestine can affect many areas of the body. From your immune system, mental and brain function, to skin and heart health. It can also have slightly different effects on people depending on age, gender, and whether you are pregnant.


Changes in your gut microbiome can influence acne, dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis. In fact, a study on the 'Impact of Impaired Gut Flora on the Course of Acne Vulgaris' found that 54% of people with acne also had a bacterial imbalance in their gut.


The gut plays a crucial role in regulating the immune system and maintaining a healthy inflammatory balance. There is a lot of evidence supporting the relationship between poor gut health, arthritis, and chronic pain.

Mental health

"The gut-brain axis is the bidirectional biochemical signaling that takes place between your gut and your brain ," explains Anojan. "Basically, what happens in your brain affects the health of your gut, and what happens in your gut affects your brain and nervous system. The gut works using networks similar to those of your central nervous system, and this suggests why which plays a role in mental and brain health and well-being ."

What things can affect the intestine and how?


Sleep is an important part of overall health. Not only does it influence energy levels, but it also helps all of the body's systems function properly, including the immune system, heart, brain, and even the digestive system. If you're not getting adequate sleep, it can take a toll on your gut health in several ways.

4 Ways Lack of Sleep Can Affect Gut Health:

  1. Lack of sleep can increase stress, which affects the gut.
  2. Lack of sleep can affect dietary choices, having a negative impact on your gut.
  3. Lack of the sleep hormone melatonin may be linked to GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
  4. If you stay up late, you may eat too close to bedtime, which can negatively affect your digestive health.


"Reducing the amount of processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods you eat can lead to better gut health."

Anojan goes on to suggest that some of the best ways to improve your gut health are to:

  • Increase your consumption of plants and fermented foods.
  • Reduce your consumption of ultra-processed foods that have limited nutritional benefits.
  • Do not consume excess sugar or sweeteners.
  • Leave spaces between meals.

Check out our article on the 8 Best Foods for Gut Health, where with the help of our nutritionist, Isabel Tarrant, we delve into the science of digestion and reveal some of the best foods for gut health.


Medications taken orally can affect the digestive system in several different ways. Both prescription and over-the-counter medications, although generally safe and effective, can cause harmful effects in some people.

"Antibiotics and long-term use of antacids can affect intestinal health ," says Anojan. Antibiotics are designed to kill 'bad' bacteria, but unfortunately, they can also kill the good ones. This leads to an imbalance in the number of different types of bacteria living in our intestines, which can cause a variety of digestive problems.

Eating prebiotic and probiotic foods, taking probiotic supplements, avoiding processed foods, and getting adequate rest and exercise are ways you could help your gut recover after taking antibiotics.

Lifestyle and environment

"Stress and environmental toxins can have an effect on your gut ," reflects Anojan.

If you think stress could be affecting your gut health, head over to our article on Stress Relief: How to Tackle Stress.

"Smoking and alcohol consumption can affect gut health, as can poor exercise and poor sleep."

Dealing with your daily stresses, going for a walk every day, engaging in exercise you enjoy, and making healthier choices will all have a positive impact on the health of your gut, as well as your overall sense of well-being.


We hope this article was easy to digest and that you feel a little more in tune with your gut. Try some gut-loving foods, supplements, and lifestyle adjustments to see if you notice a difference!

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