If you suffer from digestive problems, you’re certainly not alone. Up to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic digestive diseases. Even more, most of us (including many doctors) don’t recognize that digestive problems can wreak havoc on the entire body, leading to issues such as allergies, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, and mood disorders.
In this article, we’re going to explore six of the most common gut disorders, as well as tips for restoring your gut health and, consequently, improving your overall health. Let’s dive in.
Leaky gut, sometimes referred to as intestinal permeability, is the result of damage to the protective layer of cells that line our gut. Due to factors such as poor diet, medications, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, and environmental toxins, abnormal space between these cells can develop.
In reaction to food particles (deemed foreign by your immune system) that leak through the gut wall, chronic inflammation can develop. This can lead to a myriad of symptoms, such as gas, bloating, food allergies/intolerances, hormonal imbalances, anxiety, brain fog, and skin issues.
The combination of various symptoms in conjunction with leaky gut can lead to the development of food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies and of course, common gut disorders. In this blog I will highlight some of these disorders and give you an overview of cause, symptoms and the road to healing.
IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Affecting up to 45 million Americans, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the label that doctors give a group of symptoms, including bloating, gas, distention, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping. As its name suggests, IBS occurs when your bowel becomes irritable, however, there is no structural problem, per say. Rather, the root problem is dysfunction in your gut ecosystem.
IBS can be caused by a range of factors, including SIBO, leaky gut, food intolerances, yeast overgrowth, heavy metal toxicity, and gut-brain interference.
IBD - Inflammatory Bowel Disease
IBD is an autoimmune condition of the GI tract. IBD can change the tissue of the bowel as well as increase the risk for colon cancer. Unlike IBS, IBD is an actual medical diagnosis.
There are 2 common disorders that fall under the spectrum of Inflammatory Bowel disease – Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
Crohn’s disease is part of a group of digestive conditions called Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, but most commonly affects the terminal ileum, which connects the end of the small intestine and the large intestine. The most common Crohn’s symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and fever.
While researchers are still determining what causes Crohn’s, we do know several factors play a role, including genetics, poor diet, smoking, and overuse of antibiotics and NSAIDs.
Ulcerative colitis is also a disorder that falls under IBD that, together with Crohn’s, affects about 1 in 250 people in the U.S. and Europe. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are very similar to those of Crohn’s, however, the part of the digestive tract affected is solely the large intestine, also known as the colon.
Like Crohn’s, the occurrence of ulcerative colitis can involve multiple factors, including genetics, intestinal parasites, imbalance of microflora, food allergies and intolerances, poor diet, the use of medications such as NSAIDs and antibiotics, and environmental toxins.
Celiac is an genetic autoimmune disease in which the ingestion of gluten—a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley—prompts the body to attack the lining of the intestines. This causes inflammation in the intestines and damages the villi, the hair-like structures on the lining of the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food.
An estimated 1 in 141 Americans have celiac disease, however, about 80 percent of people with the condition are undiagnosed, which puts them at risk for long-term health complications. The three main triggers of celiac are thought to be genetics, environmental triggers (such as childbirth or surgery), and immune system disturbances due to a viral infection or severe emotional stress.
Those with celiac must abide by a strict 100 percent gluten-free diet to avoid further damage of their intestines.
GERD, which affects 20 percent of Americans, is a chronic, more severe form of reflux—a condition where acidic gastric fluid from the stomach flows backward and up into the esophagus.
GERD is often thought of as an annoying consequence of eating spicy food, however, recurrent reflux can become serious if not properly treated and resolved. The esophageal lining is delicate, and the acidic gastric fluid from reflux can penetrate it, causing tissue damage and over time, ulcers.
The Road To Recovery
When it comes to gut disorders, there are unique protocols that can put you on the path to recovery. It is essential that if you receive an actual medical diagnosis, you work with a qualified practitioner. Treatment depends on which condition you have and factors unique to you that may have contributed to the disorder. While it’s essential to work with a trained health professional in overcoming your condition, there are some universal approaches that will support all of the above-mentioned disorders:
- Reduce your stress: Stress is a major trigger for gut disorders, so finding ways to manage stress can be an essential part of healing.
- Keep a journal: Keeping a journal of your symptoms, activities, foods eaten, emotions, bowel movements, sleep quality, workout habits, etc. can help you identify patterns and triggers.
- Eat a whole foods diet: While dietary approaches will vary based on many factors, all diet protocols center around eliminating processed foods and eating real, whole foods.
- Take supportive supplements: Taking targeted supplements (as suggested by your healthcare practitioner) can play an important role in recovery by correcting nutrient deficiencies, supporting digestion, and improving gut health.
- Engage in gentle movement: Workouts that are too long and/or intense can place stress on an already-stressed body. Instead, opt for gentle exercise and movement.
- Choose safer products: When choosing personal care products and household products, opt for cleaner, less toxic options. The EWG’s website is a great resource.
- Reduce unnecessary medications: Since medications can aggravate your gut, cut back on taking non-essential medications, such as NSAIDs. Instead, try natural pain relievers, such as turmeric, magnesium, and cat’s claw