Ohhh, that love/hate relationship with food: when something tasty BETRAYS you.
If you often experience discomfort and pain after eating, you may have what’s generally called “irritable bowel syndrome.”
This idiopathic (of unknown origin) condition can be related to more specific conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, leaky gut syndrome, Celiac disease, non-Celiac gluten intolerance, and colitis. But many people live with digestive discomfort and dysfunction for years without any answer as to why.
Of course, you should see a healthcare provider to help you figure out what’s really going on in there, but in the meantime, here are some general tips that can inform you about your insides.
When your menu of digestive complaints is as large as your favorite restaurant’s, you may:
- Crave carbs, sweets, or salt
- Experience burning in your stomach or esophagus
- Feel bloated
- Feel nauseous
- Feel pain in your abdomen
- Get sleepy after eating
- Have a hard time sleeping after a big meal
- Have constipation
- Have diarrhea
- Lose your appetite
In addition to these gut-related symptoms, digestive problems can produce broader symptoms, including:
- Brain fog
- Knee or leg pain
- Back or neck pain
- Vision changes
- Skin irritation or rashes
- Fatigue and weakness
- Migrating aches and pains
But what do these symptoms actually mean? Let's do a little sleuthing and find out.
Just in case: here's a quick reminder of gut anatomy. You know, where all the organs are--and aren't.
- Small intestine
- Gallbladder and liver
- Large intestine
What are stomach symptoms?
At this first landing place for the food you eat, the trouble can begin. Burning, belching, acid reflux, and pain in the upper left abdomen can signal that you’re not producing the right amount of stomach acid(usually too little) or digestive enzymes.
You may feel as if food or water is just sitting in your stomach, or you may lose your appetite after just a few bites. Almost anything you eat may make you nauseous.
Since protein and fats maybe particularly hard on you, you may want to eat only carbs. One possible culprit for these symptoms is a hidden infection caused by H. pylori bacteria.
What are small intestine and pancreatic digestive symptoms?
Digestion and absorption should take place in the small intestine. If you experience pain and cramping in your abdomen about an hour and a half after eating, you can guess something’s not right in your small intestine. Instead of being digested, the carbohydrates you’ve eaten may be fermenting.
You may find yourself rushing to the bathroom with diarrhea. This happens when an overgrowth of bacteria that belong in your large intestine crowd their way into your small intestine.
This is known as SIBO, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. The underlying cause could be an infection like H. pylori, candida, or a parasite. Besides nausea, bloating, and intestinal gas, SIBO is also associated with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and rosacea.
What are gallbladder digestive symptoms?
As the digesting food continues on its journey, it receives help from your gallbladder—or it should. The gallbladder secretes bile in order to digest fat, but if something interferes with proper gallbladder function, you may experience pain under your rib cage, in front of your shoulder, or behind your knee.
Leg cramps, temporal headaches, eye pain, constipation or diarrhea, and nausea and/or bloating after a meal (especially a fatty meal) are some of the other unpleasant signs that your gall bladder isn’t working well.
Another tell-tale hint: You don’t sleep well between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. You may have trouble falling asleep or sleeping deeply during that time.
What are large intestine symptoms?
The last leg of the digestive journey is the large intestine, or colon. Comprising a winding route about five to six feet long, the large intestine prepares undigested food for elimination. But it has some other roles that might surprise you. It absorbs the vitamins that billions of good bacteria—known as symbiotic bacteria—make, and it also makes antibodies that are crucial to your body’s immune system and fighting off infections.
Constipation and diarrhea—or alternating bouts of each—are signals that something has gone wrong in your large intestine. You may have dysbiosis: an imbalance of bacteria or yeast and/or a chronic parasitic infection. Bloating, gas, fatigue, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and food cravings often accompany large intestine problems.
What symptoms might be caused by leaky gut or food allergies?
Leaky gut syndrome can affect the entire digestive tract. When the microbiome—the trillions of symbiotic bacteria that live in your gut—gets out of balance (dysbiosis), inflammation occurs in the digestive tract lining. That allows undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream, where they certainly don’t belong.
There’s a bigger problem, though. When the body notices these circulating particles, it assumes they’re foreign invaders and attacks them. This is usually how food allergies develop. During this process your immune system can also attack certain parts of your brain, creating “leaky brain,” which reduces the ability of the blood-brain barrier to keep out harmful substances. That can lead to depression, anxiety, brain fog, and other mental symptoms.
The good news? Symptoms are your body's best way of communicating with you.
But the bad news?
Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, digestive problems are no joke. They can make you miserable, and they can lead to a general worsening of your health because they keep you from getting the nutrients you need while exposing your brain and bloodstream to toxins. That’s why it’s so important to get a healthcare provider on your side who knows how to treat the gut.
For now, take action in whatever way you can. You can start with the following steps.
- Remove as many dietary triggers as you can from your diet for 10 days. Eliminate gluten, dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, and alcohol as well as processed foods and beverages. Stop eating any foods you suspect you’re allergic or sensitive to.
- Replace the eliminated foods with fresh fruits and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. Add fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha) to your daily diet.
- Reinoculate your GI tract with beneficial bacteria to help restore and rebalance the microflora. Take a probiotic supplement like Probiotic Pro and consume at least one serving per day of a fermented food.
- Repair your GI tract with products like Inflam-eze, an anti-inflammatory medical food. This product has several benefits:
- It replaces calories with an optimal balance of protein, carbs, and fat while you’re avoiding possible allergens or inflammatory foods.
- It contains highly effective anti-inflammatory nutrients like turmeric, anti-oxidants like quercetin, and a range of vitamins and minerals that support your body functions—including digestion–while helping to calm inflammation.
- It gives your digestive tract a soothing rest so it can begin to recover from any imbalances and infections.
- Retain the gains. Gut health is an ongoing process.
Ultimately, you should always follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for fine-tuning your digestion and treating severe symptoms. Consult your practitioner regarding any changes to your wellness plan.
In most situations, you will find you have the power to improve, if not perfect, your digestion. Adopt the eating, exercise, and stress management strategies we recommend on this site. Continue to eliminate dietary triggers, follow a clean eating plan, and take any targeted nutritional supplements your practitioner recommends.
HOWEVER, if you have chronic dysbiosis or microbial infections in your gut, none of the above strategies is likely to resolve your symptoms. The Global Wellness Lab can teach you how to build antimicrobial strategies to eliminate pathogens that may be causing your chronic symptoms.
Listen to your gut. If it’s begging you for help, one of the best things you can do for your health and wellness is to work on your gut problems until your digestion once again becomes an imperceptible part of your life. Eating can bring you pure joy again!