6 Root Causes of Digestive Problems
We have the tendency to simplify the complexity and importance of the digestive system. Typically, we think of digestion as simply eating food and it comes out about a day and a half later (I know, gross). But how your food travels through your digestive system before visiting your bathroom (yes, again, I know, gross) is a mystery to most and involves a symphony of organs, hormones and enzymes working together.
Unfortunately, for the majority of the population, this symphony is very poorly orchestrated. In fact, instead of a symphony, it’s more like a two year old on the kitchen floor with a wooden spoon banging on a pot and pan. It’s this digestive abuse that is leading to chronic disease on a catastrophic scale. In fact, 95% of digestive health issues are caused by undigested food rotting, fermenting and going rancid in your digestive system. This, overtime, can open the door to parasites, fungus, and bad bacteria growth which can lead to uncontrolled weight gain, SIBO (Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth), autoimmune diseases like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Chron’s Disease, along with thyroid and hormone problems. This is not to mention the associated emotional issues that come along with poor digestion such as stress, anxiety, depression and mood swings. That’s right — we are now seeing that emotional symptoms are being caused by disruptions in your digestive system.
Fox News reports that 70% of Americans are living with digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, bloating and abdominal pain, just to name a few. It’s no wonder that 3 out of the top 5 over-the-counter drugs are for digestion related symptoms. Studies have shown that continued drug use can cause these symptoms to get worse overtime.
By just treating the symptom, it allows the possibility of development of more serious chronic diseases. The smarter and simpler approach to overmedicating is to heal your digestive system. It’s important to take the steps necessary to stop and reverse the disease process in the first place.
Do you suffer from one of the 8 most common digestive symptoms? They are:
- Right side stomach pain
- “Silent but deadly” gas
- Excessive burping before or after meals
- Falling asleep after eating
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Bloating with “load and clear” gas
- Excessive toilet paper use
Understanding the Link Between the Digestive System and the Disease Process
To understand the link between digestion and the symptoms that may lead to chronic disease, we must first understand how the digestive system works. The food that we eat is a combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates called macronutrients. The digestive system’s job is to break down these macronutrients into smaller building blocks (micronutrients) to facilitate absorption into the body.
This digestive process starts by chewing our food and activating our salivary glands, the largest in which is the parotid gland. You have most likely felt these glands activating when you’re enjoying a sour, sugary sweet like Sour Patch Kids (no, we’re not recommending this for a healthy digestive system)! The salivary glands’ primary job is to produce saliva and the enzyme amylase which breaks down carbohydrates. When there is a deficiency in the amylase enzyme, there is an inability to properly break down carbohydrates (sugars).
- Carbohydrates are turned into simple sugars that we use for energy
- If they aren’t properly turned into energy, they ferment and are consumed by bacteria, causing bacterial overgrowth
You may start to experience a variety of symptoms if this bacterial overgrowth starts to occur. If you notice any of these digestive symptoms within 5 minutes to an hour after eating, you are most likely not able to properly break down carbohydrates:
- Abdominal or back pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pancreatitis or a pancreatic disorder
- Upper GI pain
- Excessive flatulence
- Constant hunger
- Inability to concentrate
- Chronic fatigue
- Weak legs and knees after eating
- Frequent yeast infections
The next step in digesting macronutrients occurs in the stomach after swallowing. This is where the breakdown of proteins takes place. The stomach produces the enzyme pepsin, which is the main gastric enzyme in the breakdown of protein (and for those who like to be smarty pants, the cell that produces pepsin is called a chief cell). Pepsin, along with HCL (hydrochloric acid), is responsible for breaking proteins into smaller building blocks called amino acids to be absorbed in the small intestine.
- Protein is broken up into amino acids used to rebuild cells and are synthesized into neurotransmitters
- If protein isn’t broken down, it starts to rot and putrefy causing inflammation further down your digestive tract
When this inflammation starts to occurs from undigested protein, further issues may pop up. Noticing any of these digestive symptoms 2 to 5 hours after eating may indicate your body’s inability to break down proteins:
- Gas (especially after meals)
- Abdominal tightness or cramping
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Undigested food in stools
- Foul smelling gas
After your food passes through your stomach it enters the small intestine (duodenum), where the fats are broken down by the enzyme called lipase. Lipase breaks down fats into smaller absorbable nutrients called fatty acids and glycerol.
- Fats are broken into smaller droplets that are essential to living
- If they do not get broken into small enough pieces, they oxidize and potentially go rancid
This oxidization and rancidity in your body can produce a domino effect of issues. Any of these disruptive symptoms can occur anywhere from 5 hours to 30 hours after eating, and can point to a fat-breakdown problem:
- Hormone imbalance
- Greasy, smelly, light colored stools
- Floating stools
- Gas and belching after meals
- Dry skin
- Right-side abdominal pain (gall bladder)
- Gall stones
If any of these symptoms rings a bell, take our quiz to find out how to remedy your digestion:
How Do Digestive Symptoms Start?
What if we told you that most digestive symptoms like hormone imbalance, weight gain, gas, heartburn, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, along with other health issues like autoimmune diseases and emotional imbalances can be traced back to undigested food in your body, rotting like a garbage dump? This is nauseating to think about, but most digestive symptoms start by the inability to properly break down our macronutrients, leaving opportunistic organisms to do the digesting of our food for us. As your organs get tired, they cannot create enough digestive enzymes and secretions that break down your food, leading to symptoms which is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Overtime if these symptoms are continuously ignored (or covered up with medications), they have the tendency to advance to more serious digestive problems and diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, ulcers, parasites, etc. Contributing factors to a weakened digestive system are caused by nutritional deficits, stress, medications, a poor overall diet, along with these six digestive offenders:
1. Poor Chewing
Chewing is very important to breaking down your carbs (veggies, fruit, bread, noodles, etc.). If you do not chew enough, the pancreas will have to make additional enzymes.
2. Low Hydrochloric Acid (HCL)
You use B vitamins, chloride (from salt), zinc, and magnesium to make HCL that digests protein. If you are deficient in these nutrients, the proteins you consume start to putrefy.
3. Low Enzymes
Your pancreas creates enzymes that breakdown mostly carbs, but also protein and fat. If the pancreas is tired from high sugar diets, then the carbohydrates will ferment (leading to tons of gas).
4. Low Bile
Your liver produces bile that it pumps into your gallbladder to digest fat globs into smaller particles. Fat can go rancid if the particles are too large to pass into your lymphatic system.
5. Partial Digestion
Enzymes and bile reach the intestine to complete more than 90% of your digestion! Partially digested food will start to ferment and putrefy leading to symptoms. Parasites will also feed upon this partially digested food.
6. Bacterial Overgrowth
Any food that has not been digested by the time it reaches the colon will be digested by bacteria. Too much undigested food will cause overgrowth of “bad” bacteria strains like H. Pylori.
Remedy your digestive symptoms by first finding out more details about your current digestive state:
If You’re Suffering, You’re Not Alone
With more than 70% of the adult population in the United States suffering from digestive symptoms and diseases, it’s more important now than ever to know how your digestive symptoms are tied to your underlying organ dysfunction, and understanding the keys to which acids, enzymes and bacteria strains may be right for you to rebuild not only your digestive system, but your overall health and overcoming your health challenges.
Take this 60-second quiz now to find out what action steps you can take today to start healing and living an amazing, powerful life. We will also send you a report you can share with your Functional Medicine practitioner.
Burlison Clinic’s goal is to help you Feel Better, Live Longer, and Look Great.
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