An estimated 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. suffer from some type of digestive disorder. (1) Gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, loose stools, and heartburn are among the most common digestive system ailments that occur.
Possible Causes of Digestive System Problems and Recommended Treatments
Problems can occur in different parts of the digestive tract. The causes of symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and heartburn are not always clear. In some instances, low levels of stomach acid, low digestive enzymes, low bile production, and intestinal mobility issues may contribute to digestive symptoms.
Another common culprit of digestive problems is an overgrowth of fungus within the small or large intestine. As the amount of fungus grows, symptoms like acid reflux, gas, constipation, and bloating may occur. Some studies indicate that 25 percent of people with unexplained digestive problems have an overgrowth of fungus in the small intestine. (2)
In addition to fungus, bacteria can also cause digestive problems. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) refers to the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. It is estimated that up to 78 percent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also suffer from SIBO. (3)
Vitalia Health Care offers a wide variety of diagnostic tests, such as urine, stool, and breath samples, to target the possible underlying causes of digestive health ailments. Our Naturopathic Doctors will work with you directly to develop a treatment strategy to help treat the root cause of your digestive problems.
Symptoms of Digestive Problems
Digestive disorders like IBS and SIBO can cause a range of symptoms, such as:
Nearly any food can aggravate digestive disorder symptoms. Therefore, it can be very difficult to determine what foods are causing side effects.
If you find that your symptoms get worse after eating foods high in sugar or fiber, consider testing for SIBO. In some cases, eating healthier can make symptoms worse. You should also consider SIBO if probiotics or fermented foods tend to make your symptoms worse.
Associated Medical Conditions
Digestive problems, including SIBO, may also be associated with other medical conditions, such as:
Some studies have also found a higher incidence of IBS in patients with psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety. (9) (10) In studies conducted on children with both autism and SIBO, research found that SIBO may be associated with the symptoms of autism. (11)
A Closer Look at Constipation
Constipation is a very common digestive problem that affects approximately 63 million people in the U.S. alone. (12) To meet the Rome IV criteria of having constipation, a person must experience fewer than three bowel movements per week over the last three preceding months. The stools must be hard or lumpy for at least 25 percent of the bowel movements.
Some people may have more than three bowel movements in a week, but may feel like they are not evacuating the stools completely from the bowels, may have hard or lumpy stools often, or may experience excessive gas and bloating. These patients may also benefit from treatments available for constipation.
Constipation can have a number of causes, such as insufficient water intake, poor gallbladder health with insufficient bile production, lack of adequate fiber intake, liver disorders, injuries, and SIBO.
An assessment for constipation may include a detailed history and involves paying attention to nutrition, fiber, and processed sugar intake. All of these things can contribute to constipation.
Treatment for constipation may include certain diet and lifestyle changes based on the patient’s diet and intake of water. The introduction of digestive enzymes and support with stomach acid may also be included as part of a treatment plan. Liver and gallbladder support, such as lecithin and bile supplements, may also be helpful. In some instances, prokinetics like Prucalopride, Erythromycin, and low dose Naltrexone may be recommended.
Testing for Digestive Problems
When diagnosing digestive disorders, an assessment may include a digestive health history including any current symptoms the patient may be experiencing, as well as a look at past use of antibiotics and past history of gastrointestinal infections. A family history may also be taken.
Tests for digestive disorders may include:
During the follow-up consultation, lab findings will be discussed and treatment options explained.
Treatment for Digestive Problems
Treatment for digestive problems is based on where the deficiencies are found. The initial phase of treatment focuses on digestive support and may include bitters, digestive enzymes, treatment of low stomach acid, or reduction of high stomach acid. Removal of foods that have been found to irritate the gut is also recommended. In cases of SIBO, a low FODMAP diet may be used.
The second phase of treatment involves treating any fungal or bacterial overgrowth. Herbal preparations have been found effective in treating symptoms of SIBO. (13) Herbs such as garlic, berberine, myrrh, thyme, and emulsified oregano are most commonly used.
Rifaximin may also be prescribed as an effective prescription antibiotic for the treatment of predominantly loose stool SIBO. (14) Combining Rifaximin and Metronidazole may be effective in treating constipation type SIBO.
Probiotics and Your Gut Health
Probiotics are referred to as “friendly bacteria” that live in your digestive tract, primarily in the large intestine. These bacteria make up an important part of your microbiome and play a crucial role in immune system, digestive system, nervous system, and hormone health. Probiotics also help digest food, absorb nutrients from food, make important vitamins, and provide protection from pathogens. They also protect the intestinal lining, contribute to the production of serotonin (“feel good” hormone), and prevent increased permeability (leaky gut). We have a symbiotic relationship with these organisms.
Maintaining a balanced microbiome with gut-friendly probiotics and less pathogenic bacteria and yeast plays an important role in your overall health. When you have an imbalance, you may experience mood disorders such as anxiety, sugar cravings, weight gain, and digestive disturbances. (15) (16)
Our comprehensive digestive stool analysis can determine your levels of friendly bacteria and the presence of pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and parasites. Using this information, our Naturopathic Doctors may determine the proper probiotic blend for you and help develop a targeted antimicrobial or antifungal treatment.
Eliminating Harmful Biofilms
The presence of biofilms can make it more challenging to treat bacterial or fungal overgrowths, as seen in many cases of IBS and SIBO.
A biofilm is an aggregate of microorganisms that include bacteria, yeast, or parasites, and is made up of complex sugar molecules (polysaccharides) and minerals, such as iron, calcium, and magnesium. This biofilm can move, expand, change shape, and pump nutrients in and waste out. It essentially creates a community where organisms live and communicate together. It also protects the organisms from our immune system and from antimicrobial and antifungal treatments.
Herbs and enzymes can be used to breakdown these biofilms which is an important step in IBS and SIBO treatment. When taken approximately 30 minutes prior to the antibiotic or antimicrobial herbal treatment, these “biofilm busters” can be effective in breaking down the polysaccharide complex which allows the treatment to be more effective. Examples of biofilm busters used include apple cider vinegar, curcumin, oregano, garlic, berberine, and proteolytic enzymes.
If you suffer from digestive problems and are looking for a comprehensive Naturopathic treatment approach , schedule an appointment with one of our Naturopathic Doctors .
During the first appointment your Naturopathic Physician will review your digestive symptoms and history. Other questions may include travel history, history of food poisoning and how long you have been experiencing symptoms. Your Naturopathic Physician will also discuss your current diet and any relation to your symptoms.
Laboratory testing that may be recommended include an assessment of stomach acid levels (baking soda test), stool testing such as the GI 360 test, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth test and Food sensitivity testing. These tests will only be recommended if they are appropriate for you. They are not necessary for all patients.
During the follow up appointment, the results of any laboratory tests ordered will be reviewed. Your personalized treatment plan will also be discussed that may include prescription antimicrobial, herbal antimicrobials, digestive support and specific diet recommendations for you.
If no tests were completed at the first appointment, your Naturopathic Physician will discuss your treatment plan and how you feel based on the recommendations. Your treatment plan is always tailored for you!