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Gut health

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Your 'gut' refers to your gastrointestinal system, which includes your stomach, small intestine and large intestine.
  • The health of your gut can have a significant impact on your physical and mental wellbeing and on how you feel day to day.
  • The 'gut microbiome' refers to the trillions of microorganisms that normally live in your gut and are essential for healthy gut function.
  • The symptoms of poor gut health include a bloated stomach, heartburn, abdominal pain (a sore tummy) excessive burping, flatulence (farting), a growling stomach, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea.
  • You can improve your gut health by eating a varied plant-based diet, eating fermented foods, avoiding highly processed foods, exercising regularly and sleeping enough.

What is gut health?

Your 'gut' refers to your gastrointestinal system, which includes your stomach, small intestine and large intestine.

Your gut is responsible for breaking down the food that you eat as well as absorbing the nutrients that your body needs to function. Your gut is also vital to the functioning of your immune system.

The health of your gut can have a significant impact on your physical and mental wellbeing and on how your feel day to day.

Your gut is also home to the gut microbiome, which is made up of trillions of microorganisms. The gut microbiome includes good bacteria that are essential for a healthy gut, as well as bad bacteria that can be harmful to your health. Having a wide variety of good bacteria can enhance your physical and mental health.

When you are born, there are many things that influence what type of gut microbiome you will develop. Factors include your genetics, the health of your parents, whether you were born via a caesarean section or vaginally, or whether you were breast fed or bottle fed. In your first year of life, the gut microbiome is influenced by other factors too, such as diet, feeding habits and the surrounding environment. It is thought that the gut microbiome matures between the ages of 1 and 3 years and becomes stable after that.

There are certain factors that can cause your gut microbiome to be unstable or disrupted. These factors include stress, illness, living with overweight, overuse of antibiotics or eating a poor-quality diet. Behaviours that can contribute to a healthier gut microbiome include exercising, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good quality sleep and reducing stress.

Why is your gut health important?

Your gut health and gut microbiome play an important role in your overall health. Your gut microbiome influences your body's immune and metabolic systems and impacts mood and behaviour.

Having a range of bacteria is important for gut health. The types of bacteria in your gut microbiome can also influence your risk of developing chronic (long-term) health problems.

People with chronic illnesses like psoriatic arthritis, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes atopic eczema, coeliac disease, obesity and arterial stiffness have a less diverse range of bacteria in their gut than people without these diseases. The exact role of the gut microbiome in these diseases is not yet clear, and research is ongoing.

There are also links between gut health and mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Recent research has shown connections between mental health problems and the health of the gut microbiome.

What are symptoms of poor gut health?

The symptoms of poor gut health include:

You may experience many of these symptoms occasionally. However, if they happen regularly, it may be a sign that you have poor gut health.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes poor gut health?

There are certain factors that can cause your gut microbiome to be imbalanced or disrupted. This process is called dysbiosis. Factors causing dysbiosis include:

  • stress
  • illness
  • living with overweight
  • overuse of antibiotics
  • eating a poor-quality diet

Normally your gut has a special barrier that lets nutrients in but stops bacteria and other harmful substances from entering the blood stream. During dysbiosis, this barrier becomes 'leakier', which means that it allows bacteria and molecules into the blood stream that shouldn't be there. This process has been linked to many different physical and mental health problems.

There are a wide range of diseases that affect the health of your gastrointestinal system. Diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease and peptic ulcer disease have major impacts on your gut health and general physical health. These diseases need to be managed carefully by your doctor and you may need to see a specialist doctor (for example, a gastroenterologist) for expert advice.

How can I improve my gut health?

If you have poor gut health due to a gastrointestinal condition, follow your doctor's advice, take your medicines as directed and keep to the recommended diet to help improve your gut health.


Ask your doctor how changing your diet can improve your gut health. For most people, the general rules of healthy eating apply.

Make sure to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods, including:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • beans and legumes
  • whole grains

These foods contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals and other elements that are essential for good health. They also contain fibres, known as prebiotics, which are not themselves digestible, but encourage and promote the growth of 'good bacteria' in the gut.

Fermented food is also excellent for gut health. Fermented foods are foods where the sugar content has been broken down by bacteria or yeast. Fermented foods are high in probiotics, which are good bacteria that are beneficial for your gut. Fermented foods include:

  • yoghurt
  • kimchi
  • sauerkraut
  • kombucha
  • miso
  • sourdough

It is best to avoid foods that can be harmful to gut health, like highly processed foods and foods containing high levels of sugar, salt and saturated fats.


Probiotic supplements contain good bacteria and yeasts. Probiotics can help balance the gut microbiome, especially in people whose gut microbiome has been impacted by antibiotics, other medicines, special diets or disease.


Gut health is also influenced by physical activity, stress, sleep, antibiotic use and other lifestyle and environmental factors. It is important that you manage your stress, stay physically active, and ensure that you get enough sleep.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are experiencing any symptoms of poor gut health, you should see your doctor. If your doctor has given you a prescription, referral or treatment for gut problems, and your condition has not resolved, be sure to make another appointment for review.

Talk to your doctor for advice about healthy eating and a recommended exercise plan. Your doctor may also refer you to a dietitian for nutrition advice, and to help you set and achieve nutrition-related goals, and to promote gut health.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Resources and support

See the Nutrition Australia website for more information about the gut microbiome, tips for maintaining gut health and how food can affect your mood.

The Gut Foundation has a guide to good gut health, including food and exercise suggestions.

Use the Dietitians Australia search tool to find an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) to support your nutrition health needs.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2024

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