The following article gives an overview of gastrointestinal health and various digestive disorders or conditions.

GASTROINTESTINAL HEALTH OVERVIEW

What are common gastrointestinal problems and digestive issues?

Common gastrointestinal problems include: food intolerances, constipation, diarrhea, dysbiosis, gerd, Irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and leaky gut. 

 

What are the signs of gut health problems?

Symptoms can include abdominal pain, abdominal discomfort, bloating, or changes in bowel movement. You might experience a range from slight discomfort to more severe pain with various gut health problems.

 

Can digestive problems make you feel ill?

Digestive problems and gut issues can make you feel ill by causing symptoms such as recurrent abdominal pain, bowel changes, painful bowel movements, bloating, fatigue, headache, and many other symptoms.

 

What are functional gastrointestinal disorders?

Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) are a result of abnormal functioning of the GI tract affecting GI health.

 

What are some examples of gastrointestinal or digestive illnesses?

Gastrointestinal or digestive illnesses include a number of illnesses such as peptic ulcer, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and colorectal cancer, among many others.

 

Can stress cause gastrointestinal problems?

Yes, absolutely. Stress can contribute to dysfunctional nervous system activity. This can lead to inappropriate gastrointestinal function, ranging from low stomach acid production to dysbiotic bacterial growth. These and other changes can create various symptoms. 

 

What does an intestinal infection feel like?

Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever. Intestinal infections can be self-limiting or require more serious treatments. 

 

What foods cause gut inflammation?

Highly processed foods and artificial sweeteners can cause gut inflammation.

 

How do you optimize gut health?

Optimal gut health can be achieved through dietary and lifestyle modifications. These modifications will be initiated by your healthcare provider after taking a deep dive into the symptoms you are experiencing and conducting the appropriate testing to figure out what is going on. Optimizing your gut health can help prevent the onset of autoimmune disease, mental health disorders, and other health conditions.

FOOD INTOLERANCES

What is a food intolerance?

Food intolerance or food sensitivity is a reaction to a food that can cause symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, and many other systemic (or bodily) symptoms. Common food intolerances include lactose intolerance, histamine intolerance, and sucrase-isomaltase deficiency. 

 

What causes food intolerances?

Food intolerances are not caused by an allergic reaction like a true food allergy, instead food intolerances arise when the body is unable to digest certain foods appropriately, leading to an adverse food reaction with bothersome symptoms. 

 

Why can you suddenly develop a food intolerance?

There are multiple reasons why someone might develop a food sensitivity. As the body ages, it may start to struggle to produce enzymes needed to break down foods causing food intolerances. There might have also been damage to the gastrointestinal tract from things such as antibiotics or infections, that lead to a leaky gut barrier. This allows food particles to get into your bloodstream and react with antibodies that they do not encounter with a healthy gut barrier. Some people may also have certain genetics that predisposes them to be able to digest certain foods better than others.

 

How do you test food intolerance?

The gold standard for identifying food intolerance is to do an elimination diet, eating a very specific restrictive diet for an amount of time and then reintroducing foods that are potential triggers. As this is difficult and time-consuming, there are also options of doing food sensitivity testing. Various companies offer food sensitivity testing panels that test many foods and show antibody reactivity to those foods.

DYSBIOSIS

Who is at risk of dysbiosis?

While anyone can be at risk of dysbiosis predisposition, lifestyle and environment can all put a person at a higher risk. Intestinal infections, antibiotic use, and dietary choices such as using artificial sweeteners regularly, all influence our microbiome (the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract) and contribute to dysbiosis.

What are the symptoms of dysbiosis?

Gut dysbiosis or intestinal dysbiosis may cause symptoms such as nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, or bloating. People may also experience symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, and depression.

 

How does dysbiosis occur?

Dysbiosis is a bacterial imbalance that can be caused by things such as antibiotics and antibacterial medications, changes in diet, excessive alcohol consumption, or high levels of stress, anxiety or depression. All of these may diminish the healthy gut flora in the intestines, leading to an overgrowth of disruptive and problem-causing bacteria.

 

How do you know if you have dysbiosis?

The main signs and symptoms of dysbiosis are digestive disturbances including frequent gas or bloating, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and constipation, and often mucus in the stool. Many of these symptoms overlap with other digestive disorders or conditions, so testing is often warranted. Your doctor may choose to run a stool test to look at the various bacteria in your stool. The stool test may also look at indicators of digestion and absorption, such as your fecal fats and short-chain fatty acids, which can be lowered due to dysbiosis. 

SMALL INTESTINE BACTERIAL OVERGROWTH (SIBO)

What is SIBO?

SIBO is the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Bacteria live in the large intestine, and when they are in the small intestine, chronologically earlier in the digestive tract, they can cause symptoms.

What are the symptoms of SIBO?

The most common symptoms of SIBO include gas, bloating, and diarrhea. A breath test is commonly used when diagnosing sibo, which can be ordered by your healthcare professional. The symptoms of SIBO also overlap with other digestive issues. 

What is the root cause of SIBO?

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine leading to increased gas production and feelings of bloating as the gut breaks down simple carbohydrates.

 

How do you know if you have SIBO?

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when the bacteria in the small intestine become unbalanced and overgrow. These bacteria produce methane or hydrogen, which can be measured through a breath test. A solution is administered orally, and the patient will breathe at various time intervals over a subsequent time frame, as the concentration of methane and hydrogen is measured. This allows the determination of if the bacteria are present in the small intestine.

What are SIBO risk factors?

Risk factors for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) include a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and other high-carb foods, as well as certain medications, physical obstructions in the gut, or damaged nerves or muscles in the gut. 

CONSTIPATION

What causes constipation?

Constipation can be a sign of dehydration, lack of dietary fiber, physical inactivity, or medication side effects. Chronic constipation can also be a sign of issues such as slow transit constipation.

How do I know if I have constipation?

Constipation is recognized by infrequent bowel movements. Clinical constipation is when a person passes less than three bowel movements a week or has difficult bowel movements. Many people experience hard, pellet-like, difficult-to-pass stool, which also represents an unhealthy digestive tract.

What are the treatments for constipation?

Constipation can often be treated with lifestyle changes such as increased consumption of fiber-rich foods and water. A plant-based diet will help many people manage their constipation. Other interventions include stimulant laxatives or bulk-forming laxatives. Some patients choose to use natural versions of these, such as Magnesium and Vitamin C. Treating other comorbidities or conditions the patient may suffer from, such as anxiety or depression, may also improve constipation.

What is fiber and why is it important for health?

Fiber is indigestible food that helps you have full bowel movements. There are forms of both soluble and insoluble fiber, that are both required for optimal bowel movements. Normal bowel movements should be somewhat firm and easy to pass. 

Do you have a feeling of being blocked or of not having fully emptied your bowels?

Constipation is the inability to fully empty the bowels and can be treated with lifestyle changes or laxatives. Speak to your healthcare professional if you experience changes in your normal bowel movements.

DIARRHEA

What are the stages of diarrhea?

Mild diarrhea means a few loose, watery stools in a day. Moderate diarrhea means having more than a few but less than 10  loose, watery stools, Severe diarrhea means having more than 10 loose, watery stools in a single day (24 hours).

When should you worry about diarrhea?

Signs you should worry about include if a child has diarrhea for more than 24 hours or if an adult has diarrhea for more than 3 days or either has bloody diarrhea. If you have mild diarrhea, it may mean that you have dysbiosis, food intolerances, or another gastrointestinal health condition that can be treated.

What do you need to know about acute diarrhea?

Acute diarrhea can be caused by parasites such as giardia lamblia, viral infections or bacterial infections. Traveler's diarrhea is a type of acute diarrhea. Clostridia difficile infection can also result in diarrhea. These infections can be tested for with stool testing. For mild cases, acute diarrhea can be treated with an oral rehydration solution.

What about infant's diarrhea?

Chronic diarrhea in infants can have many causes, including bacterial or parasitic infection, celiac disease, or dietary protein or sugar intolerance. For other infants, the cause of chronic diarrhea can not be determined, but rarely have long-term effects on growth.

LEAKY GUT

What is leaky gut and how do you test for it?

Leaky gut signifies compromise in the tightness in the junctions of intestinal cells. Leaky gut allows for food particles, such as undigested proteins, that should not normally be escaping your gastrointestinal tract, to “leak” into your bloodstream. The reactions that ensue are often described as “food sensitivity reactions.” You can test for leaky gut with a leaky gut test, through looking at food sensitivity testing, and often clinically through history taking. 

How can you heal a leaky gut naturally?

Leaky gut, or also called increased intestinal permeability, can be healed by changes in diet, lifestyle, and with various digestive supplements, containing certain herbs and nutrients. Your doctor may ask you to start a “leaky gut diet,” that incorporates easily digestible and non-aggravating foods.

What is akkermansia muciniphila and how does it protect gut health?

Akkermansia muciniphila is a bacterium commonly found in the human gut which can help with symptoms of obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and metabolic disorders. 

CANDIDA

What are the symptoms of candida in the gut?

Symptoms of Candida overgrowth in your intestines may include flatulence and cravings for sweets. You might also experience changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, and may also have more sensitivity to certain foods.

How did I get gastrointestinal candida?

Candida is a fungal infection typically on the skin or mucous membranes. When candida occurs in the mouth it is called thrush. When it occurs in the GI tract, it is often the result of an imbalance of the beneficial bacteria. Heavy antibiotic use often predisposes people to having candida overgrowth. Many women also experience genital (vaginal) yeast infections, as candida can overgrow at this mucus membrane.

What does candida look like on skin?

A candida skin infection may look like a red, itchy rash, most commonly found in the folds of the skin. It is commonly found in infants and could be related to a pediatric intestinal disorder or condition. Candida in the mouth looks like a white coating. Vaginal candida often presents as an increase in creamy or yellow discharge, accompanied by vaginal itching and sometimes urinary changes.

What are the potential complications of candida?

Many patients will experience headaches, mood swings, mouth problems (thrush), fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems with an increase in candida growth.

GASTROESOPHAGEAL REFLUX DISEASE (GERD)

What is GERD?

GERD is gastroesophageal reflux disease, and the common symptoms experienced include a sensation of reflux or food traveling back up toward the throat, esophageal or chest burning, discomfort and tightness. Some patients may experience bad breath and the taste of refluxed food in their throats. Generally, symptoms may be worse at night while horizontal especially if there has been recent food consumption. Chronic acid reflux can lead to serious complications (discussed below).

 

Is GERD treatable and curable?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) generally is a treatable disease. Many lifestyle interventions and dietary changes will allow patients to manage their GERD. There are also pharmaceutical options that can help, and some patients are even referred for anti reflux surgery. 

 

What are the complications of GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) may cause esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, regurgitation of acid into the lungs, sinusitis, or contribute to the formation of stomach or duodenal ulcers with possible bleeding. 

 

Who is at risk for developing GERD?

Taking certain medicines, being pregnant, being overweight, or smoking increases the risk of developing Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Anatomical variations, such as hiatal hernias, also can cause symptoms of GERD. 

IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS)

How do you know you have IBS?

Symptoms of IBS can include change in bowel habits, constipation, diarrhea, inability to empty bowels, indigestion, nausea, passing excessive amounts of gas, or urgent need to defecate. IBS generally is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning other digestive disorders are often ruled out before coming to the conclusion that someone has IBS. IBS is generally categorized into IBS-C, IBS-D, or mixed IBS. These are constipation predominant IBS (C), diarrhea predominant IBS (D), or a combination of both.

 

How can you manage IBS?

IBS can be controlled by dietary changes, lifestyle interventions, stress management, or taking medication. Many patients can successfully manage IBS with these interventions.

Do fluctuations in ovarian hormones affect gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome?

Yes, Women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are likely to experience an increase in abdominal pain and bowel symptoms at a time of declining or low ovarian hormone levels. 

INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE (IBD)

What causes inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)’s causes are not well understood, but there are often genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to the onset and progression of disease. IBD is a result of immune system dysregulation, resulting in an attack on one’s own gastrointestinal system. A diagnosis is often made based on symptoms, with appropriate lab testing and imaging when necessary. IBD is classified into two diseases - Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

What causes inflammation of the bowel?

Various factors contribute to inflammation in the GI tract. Some of these include bacterial or viral infection, a surplus of bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth), and poor dietary choices.

How does ulcerative colitis make you feel?

Ulcerative colitis leads to experiencing urgent bowel movements as well as crampy abdominal pain. You might see bloody stools that are bright red, pink, or tarry. Patients often have many bowel movements per day, which can cause a lot of discomfort and emotional stress. Other symptoms patients may experience include fatigue, joint pain, skin changes, and mental-emotional changes. 

How do you know if you have Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can cause symptoms that get worse over time, including bloody or black stools, weight loss or loss of appetite, fever, inflammation in your skin, joints, or eyes. IBD is a true inflammatory bowel disease, meaning you will see inflammatory markers on testing such as a stool test. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause nausea and gas and is not truly inflammatory. It is generally less severe and requires less serious intervention and management.

Does IBD ever go away?

Currently there is no known cure for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), however many patients are able to manage their IBD symptoms with diet, lifestyle, supplements, and pharmaceutical interventions. Unmanaged IBD can increase the risk of developing colon cancer. Colon cancer screening is generally recommended after age 50, but if you have IBD you will likely begin screening earlier. 

What is toxic megacolon and what are its causes and symptoms?

Toxic megacolon occurs when swelling and inflammation spread into the deeper layers of your colon. Symptoms include a painful, distended abdomen, fever (sepsis), or diarrhea (usually bloody). This is a medical emergency. 

HOW GUT HEALTH AFFECTS MOOD

What is the link between mood and your gut?

Mood and gut are very tightly linked. For example about 95 percent of the body's supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity is produced by the guts. Many brain and mental health disorders are being studied in the context of gut health and gut microbiota. 

How does your gut health affect your mood?

Gut bacteria also produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. Nutritional psychiatry takes into account how different nutrients demands are being met in order to influence and regulate mood.

How can the gut affect your mental health?

A person's intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. This can be due to changes in nutrient levels, dysbiotic bacterial overgrowth, food sensitivities, and other effects from improper gastrointestinal functioning.  

How does leaky gut affect the brain?

Studies have associated 'leaky gut' with schizophrenia. autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and bipolar disorder.

How does serotonin affect the gut?

Serotonin affects many aspects of your gut function, including: how fast food moves through your system (motility), and how sensitive your intestines are to sensations like pain and fullness from eating. Serotonin is not just a neurotransmitter that affects mental health, but also plays a vital role in gut health. 

Can stress affect your bowels?

Yes, stress can negatively affect your bowels and bowel movements.

Why use gut bacteria to diagnose depression?

Because there is research suggesting a strong link between gut health and depression, it can be diagnosed and treated using genetic profiling of gut bacteria. Imbalances in gut bacteria can lead to depressive symptoms, anxiety, and other psycho-emotional symptoms. 

HOW GUT HEALTH AFFECTS SKIN

How does gut health affect the skin?

Many skin conditions may be related to gut health, through the gut skin axis. Some examples include acne, eczema, and psoriasis. These may be signs of food intolerance, leaky gut, an unhealthy gut microbiome, nutrient deficiencies, or another gastrointestinal issue. Inflammation in the gut caused by a poor diet or food allergies may cause increased “leaking” of certain proteins out into the body, which can in turn irritate the skin and cause conditions such as eczema.

How does gut health affect acne?

A damaged GI tract or a diet rich in carbohydrates can contribute to changes in hormones that increase your production of sebum and skin cells — two significant causes of acne. Dysbiosis can also play a role in acne, as it may be a reflection of the skin microbiome. Propionibacterium acnes is one of the main bacteria that contributes to acne. 

How are eczema and atopic dermatitis linked to gut health?

Gut health is a major factor in the cause and treatment of eczema and atopic dermatitis. Many patients see improvement and resolution in their skin condition through dietary modifications and supplements. 

HOW GUT HEALTH AFFECTS WEIGHT

How does gut health affect weight loss?

The ratio of bacteria in your intestines may determine how much weight you lose when given a particular diet. Because bacteria are largely responsible for helping digest your food, an imbalance can lead to inappropriate digestion, affecting ability to lose weight. 

Which gut bacteria cause weight loss?

Some studies have linked the presence of Prevotella and Bacteroidetes to greater ability to lose weight. 

Can you change your gut bacteria to lose weight?

Yes, you can change your gut bacteria to lose weight. Strategies such as dietary changes, lifestyle interventions, and supplementation with prebiotics and probiotics bring healthy gut bacterium and can help with this goal. You should work with your doctor to determine your healthy weight before making changes to your diet or supplements.

How does your gut health affect your workouts?

The ability to digest and absorb nutrients to produce energy, muscular gains, and neurological gains are all controlled by a healthy gut.

GENERAL GUT HEALTH

How do you maintain gut health?

People can maintain gut health with diet, lifestyle choices, probiotic and prebiotic foods or supplements. A diet rich in a diversity of vegetables is the best way to feed a variety of beneficial bacteria in the gut. 

What is bad for gut health?

High sugar diets, high amounts of stress, dehydration, and lack of sleep are all bad for gut health. Certain antibiotics may also contribute to long-term imbalance in good bacteria, which can be problematic. 

What are signs of gut health problems?

Sings of gut health problems include digestive symptoms, unintentional weight changes, sleep disturbances, constant fatigue, skin irritation, chronic pain, or food intolerances.

PROBIOTICS

What are probiotics and how do they work?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are ingested and survive in the gut and act like the good bacteria that we naturally have. Probiotics are considered “helpful bacteria” rather than harmful bacteria. They include microbes such as lactobacillus acidophilus or bifidobacterium that help the body extract nutrients from food and help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, creating a healthy microbiome. Specific strains of probiotics or types of probiotics also stimulate your immune system. Probiotics can come from fermented foods such as yogurt (fermented dairy) or a probiotic supplement. You need diversity in your diet, or supplementation with these probiotics in order to have a healthy gut microbiota. 

What are the names of some probiotics?

Some probiotics include lactobacillus reuteri, lactobacillus acidophilus, and bifidobacterium, but there are many more. Usually, you will buy a probiotic formula that has multiple different probiotic strains. Many foods naturally contain probiotics; Probiotic rich food includes yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods.

What does “strains” mean in probiotics?

Probiotics are identified by their specific strains. The seven core genera of microbial organisms most often used in probiotic products are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus. 

How do you know if you need probiotics?

Probiotic supplementation is recommended when the bacteria in the gut are not in alignment.They are often prescribed for patients with dysbiosis or with an antibiotic history, but many people benefit from adding them to their daily diet through food or supplementation. 

Why does it help to know your gut bugs?

The type of bacteria present in the gut is tied to the probability of diabetes, obesity, depression, and colon cancer.

What is a fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT)? 

Fecal microbiota transplantation is a procedure that involves transplanting another person’s stool (containing their bacteria) into your gastrointestinal tract. This can be done both rectally and orally. The oral administration has very specific encasing to allow the specimen to get to its desired location in the GI tract. 

What about vitamin D and gut health?

Research shows that Vitamin D is linked to a healthier gut microbiome.

Can you beat a bacterial infection without antibiotics and with probiotics instead?

Probiotics do not replace antibiotics but should be looked upon as a valuable complement. Antibiotics function to destroy disease-causing bacteria, and probiotics do not do this. Additionally, some bacteria have anti-microbial resistance and require more serious interventions. 

How do you protect your gut from antibiotics?

Eat probiotic-rich foods before, during, and after a course of antibiotics.

What to avoid while on antibiotics?

After taking an antibiotic you may need to wait for up to three hours before eating or drinking any dairy products. Grapefruit juice and dietary supplements containing minerals like calcium may also dampen the effect of antibiotics.