Early in my medical residency, I learned a lesson from one of my mentors that continues to serve me well today. He told me that whenever I was faced with a “complex” patient—a person with medical problems in numerous body systems, including gastrointestinal problems—that I should start by treating the gut. The idea was that once the digestive issues were fixed, everything else would be a whole lot easier to treat.
After 20 years, that early lesson seems more accurate than ever. No matter their “primary” or main complaint, more than 80 percent of my patients have digestive issues…whether it’s acid reflux, gas, bloating, constipation, or some other gastrointestinal gripe.
If your digestive tract is unwell, you are unwell. It’s that simple. And this article by my UpWellness team will help you keep yours in mint condition.
That bloating, that pain, that uncomfortable, all too familiar feeling you get when your gut is in distress. It can interfere with work, play, and compromise the quality of your life. Perhaps you have tried to understand your gut, tried to soothe it, to remedy whatever it is that causes it to go into fits of rage.
You are not alone; between 60 to 70 million Americans are impacted by digestive diseases, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). GERD happens when stomach acid travels the wrong way and ends up in your esophagus or throat. What follows can be an onslaught of heartburn and indigestion. Those that suffer from IBS may experience stomach pain and changes in bowel habits, including constipation, diarrhea, or even both. Many, many others remain undiagnosed but still suffer from bloating, pain, and disrupted bowel habits.
Your digestive system has a monumental job
You may not know it, but your digestive system is extremely busy. Comprised of a long, muscular tube that runs from the mouth to the anus, the gastrointestinal tract (GI) is about 30 feet long. It works hard, along with other parts of your body to break up food into smaller molecules of nutrients that the blood absorbs and delivers to cells for energy, growth, and repair. Can you say RESPECT?…. Your GI system has a lot to do, and because of this and the immense size of the system, bumps in the road are common.
What makes my gut so angry, and what can I do?
There is a myriad of factors that come into play with gut health, and it can take any one or a combination of these factors to send your gut into a tyrant. On the list is your body’s build, family and genetic history, how you manage stress, and what you eat. The amount and quality of sleep can even have an impact on gut health.
According to Dr. Lin Chang, a GI expert at the University of California, Los Angeles,
“I see a lot of lifestyle-related GI issues, and there are often no quick fixes for that.
While you are stuck with your genes, there are other things that you can certainly do to help ease your angry gut. It is essential to stay focused and committed when tackling GI issues. Stay the course, and you will experience relief.
If you experience a frequent angry gut, try these things to bring your gastrointestinal system back into balance.
Get a handle on stress in your life
If we had a barometer to measure the degree that each stressful situation impacts our health, we would all drop down and do a Downward Dog over and over again. Studies conducted by Dr. Chang reveals the tight connection between stress and IBS.
“Finding healthy ways to manage stress is important for GI health, and your health overall.”
It is incredible how immensely unmanaged stress in our lives rips at our health – especially gut health. If you even lead a marginally busy life, it is important to have checks and balances for stress overload in place. Take time for rest and relaxation, family and friends, and lots of deep breathing. Whatever works for you – do it and do it often to keep stress from building up.
How are you fueling your body?
What you eat can either help or hinder gut health. Do you think before you eat? Do you keep careful records of what you eat? These are two things that are absolutely critical when it comes to taming your digestive woes. Knowing exactly which foods cause your gut to fly into a temper tantrum and which ones keep the monster quiet will help you manage gastrointestinal issues and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Fiber is a big YES, and most of us don’t get enough of it. Gradually increase the fiber in your diet over several weeks until you are eating 20 to 30 grams each day. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts daily. Be careful, though; if you have IBS, you may benefit from a diet low in FODMAPS – Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are a group of foods that are poorly absorbed including simple and complex sugars found in some fruits, vegetables, milk, and wheat.
Of course, it is paramount that everyone cut out junk and processed foods (that contain additives sure to annoy your gut) and replace these with whole, organic, nutrient-dense foods. Including plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods/drinks helps to fuel healthy bacteria while minimizing those that encourage and exacerbate digestive dysfunction.
Eat regularly and eat small meals that are easy to digest. Keep a food diary – this is a must!
Move, move, move
Yes, even though you may not feel like it, exercise can help calm don a painful gut. Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers that quell the discomfort associated with digestive distress. While releasing endorphins, exercise also increases the amount of oxygen circulating in your body, which helps you feel much better. Even taking a daily thirty-minute walk outdoors can help offset the discomfort you may feel.
As you work with your gut to achieve ultimate health and healing, seek out an experienced health professional to walk alongside you on your journey!
-The UpWellness Team