Digestion is the process by which the body breaks down food into smaller components that can be absorbed and used for energy, growth, and repair. Poor digestion can lead to a variety of uncomfortable (and often painful!) symptoms, including bloating, gas, constipation, heartburn, and diarrhea.
We’re often totally unaware of what is causing our digestive distress, so I thought it would be helpful to point out 5 possible root causes of those awful symptoms so many of us suffer from:
- Imbalanced gut microbiome – The gut microbiome is a collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. These microorganisms play a crucial role in digestion by breaking down complex carbohydrates, producing vitamins and minerals, and regulating the immune system. When the gut microbiome is imbalanced, meaning there are too few beneficial baceria and too many harmful bacteria, digestion can be negatively affected. This imbalance can be caused by factors such as a diet high in sugar and processed foods, medications (prescription and OTC), and chronic stress…to name a few.
- Food intolerances – food intolerances occur when the body is unable to digest certain foods, which leads to a variety of painful digestive symptoms. They’re tricky because the reactions caused by food intolerances are subtle, not immediate (as with an allergy), and are difficult to identify. The most common food intolerances are lactose, gluten, and fructose – but really, food intolerances can occur with just about any food. These intolerances can be caused by a lack of enzymes necessary to break down the foods, which leaves undigested food sitting in the digestive system and leads to digestive distress.
- Low stomach acid – stomach acid plays a critical role in digestion by breaking down food and killing harmful bacteria. When stomach acid levels are low, digestion is impaired and as with food intolerances, food sits in the system undigested, causing bloating, gas, constipation…all the things! Low stomach acid can result from a variety of factors, including age, stress, and the use of antacid medications.
- Poor diet – a diet high in processed foods, sugar, unhealthy fats, and low in nutrient value can negatively affect digestion by disrupting the balance of the gut microbiome, causing inflammation, and impairing the function of digestive organs. Also, a diet low in fiber can lead to chronic constipation and other digestive issues.
- Stress – chronic stress can lead to poor digestion by impairing the function of the digestive system. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system – this slows down digestion and reduces blood flow to the digestive tract, which can lead to all of the common digestive distress symptoms.
Poor digestion can have a variety of root causes. But by addressing these root causes through diet, lifestyle changes, and targeted supplementation, it is entirely possible to improve digestion and heal your gut.
If you’re experiencing persistent digestive distress, it’s important you pay attention to them – it’s your body’s way of telling you something is out of balance and needs your attention. Digestive issues that are left untreated can lead to chronic inflammation in the body and develop into more serious health concerns.
Talk to a healthcare provider or gut health practitioner about your symptoms to determine the underlying cause (because there is always one!) and develop a plan to heal.