Common Gut Conditions and Treatment
Welcome to a whole month of “Better Belly’s”
I am very excited to be focusing on GUT health this month. Of all the issues I have seen in practice digestive related problems are of the most common and the research is showing more and more that underlying gut dysfunction can be at the root of many other seemingly unrelated health complaints.
When people come to see us for digestive issues there are a few common symptoms and conditions that show up time and time again:
Common symptoms & conditions we see in practice:
1 – Bloating
This can be after eating, or for some people it is present as soon as they wake up in the day. Bloating can be driven by many factors including low digestive enzymes, overgrowth of dysbiotic organisms (yeast, bacteria or parasites), food intolerances to name a few. The first thing you should consider if you experience repeated bloating is keeping a food diary to identify any triggers. Also ask yourself, “Am I eating mindfully?” Eating on the run, not chewing your food sufficiently, or eating when stressed and multi-tasking can significantly impair the way your body digests your food, leading to fermentation and bloating. Having a small amount of Apple Cider Vinegar or lemon juice in water before meals can help to improve your digestion and reduce symptoms of bloating. Also drinking herbal tea of fennel, chamomile, ginger or peppermint can be helpful if symptoms have already begun.
2 – Constipation or Diarrhoea
Irregular bowel motions are incredibly common – many patients are unsure what “normal” even is as they become so accustomed to a particular pattern for themselves. Ideally, you want to move your bowel 1-2 x daily and it should be formed, and non-offensive in odour. Stay tuned for article number 2 where Hayley discusses the perfect stool in more detail!
3 – Reflux/heartburn
Reflux, heartburn, indigestion gastro-oesophageal reflux, GORD are all names for the painful sensation that occurs when the contents of the stomach back-flows into the oesophagus. The acidity of the stomach contents cause a burning like pain and can lead to inflammation and erosion of the oesophagus. This is an interesting condition, in the sense that most people who present to clinic with symptoms of reflux don’t actually have true reflux, but rather have low stomach acid, which is leading to the delayed emptying of the stomach, allowing food to ferment and create a sensation of discomfort and burning. One of my favourite things to use for reflux is slippery elm powder – this is an incredibly soothing fibre source which helps to soothe the lining of the oesophagus, as well as “putting a lid” on the contents of the stomach if taken after meals. I would also often prescribe digestive enzymes to hep support the break down of the food that is eaten and gastric emptying.
4 – IBS
This is really an umbrella that can be put over all of the symptoms above. Stay tuned for Hayley’s upcoming article that discusses IBS in detail!
5 – Parasitic, bacterial or yeast overgrowth
These are more common than you would expect and are no longer isolated to those who have travelled to exotic locations. We all have the presence of bacteria and yeast through our digestive tract, however we usually have the ability to keep this in balance through our gut based immune function and the presence of beneficial flora (our probiotics!). However, due to things such as poor diet, food intolerances, pharmaceutical medication, stress and even our hormones, this balance can be thrown which sets up an environment for the pathogenic organisms to thrive. Symptoms of overgrowth can include all of the things listed above, as well as things like fatigue, anxiety and depression, skin rashes and brain fog to name a few. The treatment of these organisms can be complex depending on what is present, and the detection of them can also be tricky unless comprehensive and sensitive testing methods are used. We will discuss this in more depth in article number 3! The first thing you can do if you suspect an overgrowth is reduce the amount of sugar and carbohydrate you consumer, decrease dairy consumption and increase fibre – particularly from vegetable sources.
6 – Leaky Gut
This is a phrase that is used to describe increased intestinal permeability. We want our intestines to be somewhat permeable so that vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can be absorbed, however if the gut becomes too permeable then larger undigested proteins or bacteria for example can end up in the blood and cause systemic issues. This can predispose you to food sensitivities as well as a host of other systemic issues. Including gut healing foods such as bone broth or gelatin, slippery elm, as well as nutrients such as zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A and glutamine are important in the maintenance and repair of the membrane. It is also important to address the underlying driver that caused the permeability – often things such as stress, antibiotics, dysbiosis or undiagnosed food sensitivities.
7 – Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis & crohn’s disease)
These conditions can be quite severe and are autoimmune in nature. Generally the presence of IBD is considered to be life long, and treatment becomes more about managing symptoms, reducing inflammation, supporting the immune system and sending the disease into remission. It is important to also look for underlying drivers such as food sensitivities and dysbiotic organisms so the body has the best chance of dealing with the condition and repairing itself. We will discuss IBD and other more complex gut issues later in the month.
What can I do now for my gut health?
Ultimately, when it comes to digestive complaints the drivers and presentation can be extremely unique from person to person. The first things you can do at home if you have digestive symptoms are:
- Keep a food and symptom diary to start to see a pattern with what you eat and how you feel
- Chew your food well and support digestion with things like apple cider vinegar, mindful eating and stress reduction
- Include more fibre, particularly from vegetable sources or things such as slippery elm powder
- Reduce your consumption of sugar and gluten – these can irritate the gut further and feed any imbalanced flora
- Include probiotic and gut healing foods such as fermented vegetables, miso, kombucha, good quality yoghurt or kefir, bone broth or gelatine powder.
- Manage stress! This may seem unrelated, but is one of the key factors that I see holding people back from getting their digestive system well – more on that to come
If you suffer from and digestive complaints and want to investigate the cause of your symptoms further, please contact Hayley Stockbridge Naturopath at Better Health. You can call us on 9518 0722 or email them directly on firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay tuned for our next update, where Hayley discusses the perfect poo, and what your stool might reveal about your health!