The digestive system is vital. It breaks down your food and converts it into nutrients and energy for the rest of your cells. Most people are surprised to know that there are more bacterial cells in your gut than there are human cells in your entire body. Your body can’t function without them, and exists in a symbiotic relationship with these friendly bacteria. Your skin, your mood, and your immune system all depend on how well you’re digesting things. Even 95% of your body’s serotonin, one of the most important chemicals for maintaining mood, is made in your bowels. There are enough nerve endings in the gut that it has earned the title of second brain.
Your digestive health is a cornerstone of optimal health. If your digestive system isn’t functioning properly, then neither will your immune system, your skin, or your mental health.
What causes digestive dysfunction?
Your digestive system is an intricate network of organs in your body. Your stomach, small and large intestines, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas all work together to play an essential role in making sure your food gets digested properly.
To assess if your digestive system is functioning optimally, naturopathic medicine looks at three main principles:
- Digestion should be pain-free, and free from gas and bloating,
- Nutrients should be well-absorbed,
- Bowel movements should be regular and easy to pass.
If any of these things are not happening, then some sort of dysfunction is at play and NDs use naturopathic medicine to find the root cause and bring the system back into balance.
The list above may sound a bit technical, but the conditions they encapsulate manifest themselves in much more familiar way. If you take a look at the list below, you can bet that we’ve all experienced at least one form of common digestive disturbances.
Heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is very common, and can be so painful that sometimes people think they’re having a heart attack. It happens when food and stomach acid moves up the esophagus, instead of down through the stomach like it’s supposed to. Aside from being painful, it can be a risk factor for cancer, and it’s very treatable.
Gas & Bloating
Most people have experienced gas or bloating at some point. It can be very uncomfortable, and even embarrassing. Certain foods trigger symptoms (think beans), and sometimes it isn’t clear which foods are causing problems. If the bacterial balance in your intestines is off, gas can be a symptom. NDs are pros at figuring out what’s causing your bloating.
Constipation & Diarrhea
People who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD; Crohn’s and colitis) are all too familiar with the cycles of constipation and diarrhea. Undiagnosed celiac disease is a major cause of irregular bowel movements. Medications sometimes cause diarrhea as a side effect. We’re here to help get to the bottom of what’s causing your constipation or diarrhea so that you feel comfortable and healthy.
Any pain in your abdomen can be called stomach pain, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your stomach is causing it. Sometimes it is, like in the case of ulcers, other times the pain can be coming from your gallbladder or pancreas. It can be difficult to tell exactly where the pain is coming from. Treatments vary depending on the origin of the pain. Your naturopathic doctor will find the source and determine which treatment will be most effective.
Malnutrition can happen for a number of reasons, including not obtaining sufficient nutrients from your diet. This can happen as a result of not getting enough calories, or from making poor food choices and not getting enough nutrients, even when there are plenty of calories in your diet. In the context of digestive dysfunction, malnutrition can happen when you don’t absorb nutrients properly. This can be from inflammation in your digestive tract, or because you aren’t making the enzymes and cofactors necessary to digest and absorb food well.
How can naturopathic medicine help?
One of the most important things that naturopathic doctors do to help treat your digestion is a comprehensive diet assessment. This may include food sensitivity testing to identify which foods are safe for your gut and which foods you should be avoiding. Often, the culprit for your digestive problem are foods you haven’t thought of yet, and these simple tests can give you the exact answers. Food sensitivities don’t cause hives or difficulty breathing the way true allergies do; instead, they can show up as a wide variety for symptoms including fatigue, skin problems, mood disturbance and others.
Digestive symptoms can usually be significantly improved early on within your treatment – often within a week or two – your ND will work with you from then on to make sure the treatment sticks and the symptoms resolve completely.
Do you want to resolve your digestive dysfunction? Get in touch to book an appointment.