In our latest series of blogs we’ve focused on gut health. Gastrointestinal (GI) problems affect 60 to 70 million people in the US each year. Spending on GI disease is estimated at $142 billion per year. Abdominal pain was the most common reported symptom prompting 15.9 million doctor visits, and reflux was the most common diagnosis accounting for 8.9 million of those visits. (1)
And the GI doctors say that it really doesn’t matter what you eat.
I don’t know about you, but to me it seems very elementary that what you eat will have an affect on GI health. Got symptoms like reflux, gas, bloating, pain, nausea, loss of appetite? Well then you must be suffering from an antacid deficiency! Got loose stools, or are you constipated? Well then you must have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), that oh-so-difficult to understand condition of the bowels that affects 10-15% of the entire population! Sorry for the sarcasm, but this is what goes on in medical clinics every day.
Spending 10 minutes asking about the foods a person eats and what their digestion is like, can reveal a goldmine of information that can help discern the origins of their digestive problems.
Sometimes people do need a procedure to help understand their symptoms in more detail. Endoscopies, colonoscopies, ultrasounds and biopsies can help rule more serious conditions in and out. But the great majority of GI symptoms can be resolved by taking a few specific steps.
Here are the steps I follow in the clinic with people who present with digestive symptoms:
1. What is your diet like?
In other words, what do you eat? Is your diet comprised of lifeless packaged and canned foods? Is it full of sugary simple carbohydrates like breads, pastas, bagels, sodas, and snacks? Or does your diet consist of plenty of living foods like veggies, fruits, lean meats, nuts, seeds, etc? Oftentimes when people ditch processed, lifeless foods it’s almost miraculous how their symptoms go away…
2. Testing for food sensitivities
Food sensitivities are different than food allergies. An allergy is an immediate, often life threatening reaction. Sensitivities are more like a smoldering reaction – eating a food that you’re sensitive too can result in bloating, gas, reflux, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation and many symptoms beyond the GI tract. Identifying and removing food sensitivities is a great way to resolve a lot of “unexplained” GI symptoms.
3. Testing for Infections and Bacterial Imbalance
The GI tract contains trillions of organisms, most of which exist in balance with us. But when unbalanced, the result may be pathogenic, or disease-causing infections that can exist chronically in our guts, creating all kinds of GI tract (and systemic) issues. Even an imbalanced gut flora population alone can create symptoms in the GI tract, and beyond (seeing a pattern here?).
A daily probiotic can provide good insurance against bacterial imbalance. Treatment options can vary for chronic GI infections.
4. Treat Leaky Gut
Leaky gut can give rise to food sensitivities and systemic symptoms. If a person has several food sensitivities, it’s highly likely they have leaky gut. After removing these foods, we treat leaky gut using Glutamine and Permeable Gut, which contains several clinically effective nutrients for repairing and rejuvenating the gut lining.
5. Improve digestive function
Lastly, we need to improve digestive function.
Digestion begins in the mouth, with ample chewing of food so it mixes with saliva, where ‘pre-digestion’ begins.
Avoid large amounts of fluids with meals; too much fluid will dilute the gastric juices, hindering the digestive process. You should limit fluids to no more than 5 ounces during, and for an hour after meals.
If digestion is slow, adding digestive enzymes can bolster the digestive process until the body’s digestive process can be rejuvenated.
Going through the above process can resolve many functional digestive issues like gas, bloating, reflux, IBS, constipation and even conditions beyond the GI tract like skin disorders, asthma, joint pain, and fatigue.
Using medications like acid blockers to cover up symptoms only leads to imbalance; this is like kicking the can down the road. I encourage you to work with a clinician who is familiar with healthy eating, food sensitivities and testing and treating for GI infections.
1. Everhart JE, Ruhl CE. Burden of digestive diseases in the United States part I: overall and upper gastrointestinal diseases. Gastroenterology 2009;136:376–386.