Digestive discomfort, like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and even heartburn, affect approximately 75% of the American population. That doesn’t make them popular dinner conversation. In fact, most people don’t even mention their digestive woes to their doctors. At my clinic in south Minneapolis, we see a slew of patients who have had enough of their gastrointestinal problems, some have causes that are easy to identify and treat and some a little bit harder. Here are five factors to consider when trying to identify what may be causing your gut distress:
• Food sensitivities can be at the bottom of everything from chronic coughing (a sign of gastric reflux or heartburn) to irritable bowel syndrome. An elimination diet is a useful tool for identifying irritating foods you need to avoid.
• Sometime it’s not the food present in the diet but those lacking that make the difference. The gastrointestinal tract needs many nutrients, including ample water, fiber and probiotics.
• Speaking of fermented foods…antibiotic use and presence in our food system, as well as use of antimicrobial cleaners can all impact the health of your microbiome – the commensal ecosystem of bacteria and yeast in your digestive tract. Taking a quality probiotic supplement and consuming ferments like sauerkraut and kombucha can go a long way to not just improving your digestive health, but your immune and mental health too.
• Diet isn’t the only factor to consider. Gas, bloating and constipation can all be signs that your bowels just aren’t moving the way they need to in order to eliminate fully and daily. Being physically active, getting abdominal massage, acupuncture or chiropractic care can all help increase your gut’s motility.
• Stress and emotional distress also play a major role in gut health. Talking, journaling, counseling, meditation, and even crafting help us process our thoughts and feelings so they don’t settle in our bellies to wreck havoc later. Need convincing? Check out Trust Your Gut from local authors and practitioners Greg Plotnikoff , MD and Mark Weisberg, PhD.
Now, the belly has a limited vocabulary, so a symptom like constipation that may be caused by dehydration, too little fiber, or too much stress is also the symptom that could point to something more serious, like bowel obstruction. That means that when you have chronic digestive discomfort it’s a good idea to get checked out by a doctor.