We can all suffer from digestive discomfort from time to time but if symptoms such as pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea are frequent it can really affect your quality of life.

Let’s have a look at common causes for digestive issues:

Stress

Ever felt butterflies in your stomach when nervous? Our brain and our guts are connected and continually communicating with each other.

Ongoing research is allowing us to understand how our brains affect our gut health (and how your gut affects your brain health) this communication between gut and brain is known as the gut brain axis.

When feeling stressed our bodies fight or flight response is triggered, hormones are released to help you should you need to defend yourself or run away (we respond the same if we are facing an angry tiger or if we’ve just had an argument with our boss.)  This causes digestive discomfort. Let’s face it, your body isn’t worried about digesting the burger you just ate when facing danger! So it’s no surprise we experience symptoms including cramps, an increase in stomach acid and in some cases it can result in diarrhoea or vomiting.

Disruption of gut flora

Our guts are host to billions of live bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms. We are now beginning to understand how vital these microbes are not only to our digestive health but also to our overall health.   

This colony of microbes, often referred to as gut flora or the microbiome can easily be disrupted. Certain medications, in particular antibiotics, stress and poor diet choices can play havoc in the gut. Diet is crucial as the microbes feed on what we are eating, so the healthier we are the healthier our gut flora. Symptoms of bacteria imbalance include painful cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.

You can improve your gut health by eating a wide range of healthy foods including high fibre foods that your gut flora love such as: artichokes, broccoli, chickpeas and lentils and green (ish) bananas.

After a course of antibiotics it’s a good idea to replace those lost microbes. One way you can do this is by consuming fermented foods such as: Live yoghurts, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi.

Leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability)

Leaky gut syndrome is not well recognised by conventional medicine, however many nutritionists and complementary therapists believe it is a cause of many digestive issues, and more evidence is emerging supporting this.

Leaky gut is a condition caused by damage to the lining of the gut. A leaky gut happens when the tight junctions between the cells that make up the intestinal wall are weakened, then undigested food particles and bacteria etc. can escape into the blood stream causing an immune reaction.

If you suspect leaky gut is causing your symptoms a simple home test should be carried out. Our nutrition team are available for advice and support on this.

Food intolerances

A food intolerance is a reaction after eating a particular food. This could be because you are having trouble breaking down the food due to lack of the required enzymes, a common one is lactose intolerance. Food intolerances can cause symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps inflammation and loose stools/ constipation.

Food intolerances are different from food allergies in that the symptoms may occur slowly over a few hours or days rather than the classic allergic reaction that happens very quickly after even a small amount of the problem food.  If you suspect you have food intolerances you can take an at home test or try eliminating the suspect foods for a couple of weeks and note any symptoms in a food diary. It’s worth noting that if you have a food intolerance test that shows up a lot of different foods it may be that leaky gut is present.

Low stomach acid

As a nutritional therapist I find low stomach acid is very common (I hardly ever see high stomach acid). Often people think they have too much stomach acid because they suffer from acid reflux however this is not necessarily the case. 

Lack of sufficient stomach acid can cause food to lie undigested in the stomach and a weakening of the lower oesophageal valve. Normally this valve closes tightly after food enters your stomach. If it relaxes when it shouldn't, your stomach contents rise back up into the oesophagus. Stomach acids flow back up into the oesophagus, causing reflux. For this reason, it is important to address any issues of low stomach acid.

Stomach acid naturally drops with age but is effected by other factors including stress, nutrient deficiency (zinc and vitamin B), infection from H pylori or low protein diets.

If you feel that you may have low stomach acid, you might wish to start by taking apple cider vinegar as the weakly acidic vinegar solution may help to reduce your symptoms.

You can take one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water roughly 15 minutes before your main meal. If you feel a warm sensation you probably have sufficient acid levels however if you feel nothing you probably have low levels of stomach acid.

If you suspect you may have an ulcer please talk to our nutrition team first.

Low digestive enzymes

Digestive enzymes are proteins that help us breakdown fats, carbohydrates and proteins so they can be easily absorbed. Symptoms of low digestive enzymes include feelings of bloating and pain after eating, gas, heavy full feeling and general fatigue/ inflammation. Reasons you may have low digestive enzymes include poor diet, stress and digestive diseases.

Poor diet

Sometimes simply cleaning up your diet can have big improvements on your digestive health. Ask yourself are you eating enough fibre? Low fibre is a common reason for constipation and the related symptoms. Are you having a diet high in processed ingredients? Are you having a wide range of different foods? Other dietary habits such as high alcohol or low water intake should also be considered.

You may have noticed stress is mentioned in almost all aspects of digestive health so taking steps to address your stress levels should not be overlooked.

Red flags

Occasionally digestive symptoms can be linked with conditions such as Cohn’s disease, diverticulitis or colitis if you have any of the following please talk to you GP

  • Blood or mucus in stool
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Severe diarrhoea (6+ loose stools a day)
  • Fever
  • Severe or sudden pain or vomiting

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