Well, I talk about poop all the time. The little kids who come to my office giggle when I ask about their #2. The adults, on the other hand, often have a different reaction since many come to me for painful digestive issues. With diarrhea, constipation, cramps, gas, bloating, or belching, this conversation is often not funny at all.
Your digestive system’s telling you something is just not right:
While it’s common for your digestive system to react after certain foods (gas after too much cabbage for example), it’s not normal:
- to look bloated like you’re five months pregnant when you’re not–or when you’re a guy!
- to have diarrhea every single day
- to have diarrhea so bad that you need to suddenly rush to the bathroom in the middle of a meeting or conversation
- to have to locate the nearest bathroom anywhere you go ‘just in case’
- to avoid leaving your house because you might have a diarrhea incident
- to only have three bowel movements a week
- to only have a bowel movement with the help of a pill
And it’s certainly not normal to avoid intimacy and avoid social gatherings because you can’t trust your bowels.
I’m not making those up. These are complaints I hear every day. And if you suffer too, know that the rest of your life doesn’t have to be this way.
If you know someone who suffers, be a good friend and share this info with them too.
To give you an appreciation of your digestive system, think about this for a moment. If your organs and your tissues make up the inside of your body, your gut lining sits on the outside. The digestive tract is a long hollow tube that’s standing between the outside world and you. Nutrients have to pass through this layer to be utilized and environmental toxins, chemicals, pathogens (an their toxins) have to be kept out.
If you don’t take care of your gut, it will not be able to nourish you and protect you. It won’t be able to take care of you
The rest of this article is my 10 tips for improving digestive health and reducing these symptoms. Of course it’s not a comprehensive list and it’s not an individualized solution. These tips are a great starting point but understand that you might need personalized guidance.
1. Eat wholesome foods the form they were created in nature
Your digestive tract didn’t evolve to know how to handle sodium metabilsulfite, azodicarbonamide, or sodium stearoyl lactylate (you get the point) are. Our bodies may not have the enzymes to bread down every single synthetic compound in the food system. Plus, these chemicals can trigger hidden food sensitivities which can cause digestive and other problems like headaches, eczema, brain fog, and muscle pain.
2. Avoid anti-acids and acid lowering medications
While there’s some benefit to them SHORT-TERM, most people overuse them and take them for way longer than they should. They can be the most damaging to your digestive tract as they interfere with digestion and can promote the growth of pathogens. Read more about why you need stomach acid here.
3. Eat fermented foods and consider a probiotic supplement
Fermented foods include naturally pickled vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, and good old-fashioned pickled dill (as long as they don’t have vinegar or preservatives). Other fermented foods include miso, tempeh, yogurt, kefir, aged cheese, and sourdough bread. Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria, and by eating them, you tip the scale in the favor of healthy gut flora.
While eating fermented foods is a good strategy to PREVENT digestive problems, I often find that a probiotic supplement with a therapeutic dose and certain species is needed to eliminate symptoms. Which one to take? It depends on your condition really, so I can’t give a mass advice. Products range from 1 billion to 200 billion units and from single specie to 14 (or more) species. What I can say for sure is that the one you see TV commercials for is NOT one that I recommend (overpriced for what you get)!
4. Try removing dairy, wheat (and other gluten sources), and FODMAPs
Even though yogurt has probiotics, dairy can be problematic to your gut. Wheat, rye, barley, and oats (unless marked gluten-free), contain gluten, a protein that has been shown to damage the integrity of the digestive tract. These grains also have certain fibers that can cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. My patients often see 50-70% improvement in their symptoms when they remove dairy and wheat (and gluten). I talk about removing dairy in this blog post.
FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates found in legumes and some dairy, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Following a low FODMAPs diet can help eliminate gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation. You can read more about FODMAPs here. However, please know that it’s advisable to work with a dietitian when following any elimnation diets. Also, from my experience, low FODMAPs diet helps, but many people need to take it a step further and test for food sensitivities (see point #10).
5. Incorporate some bone broth into your diet
I talk about the health benefits of bone broth and gelatin in this post. In summary, it provides amino acids that are often lacking in our diets because we mostly eat boneless chicken and beef cuts. These amino acids nourish the digestive cells and help them repair and heal.
6. Boost your body’s ability to digest food
Sometimes, these symptoms are due to having sluggish digestive enzymes resulting in food stalling in your gut and getting fermented by bad bugs there. To boost your digestive capacity, drink a mix of 1 tablespoon raw apple cider and 2 tablespoons water right before your meal. You can start with a teaspoon of raw apple cider if you’re a bit intimated. You can also add the vinegar to your salad and eat it at the beginning of your meal. Raw apple cider vinegar promotes the production of stomach acid which kick starts the digestion process (read more on stomach acid here). The majority of my patients try a digestive enzyme supplement and report improvement in gas, diarrhea, and bloating.
7. Stop eating every 2 hours and fast for 12 hours overnight
Stop the grazing and this madness of eating every 2 hours (it will not raise your metabolism and it will make you eat more).
The smooth muscles in your digestive tract go through a wave of cleaning, called the migrating motor complex, or MMC. It’s a pattern of electromechanical activity triggered by your nervous system in between meals, and it gets interrupted and reset when you eat. Think of it as the housekeeper who sweeps undigested material down the digestive tract. More enzymes are secreted (including stomach acid) during the MMC, and that helps prevent the build up of bacteria in the gut.
In healthy people, the cleansing motion takes about 1.5-2 hours to complete. But for people with digestive problems (who often also have slow thyroid, gastroparesis, nutrient deficiencies, etc), the MMC might take longer to complete the housekeeping job. If you eat too frequently, you digestive tract may never be able to clean up waste products and will become a comfortable place for bacteria to grow. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition where bacteria grows in the small intestine instead of the colon, is associated with dysfunction of MMC. Symptoms of SIBO include causes diarrhea, constipation, pain, bloating, belching, fatigue, eczema, and other non-digestive issues.
I recommend eating every 4 hours. If you have headaches or hypoglycemia, eating every 3 hours may be better. Fasting for 12 hours at night (dinner at 7 pm, no evening snack, and breakfast the next day at 7 am) will encourage your gut to go through multiple series of MMC.
8. Limit the amount of corn you eat
The majority of the corn in our food supply is genetically modified BT corn. The DNA of the corn contains a gene from soil bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) that produce a toxin that punctures holes in the stomachs of certain insects to kill them.
While Monstanto, the producing company, claimed that the toxin will be destroyed in the human digestive tract and will not affect humans, recent studies showed this to be not true. At Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec, Bt-toxin was found in the blood of 93% of pregnant women, 80% of the umbilical blood of their babies, and 67% of non-pregnant women. If the Bt toxin works by puncturing holes in the stomachs of insects, could it have an effect on our stomachs and digestive tract?
While there’s no study to prove that just yet, I prefer to err on the side of caution. Considering the increase in digestive conditions, auto-immune conditions, and allergies, I wouldn’t be surprised if a study comes out few years from now showing some evidence. In fact, a study on rats found that GMO corn varieties were associated with effects on the kidneys, liver, detoxifiying organs, heart, adrenals, spleen, and blood.
Corn is found as corn starch, corn flour, corn syrup, and corn oil in most processed foods. When you eat wholesome unpackaged foods, you significantly reduce your intake of corn. I stopped using corn in many dishes like chili or salsa. Use avocado and olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Avoid foods with corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). You can use potato starch instead of corn starch. I reserve eating corn to foods that I truly enjoy and not too frequently– few ears of grilled organic corn on the cob in the summer and delicious corn bread that some of my friends make every now and then.
9. If traditional commonsense advice doesn’t work, search for individual answers
I’m not sure how to lump all these tips that may not be so good for you if you have gut problems. Fiber, beans, green smoothies and juices, raw diet, fermented foods, probiotics, drinking water, whole grains, fruits (heck even vegetables) are just some ‘healthy’ tips you heard and tried to incorporated and might have made things worse. Too much fiber and beans can be too harsh on a sensitive digestive tract. Smoothies and juices can cause diarrhea and bloating. Raw foods can be difficult to digest for some people. Fermented foods and probiotics in the wrong dose and the wrong time can backfire. Drinking water with your meals can dilute your digestive enzymes and cause sluggish digestion. Whole grains can feed unhealthy bacteria and can be difficult to digest as well. Some people might have intolerance to certain sugars in fruits. And some vegetables have fibers that cause pain and bloating. If nothing you tried works, it’s time to get help and guidance from someone who knows how to help you and not give you another cookie-cutter diet.
10. Consider food sensitivity testing
Hidden food sensitivities can cause digestive problems like gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Food sensitives are different from food allergies, and the program I offer helped many of my clients identify those problem foods and got rid of their pain. You can read about food sensitivities here.
What are you going to do next?
Now that you have all this information, what are you going to do with it?
- Share with a friend or loved one who needs it
- If you are suffering, pick one or two things and give them a try
- If you try multiple things and still don’t get any result, seek professional help. Contact me to discuss your digestive problem and see if we’re a right fit to work together.
- If you have severe symptoms or bleeding, see a doctor to make sure your symptoms are not caused by a type of cancer or liver disease.