7 Major Contributors to Digestive Complaints

A variety of digestive complaints often stem from similar root causes. If you suffer from constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, or any other gastrointestinal complaint, read through the list of major contributing factors listed below and see if you can determine the root cause(s) of your discomfort. Working with a health professional can also help to provide important insights into your health, as well as provide diet and lifestyle tips along with supplement recommendations to get you on the road to feeling your best.

Poor Food Choices – The standard American (“SAD”) diet is associated with almost every chronic illness; highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated fats, food additives, preservatives, and low fiber foods all place a burden on the detoxification system and are pro-inflammatory and can reduce bowel transit time.

Undiagnosed Food Allergies / Sensitivities – allergic responses, intolerances, and sensitivities can all result in common GI complaints along with other complaints such as irritable bladder, fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, asthma, headaches, etc. Common food allergens include peanut, milk, tree nuts, soy, egg, shellfish, fish, wheat/gluten. Common food sensitivities include yeast, fructose, caffeine, strawberries, chocolate, food additives/preservatives, food colorings, sulfites, salicylates, MSG, Nightshade family, dairy, alcohol, wheat, sugar. And, a common intolerance is lactose, milk sugar. Consider doing an elimination diet to see if you can pinpoint which foods are bothersome to you. Or, talk with your doctor or nutritionist about food testing.

Poor Eating habits / Lifestyle habits – eating on the run or while stressed, overeating, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine all negatively impact the GI system.

Stress – Hormones released during a stressful situation directly affects GI function. Stress can increase bowel motility and increase defecation, while also reducing gastric emptying. Stress can also alter gut pH, cause dysbiosis, membrane permeability, upregulate the immune system, and cause inflammation.

Toxins – environmental toxins (pollutants, solvents, heavy metals, inhalants), lifestyle toxins (smoking, alcohol, caffeine, drugs, artificial food additives, poor dietary choices), and internal toxins (bacteria, parasites, yeast overgrowth, undigested food, by-products of metabolic reactions) can all increase the body’s toxic burden and contribute to GI dysfunction.

Age – smaller amounts of digestive juices are produced, an increased in inflammation of the stomach due to degradation of the mucosal lining, less absorption of nutrients (iron and B12), greater trouble digesting milk products due to a less lactase, the liver produces less enzymes deeded to detoxify, and the pancreas secretes less enzymes for digestion. In addition, the muscles of the whole system grow weaker, the lining of the intestines gets thinner and more susceptible to small pouches (diverticula) in the colon which can become inflamed and infected. Food also tends to take longer to make its way toward the stomach and small intestine (due to a decrease in motility). And, more water tends to get absorbed from the feces, leading to an increase in constipation.

Medications – aspirin, antibiotics, anti-histamines, diuretics, anti-hypertensives, sedatives, and other medications can cause GI distress. Check with your doctor regarding possible side effects of these medications.

Article written by Margo Gladding, MS, CNS, LDN for Ellicott City Pharmacy.

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