Gut feeling: Is your gut trying to tell you something?
Contrary to popular belief, you are not just what you eat, but what you can digest and absorb.
Furthermore, the gut has more immune cells than the rest of your body, hence, one of its major functions is to recognise that food is a friend and not a foe. If things go wrong for any reason, then reactions to food and drink can shut down the processes of proper digestion, absorption and elimination. This can lead to the following symptoms:
- malabsorption of vital nutrients such as calcium
- abdominal pain.
If you regularly suffer from the problems above, you should visit your GP to eliminate celiac disease, or inflammatory conditions such as colitis or Crohn's. If the cause of your symptoms is unknown you may be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Digestive problems may be viewed by answering the following questions:
- Are you allergic or intolerant to something you're eating or drinking?
- Are you digesting your food properly?
- Are you lacking gut bacteria, digestive enzymes, water or fibre?
The first question concerning food allergies or intolerances is a common cause of digestive problems. Allergic symptoms can range from relatively minor rashes through to generalised swelling or anaphylactic shock, so if you suspect that you are allergic to a food, you should seek immediate medical attention or ask for an emergency appointment (especially if you can’t breathe properly) with your GP (as long as your breathing remains unaffected). An allergic reaction can occur quite rapidly, normally within minutes. For a food Intolerance symptoms can appear up to 48 hours after the food is eaten and does not make you feel immediately unwell, which is why it is often so difficult to identify the offending food(s).
However, some of the most common food allergies or intolerances are listed below:
- Wheat or gluten (bread, biscuits, cereals, pasta).
- Dairy produce (milk, cheese, yoghurt).
- Yeast (found in breads, beer, wine and many processed foods).
If you suspect you may be allergic to foods, you can either use trial and error by eliminating food groups one at a time from your diet for a couple of weeks and then re-introducing them. It is best to keep a symptom diary during this period, as it possible that you may ‘forget’ some of the symptoms if you don’t do this. However, as it is easy to accidentally include some of the above foods in your diet, it is best to do this kind of elimination programme with a trained professional and to ensure you obtain all the nutrients you require. Not all food reactions are allergies or intolerance, however. If you don’t make enough of the enzyme, lactase, then you can’t break down the sugar found in milk and other diary products. Other people find it harder to digest beans or suspect other foods are involved.
So, identifying what foods may be affecting you (and it could be more than one food) is crucial in re-balancing your health, as it will be affecting the bacteria in your gut, and may contribute to the unpleasant digestive symptoms you are experiencing.
The following guidelines may also help you reduce your problematic digestive symptoms. Avoid or reduce:
- Refined foods (e.g. white bread, pasta/rice), as the contain insufficient fibre to promote friendly bacterial growth).
- Sugar and food and drinks with high sugar content (and some people may have a fructose intolerance, whereby they can not properly absorb this type of sugar).
- Hydrogenated or partly hydrogenated fats, which interfere with the proper functioning of cell membranes.
- Food additives and preservatives, which are known to be problematic for some people.
- Alcohol, as it can increase gut permeability (leaky gut).
Taking a probiotic or digestive enzyme may also help with your symptoms. However, if you are still having difficulty figuring out what may be causing your digestive symptoms, then seek the advice of a trained nutritionist, who should be able to identify the main culprits or advise on specific diagnostic testing via your GP or privately via a nutritionist.