Do you have feel as though;
- you’re 6 months pregnant (when you’re not)
- you’re unable to eat a full meal without feeling unwell
- your tummy has been inflated with air
- the meal you had two days ago is still in your digestive system
- you need to be in private, or in a very noisy place, because of uncontrollable flatulence
- there’s a party going on in your intestinal system and you have too many unwanted guests?
Digestive issues range from abdominal bloating, cramps, gas, indigestion, constipation and diarrhoea, and we can either experience just one of these symptoms, or a combination of them. They can be mild, lingering symptoms, or cause all out inconvenience and affect day to day life.
Unfortunately many people suffer with these symptoms for years and may experience significant discomfort. Until the triggers have been identified, and repair work done, it can be difficult to see the back of digestive issues.
Where the underlying triggers haven’t been identified, symptoms persist, and there’s no known cause, doctors diagnose patients with the umbrella term ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome’, a functional bowel condition. It’s estimated that around 17% of the UK population suffer from IBS1, and for many the condition can significantly affect quality of life. Fortunately in our experience however, most cases of IBS can be resolved through nutritional and lifestyle intervention. Various studies have shown a correlation between IBS and an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO). Studies report that 39%2 to 84%3 of those with IBS, test positive for SIBO. The relatively large variability in the numbers reported may be due to the fact that there is no gold standard for testing SIBO. However it’s clear that SIBO is a significant causal or contributing factor to IBS symptoms.
When patients present with reflux or indigestion, proton pump inhibitors (PPI) are commonly prescribed (e.g. lansoprazole, omeprazole). These medications lower the production of stomach acid, when the root cause to these symptoms may be in fact be insufficient levels of stomach acid. In such cases, these commonly prescribed medications could actually be causing more harm than good. A 2001 study found that in hospital inpatients taking PPI’s in the UK, 67% of patients did not meet the UK’s criteria for taking the drug4.
So how can we go about fixing a broken digestive system?
There are 4 steps to addressing gastrointestinal imbalances;
The first is REMOVE.
Remove any unwanted guests, and remove any food and drink sensitivities.
If you’re not sure if you have any food sensitivities, then a good place to start is by avoiding the following foods and drinks for a period of 30 days, and then reintroduce each individually, back into your diet, and observe if you notice any differences during the following two days. This step is best performed with professional guidance, and is called an elimination diet.
Foods to try cutting out for 30 days;
- Gluten containing grains (wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats)
- Sugar (white and brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup…)
- Starchy carbohydrates (e.g. rice, potatoes and squashes)
An additional diet, that may be of benefit to some, is a low FODMAP diet (which will be covered In a subsequent blog).
A private stool test (that is more comprehensive and sensitive than what is used within the NHS), can help pinpoint whether there are any issues with digestion and absorption that could then be manifesting as gastrointestinal symptoms, and whether there are imbalances in levels of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria, an overgrowth of yeast or a parasitic infection. Other symptoms of an overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria or yeast, include skin conditions (rash, red, itchy, dry patches), ‘foggy’ brain, low mood or energy and poor immune health.
A SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) test can identify whether there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. The most common symptoms of SIBO are abdominal bloating shortly after a meal, and either constipation or looser stools.
Testing can identify exactly what the culprit may be and can then be addressed specifically, often using nutraceutical products that are targeted against the particular bacteria, yeast or parasite.
Next comes REPLACE.
If low levels of stomach acid (also called hydrochloric acid) or digestive enzymes (produced by the pancreas) is suspected, or detected through testing, then food and supplements can be used to replace these factors which are critical for optimal digestion. Poor digestion can lead to a sense of fullness, sluggish bowels, bloating, reflux and indigestion.
Apple cider vinegar with ‘mother’ can support digestion, take a tablespoon before meals, or try a high quality digestive enzyme supplement, immediately prior to meals. Bitter foods e.g. rocket, artichoke, cauliflower, asparagus can also support digestion.
The REINCOCULATE phase is like providing fertiliser to soil, not only does the soil quality improve, but everything growing in it improves as well. It’s the gift that keeps giving. Re-inoculating the gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria, through food and supplements, can help improve digestion, absorption, reflux, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. And the benefits reach much further than the digestive system; immune function, mood, fat loss, energy and skin health can also be improved. Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria, such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir – aim for about a tablespoon amount daily.
Once the weeding (remove), feeding (replace) and seeding (re-inoculate) phases have been completed, the final phase is to REPAIR the gastrointestinal system. Months or even years of abuse through wrong food choices, high caffeine, high alcohol, antibiotics, other medications, high stress or eating on the run, can take its toll on the digestive system. Even one off incidents such as food poisoning, can cause long term havoc.
Many nutrients can support the cells of the intestinal tract and help repair any damage that may have been done.
Zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, aloe vera, slippery elm, glutamine, and n-acetyl glucosamine, are just some of the nutrients that can help. Cabbage juices and bone broths are full of beneficial nutrients, and can contribute to a very happy digestive system.
Quick tips to a better digestive system;
- Try avoiding any foods you suspect to be an issue. Gluten, dairy, sugar, processed foods and caffeine are commonly problematic
- Increase bitter foods, apple cider vinegar with mother, and take a high quality digestive enzyme supplement before meals
- Increase fermented foods and take a high quality probiotic supplement (initially aim for 20 billion CFU daily)
- Include bone broths in your diet on a regular basis
- Juice cabbage along with other vegetables
- Make time to eat, and eat away from stimulants. Chew food well.
- Avoid large drinks with meals
- Avoid overconsumption of food
To your lean, healthy, optimised future,
Dee, Matt & the Optimised team