Gastrointestinal upset is the second most reported problematic symptom on my High Performance Health Assessment.
It is estimated that one in three Americans suffers from gut problems, and reflux and IBS prescription medications account for nearly half of all visits to internists.
If you are one of these people, you thoroughly understand the discomfort and all-consuming nature of gastrointestinal distress. I understand completely. In fact, until about 10 years ago, I felt like I had no control over my gut. It had a mind of its own (which is funny because they actually call the gut our “second brain”).
I had no idea what caused my frequent flare-ups or why I would feel great some days and horrible on others. In fact, as a kid my sister would get so mad at me for my chronic gas problems!
After much trial and error and a lot of studying and talking and working with other sufferers, I have learned many tips and techniques that can help you, too, gain control over your gastrointestinal distress.
According to an article by Adam Hadhazy in Scientific American, our guts do “much more than merely handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body.”
There is a delicate balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria in our guts at all times. When the bad guys take over the good, you can experience a myriad of symptoms ranging from gas and bloating to infection. This overtaking is exacerbated and promoted by poor diet and lifestyle (e.g., too much alcohol and processed food and sugar). Hippocrates once said that all disease begins in the gut, and I believe him 100%.
With 70% of our immune system residing in the gut, the gastrointestinal system is a complicated system.
It not only moves food through our bodies – it also helps protect our bodies from invaders. In addition, it is a hub of neurotransmitter activity, with 80-90% of the body’s serotonin being produced in the bowels. Serotonin regulates sleep, mood (anxiety and happiness, to be specific), appetite, learning, bowel function, and much more. When our GI tract is off, the rest of our body is usually off as well.
The following are some tips to help curb troublesome symptoms such as gas, bloating, belching, mystery diarrhea, mouth ulcers, and more!
- Avoid overexposure to antibiotics, which disrupt the balance of protective bacteria in the gut. If you absolutely have to take antibiotics, use probiotics to counteract the effects of the antibiotics.
- Eat the majority of your food warm and cooked, even fruit when possible. Cold/raw foods can wreak havoc on a sensitive stomach.
- Minimize the amount of liquid you consume with your meals. The majority of your hydration should occur between meals, so as not to water down your digestive enzymes.
- Eat whole foods (real foods from nature) while avoiding refined and highly processed foods.
- Eat a consistent amount of food on a regular schedule instead of grazing all day. If you are gastro-sensitive, your belly needs some time between meals to digest and then rest. It doesn’t do well with constant grazing.
- Eat a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates at every meal.
- Limit starchy carbohydrate consumption to bright orange vegetables (squash and sweet potatoes) and gluten-free grains (e.g., millet, quinoa, and brown rice). If you are really going after it, eliminate ALL grains and see how you feel.
- Avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, which can disrupt a normal/healthy gut flora balance.
- Take a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme with each main meal, and probiotics after mealtime and before bed.
- Lower your overall stress levels. Chronically high levels of stress short-circuit your digestive capacities.
- Supplement your diet with omega-3 fatty acids. Cod liver oil is a good source of these.
You can also try various elimination diets, such as those that eliminate gluten, dairy, FODMAPs, lectins, and/or grains, to see if you suffer from common food sensitivities.
If you try ALL of the above and STILL have gastrointestinal distress, then you may need to see a functional medicine doctor.
A functional medicine practitioner will utilize innovative testing to look for a myriad of reasons for your gut imbalance, like an H. pylori infection or something called SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth), to name a few.
You need to find out if these bad guys are lingering in your gut because they can lead to further complications if left untreated, like IBS, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and even certain digestive system cancers.
Don’t sit silently with gastrointestinal upset! There are too many good options and many new action steps you can take to find relief so you don’t spend the rest of your life in distress.