Everyone experiences some type of stomach upset at some point. Whether it’s an unpleasant virus or overindulgence in rich foods, indigestion, bloating, gas, constipation, and other discomforts are a fact of life.
When your digestive issues become more than an occasional occurrence, or they begin to disrupt your life, there could be a larger issue that needs to be addressed. Some people have serious medical conditions like Crohn’s disease, colitis, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but often the causes of digestive problems are easily managed with a few lifestyle changes.
If you’re finding that you have “tummy trouble” or that you’re spending more time in the bathroom than you would like, consider whether one of these problems could be the culprit.
Stress gets blamed for a lot, and with good reason. When you are stressed, your body creates excess amounts of the hormone cortisol in response to the increased adrenaline — and cortisol contributes to a whole host of issues, including digestive issues. Studies have shown that stress can manifest itself in constipation, diarrhea, pain, and other problems. In fact, your gut holds as many neurons as the spinal cord and as many neurotransmitters as the brain, leading some scientists to refer to your digestive system as your “second brain.” This means that when you are stressed, your digestion is probably going to suffer in some way.
Solving the problem, of course, requires reducing stress, but that is usually easier said than done. Understanding the link between your stress and digestive problems can help; pay attention to triggers, and develop coping skills that can help you avoid physical discomfort. If your stress is an ongoing issue, talk with your doctor about strategies that can help, including therapy and medication.
These days it seems that gluten is the enemy. We all know at least one person who has eliminated all gluten from their diet to help them with everything from skin conditions to weight loss. While the number of people who have a legitimate gluten allergy or celiac disease is very small (by some estimates, less than 1 percent of the population) there is a much greater number of individuals who have a gluten intolerance and should try to avoid ingesting too much of it.
Food intolerance doesn’t just apply to gluten, though. Virtually any food can be a trigger for digestive issues; for example, some people have trouble digesting foods that are high in iron, while others have trouble with dairy. Such intolerances are usually determined by following an elimination diet, methodically ruling out ingredients until you find the one causing the issues. Talk with your doctor, and keep a food journal that documents what you eat and how you feel to identify the patterns that are causing your discomfort. Once you find an answer, it’s just a matter of reducing or eliminating those foods in your diet.
Your digestive system is actually a marvel of chemistry, with enzymes, hormones, and bacteria all working together to help extract nutrients from your food and keep your body functioning properly. When these chemicals aren’t aligned, though, you can experience upsets and other issues.
For example, taking antibiotics for an infection can actually kill the good bacteria in your digestive system, leading to diarrhea and stomach upset. An ongoing stomach virus can also upset the delicate balance of bacteria in your digestive system, causing an ongoing problem.
Taking probiotics, either on their own in pill form or by eating foods like yogurt, which naturally contain the healthy bacteria, can help keep your system functioning. Other products, like natural herbal teas, contain enzymes and other herbs that are known solutions for digestive needs. Taking steps to protect your digestive health every day, particularly if your diet is lacking, can help stop problems before they start.
We all know that it is important to drink plenty of water, but most of us don’t even come close to meeting the recommended daily intake. The resulting dehydration can wreak havoc on your digestive system. In fact, studies show that dehydration is usually a primary factor in constipation. While other factors can contribute to the condition (poor diet, medication, etc.) drinking plenty of water is a vital step in maintaining regularity. Be sure to drink enough fluids every day — 64 ounces is the most common recommendation — and help keep your digestive problems to a minimum.
Again, there are certain illnesses and chronic conditions that can cause ongoing digestive issues. More often than not, though, the problem is easily fixed with some lifestyle changes and a commitment to keeping your digestive system in good shape.