As a nutritional therapist specialising in digestive health concerns, many clients I work with come to me with a host of digestive symptoms from constipation to Inflammatory Bowel Disease. They also often present with a multitude of additional diverse concerns such as fatigue, insomnia, acne, psoriasis, weakened immunity or hormone imbalance. Their symptoms affect every aspect of their life from their ability to participate in leisure pursuits, to their capacity to work, go on holiday, socialise with friends or to form meaningful relationships. Despite this, many have suffered in silence for years.
Diet and lifestyle changes can have a dramatic impact upon your digestion and health status. This article will discuss lifestyle and dietary strategies that may help you to address the symptoms you are experiencing.
Nutritional Therapy for digestive health disorders
In my clinic ImmunoNutrition, I offer dietary and lifestyle analysis and personalised protocols to help clients improve the quality of their life and address the symptoms that they are experiencing. I have experience of living with a digestive health condition which developed when I was a teenager. Fortunately, I am now symptom-free due thanks to the dietary and lifestyle changes that I introduced.
What is a digestive health disorder?
A digestive health disorder is any health problem that occurs in your digestive tract and affects its ability to function effectively. This may range from mild indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and acid reflux to more severe IBS or a diagnosis of an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or Colitis. Having a digestive health disorder can affect every aspect of your health, from the quality of your hair and nails, to your ability to concentrate or sleep. If not addressed, you may begin to experience more symptoms of a greater and diverse magnitude.
What are the symptoms of an unhealthy gut?
Common digestive health symptoms include:
- Gastrointestinal pain
- Blood and mucus in your stool
- Food intolerances, allergies or food cravings
- Heart burn / acid reflux
- Bad breath
However, our gut is not an isolated organ and there are many less well-known symptoms can also be directly related to an unhealthy digestive system. These include:
- Fatigue and / or anaemia
- Altered mood, impaired cognition
- Nutrient deficiency symptoms- such as ulcers
- Skin conditions such as acne, spots and psoriasis
- Symptoms of hormone imbalance such as irregular or heavy periods
- Weakened immunity and increased susceptibility to coughs, colds, flu etc.
- Weight problems- either under weight or overweight.
Causes or triggers of digestive health disorders
Having consulted with your GP, you may have been told that there is no known cause for your symptoms. You may be told that you have an increased genetic predisposition and that there is little that can be done to help. A lack of clarity or understanding can leave you feeling frustrated and despairing. However, scientific literature highlights that there are actually many reasons why you may be experiencing digestive health symptoms. Potential causes include:
- Infectious agents – such as a host of different bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites;
- Nutrient deficiencies;
- Undetected autoimmune conditions;
- Food intolerances / allergies;
- Changes in thyroid hormone or sex steroid hormone production (such as around pregnancy, puberty, menopause)
- Medications and medical interventions may also be associated with the development of gastrointestinal symptoms.
- A range of lifestyle factors such as: high or low exercise, insufficient fibre, water, fruit and vegetables, smoking, high calorie intake, obesity, sleep deprivation, exposure to chemicals and toxins as well as tooth decay.
Medical intervention and help for digestive health disorders
If you notice any changes in your digestive health and know that something is not quite right, then make sure you seek medical help from your GP or Gastroenterologist. Ask for proper testing to understand what might be the underlying cause of your symptoms. Don’t give up on your pursuit.
Medical help for digestive health disorders
Doctors frequently treat digestive health conditions through the use of over the counter or prescription medication to help suppress your symptoms. Medications may be prescribed in the long-term and are often increased over time to meet your changing needs. Medication frequently prescribed includes:
- A range of prescription medications such as painkillers, antibiotics and antacids or PPI’s.
- Antidepressant medication may be prescribed alongside this if an individual is experiencing anxiety, depression or additional cognitive difficulties.
- Immunosuppressant medication may be prescribed if you are diagnosed with an autoimmune condition such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
- At a later stage, many are offered surgery to control the progression of their condition- this may include the removal of gallstones or surgery to remove an affected region of the colon.
If a diagnosis is not possible, you may be told that you have IBS and be left to cope with their disorder with little help, relying on over-the-counter medication.
Is medication the answer?
Imagine, for example, that you are standing on a pin. Your foot would become painful and inflamed, it may even become infected. What would you do to reduce the pain and inflammation? You could administer pain killing or anti-inflammatory medication or possibly antibiotics. Doing so may lessen the swelling, treat the infection or numb the pain in the short term; however, the root cause of your discomfort remains: the pin is still in your foot. Without finding and removing the pin, how can your foot heal?
In essence, your gut health symptoms are the same. Your symptoms are not the cause of your problem, they are simply a sign or an alert given by your body to let you know that something is not right. Determining what this ‘something’ is, is vital if you want to improve your symptoms and help your body begin to function effectively again.
How can nutrition and lifestyle changes improve your gut health?
You will find many recommendations online or receive advice from well-meaning family and friends. This advice may have worked well for that particular individual who may no longer have any symptoms. However, this does not mean that it will work for you. You cannot guess if you have an infection, nor can you see if your hormone levels are in check or if a specific food is truly problematic for you. Similarly, no two people have the same life history, genetic predisposition or personal story. It is therefore virtually impossible to replicate any advice from another effectively to address your own concerns.
As a Nutritional Therapist, I aim to understand, address and remove factors that may be triggering your symptoms such as food intolerances, stress, infections, impaired sleep or nutrient deficiencies and help you to make manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle. Doing so can, in effect help remove the metaphorical pin from your foot and help alleviate not only can your digestive health concerns but also any additional symptoms that you are experiencing.
If you would like to understand more about how nutritional therapy could support your gut health, contact ImmunoNutrition on: firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on: 07503340186. I also hold a 30 minute open meeting at 5.30pm on a Thursday. Please contact me for additional information.