This amazing guest post was written by Dr. Simone Burke, a Naturopathic Doctor. You can check out her website here!
Digestive disorders are one of the most prevalent disorders affecting North America today. It is estimated that 60 – 70 million people are affected by digestive disorders. The digestive tract runs from the mouth to the anus and is responsible for digesting food and providing nourishment to the rest of our body. If the digestive tract is not functioning, the rest of the body does not receive the nutrition it needs and their function is affected too.
So what has caused this surge in digestive disorders? If you think about it, the way we eat has changed over the last hundred years. We are exposed to more chemicals, all of which our body has to process. The amount of antibiotics that we are exposed to, either through prescription or in our food or water has increased and this has impacted our important gut flora.
The effects of digestive disorders go beyond just the gut symptoms too. It alters our nutritional status and general health. More and more we are discovering the far-reaching health benefits of healthy bacteria in our gut for our brain health and our immune systems.
Typical symptoms of digestive disorders are cramping, bloating, gas, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. The main mode of treatment is through prescription medication. The main categories of medications prescribed are fiber, sedatives, anti-spasmodic, steroids, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antibiotics.
Although digestive disorders have different names, it is quite common for one disorder to cause another disorder. For example, food sensitivities can cause other digestive disorders such as IBS and Colitis. SIBO can also cause IBS. Hence, the importance of addressing the root cause and healing the gut.
The most common digestive disorders are:
1. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). The most common symptoms are cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea and constipation.
The most common areas affected by Crohn’s disease are the last part of the small intestine and the colon.
Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe. Symptoms usually develop gradually, but they can also come on suddenly without warning. There may also be periods of time when there are no signs or symptoms (remission).
When the disease is active, signs and symptoms may include: Diarrhea, fever and fatigue, abdominal pain and cramping, blood in your stool, mouth sores, reduced appetite and weight loss, perianal disease.
Colitis refers to inflammation of the inner lining of the colon. The inflammation may be a result of different causes.
Symptoms of colitis may include: Abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea and possibly with blood in the stool. Depending on the cause there may also be fever, chills, fatigue, dehydration, eye inflammation, joint swelling, canker sores, skin inflammation.
4. SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
The symptoms of SIBO are a result of the bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Common symptoms of SIBO include Nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, malnutrition, weight loss, joint pain, fatigue, rashes, acne, eczema, asthma, depression, and rosacea.
Gastritis is the inflammation of the lining of the stomach.
Symptoms of gastritis vary and some people have no symptoms. However, the most common symptoms include: Nausea or recurrent upset stomach, abdominal bloating and pain, vomiting, indigestion, burning or gnawing feeling in the stomach between meals or at night, hiccups, loss of appetite, vomiting blood or coffee ground-like material, black tarry stools.
6. Food sensitivities
Food sensitivities are usually an immune reaction to certain foods and they can be divided into two categories: allergic responses and food intolerances. Allergic responses are immediate and so they tend to be easy to diagnose. It is often difficult to diagnose food sensitivities as oftentimes symptoms are delayed for several days after a food has been consumed. Symptoms may include gas, bloating, headaches, cramping, and fatigue.
Many patients with gastrointestinal disorders suffer for years. Drugs prescribed may help to alleviate the symptoms but they don’t tend to address the underlying cause. Healing the gut involves removing any aggravation such as sensitivities, or bacterial, viral or fungal pathogens, replacing digestive support such as enzymes, replacing healthy bacteria and repairing the lining by giving the body the nutrients and support it needs.
Strategies to get to the root cause:
- Remove foods that you may be sensitive to. Many digestive disturbances are a result of unrecognized food sensitivities. With a food allergy the aggravation is immediate but with food sensitivities the reaction may not be for a few days. Food sensitivities cause inflammation in the gut as the immune system is constantly being activated. The inflammation also alters the balance of the good and bad bacteria and can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria and fungi.
The most common food sensitivities are to gluten and dairy but many other foods may be the culprit too. If you suspect food allergies you can do a specialized IgG test which will determine your immune response to common foods in your diet. IgG antibodies are elevated in foods that you can sensitive to.
- Remove sugary foods. This includes foods that have a high glycemic index such as breads and pasta. Bacteria, viruses and fungi feed off sugar and this leads to an imbalance in healthy gut flora. Replace high sugar foods with wholesome nourishing foods and foods that have a lower glycemic index such as vegetables or whole grains.
- Remove artificial sweeteners, and any processed foods. Artificial sweeteners and preservatives contain chemicals that our bodies naturally cannot process. These chemicals cause inflammation, disrupt the good bacteria and disrupt the gut barrier. Choose foods that are fresh, wholesome and organic.
- Remove stress. Stress affects the nervous system and activates the sympathetic nervous system. Digestion and absorption are impaired when your sympathetic nervous system is activated. Make sure you don’t eat on the go and instead eat in a relaxed environment. To calm your stress levels do yoga, go for a walk, read a book or do some meditation.
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel, nuts and seeds, oils such as coconut or olive oil, and add seasonings such as turmeric.
- Exercise. Exercise increases circulation and improves immune function and is a great stress reducer.
- Digestive enzymes help to break down foods and can be a great support while your gut heals.
- Eat fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso, and yogurt. Fermented foods help to support the good bacteria in the gut.
- Increase your consumption of Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) which is a type of carbohydrate that supports the healthy bacteria in the gut. FOS can be found in leeks, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, and bananas.
- Repair the gut with vitamin B5, vitamin D, glutamine, zinc, vitamin A and GLA (from oil of evening primrose).
- Drink calming teas such as ginger, peppermint, or marshmallow to soothe the gastrointestinal tract.
- Increase soluble fiber by consuming oatmeal, apples, pears, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, cucumbers, celery.
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