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The 7 Most Common Causes of G.I. Symptoms

What are G.I. symptoms? Gastrointestinal or G.I. symptoms plague an alarming number of Americans and individuals worldwide. Symptoms such as heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation are now part of many people’s week and even the daily lives of up to 40% of Americans. While everyone will experience these symptoms at some point, whether […]

What are G.I. symptoms?

Gastrointestinal or G.I. symptoms plague an alarming number of Americans and individuals worldwide. Symptoms such as heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation are now part of many people’s week and even the daily lives of up to 40% of Americans.

While everyone will experience these symptoms at some point, whether it be due to eating unfamiliar foods, traveling, or catching the flu, trying to manage these symptoms should not be part of your regular routine.

It is becoming increasingly common to experience 1 or more of these symptoms interrupting your daily life. But it’s not normal – and you don’t need to continue suffering through them.

What causes G.I. symptoms?

As you will see from the following list, you could start with one of these causes and that could lead to the rest of them. You could start with number one and it could lead you all the way to seven or you could start with 7 and it could lead you all the way to number 1.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other diagnoses of chronic digestive issues are generally not the cause of your digestive issues, but simply an acknowledgment of symptoms.

Treating these symptoms with over-the-counter or prescription medications may (if you’re lucky) allow you to ignore your body’s alarm system alerting you there is some sort of imbalance, dysregulation, or dysfunction. But, that imbalance, dysregulation, or dysfunction will still be there escalating further in the direction of additional disease and more chronic symptoms.

Symptom relief is important and often necessary to heal or do what you need to do to pay your bills or take care of your family, but the conversation should never stop there.

Addressing the root cause (or causes) of your persistent G.I. symptoms is your best bet at resolving these issues for good, not to mention supporting your overall health, happiness, performance, and longevity.

Below is a list of possible causes we assess for every Optimal Health Blueprint client before creating customized protocols for their unique body, personality, and lifestyle.

1. Poor Nutrition

It may surprise you to find out that the actual act of digestion has many nutritional requirements.

Production of everything from your stomach acid to your enzymes and bile all require specific nutrients in order to be synthesized within your digestive system.

If you do not get enough of the nutrients necessary to produce these digestive juices, the food you are eating may pass through you without being properly broken down and absorbed. And this can lead to further nutritional insufficiencies that can affect every cell in the body.

And don’t forget cellular dysfunction leads to chronic illness and disease.

2. Poor Breakdown

As mentioned above, digestive juices such as stomach acid (also known as hydrochloric acid,) play a key role in proper digestion.

But hydrochloric acid isn’t just affected by your nutritional intake.

Things like chronic stress, medications, alcohol, and some parasitic infections can all lower hydrochloric acid.

When food isn’t broken down enough, it can’t be properly absorbed. But that’s not the only problem this can’t cause.

When food doesn’t get properly broken down in the stomach, it can cause it to ferment, leading to bloating, cramping and heartburn.

Also, when food isn’t properly broken down and manages to pass through your intestinal walls (due to leaky gut), your immune system will not recognize it. And anything your immune system doesn’t recognize, it will attack (produce antibodies).

This can lead to widespread or systemic inflammation – causing not just G.I. symptoms but anything from achy joints to sinus issues and even skin problems.

3. Poor Absorption

Intestinal microvilli

So, we now know that poor absorption can be caused by poor breakdown. But poor absorption can also be caused by damage to the microvilli or brush border of your intestinal wall.

The microvilli are many, many, many, teeny, tiny finger-like projections that line the wall of your intestines. They not only produce additional digestive enzymes but provide the appropriate pathway to absorb nutrients once properly broken down.

Damage to the brush border will hinder its ability to produce these enzymes and absorb nutrients.

This damage can be caused by celiac disease or other autoimmune conditions, certain medications, SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth), parasitic infections, alcohol, food intolerances other than gluten, and possibly anorexia.

4. Dysbiosis

Your gut microbiome refers to all the little critters that live inside your intestines, such as bacteria, yeasts, and viruses. There are “good” bugs and “bad” bugs but too much or too little or either and you have dysbiosis.

This dysbiosis can lead to all of the digestive complaints we’ve discussed (heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea) plus fatigue, achy joints, skin rashes or acne, ADHD, or trouble concentrating as well as anxiety and depression.

This imbalance of good and bad microbes can be caused by exposure to parasites from traveling, overuse of antibiotics, a lack of the proper substrate to feed the good bugs, or low stomach acid to kill off pathogens.

5. Inflammation

Inflammation can cause G.I. symptoms by causing irritation and damage to the digestive tract. This can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including certain foods, infections, autoimmune conditions, and medications. Additionally, stress and anxiety can also contribute to inflammation and digestive issues.

Any of the other causes in this list can also cause inflammation and then lead to further symptoms as well.

Inflammation can also damage the brush border making it difficult to absorb nutrients, and affecting the mucus membrane of the digestive tract, causing diarrhea.

6. Leaky Gut or Intestinal Permeability

You’ve no doubt heard of leaky gut over the years. Once considered quackery by the mainstream medical community, its existence has now been well-established within the medical literature.

Intestinal permeability can cause various symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and food sensitivities. It is also linked to certain autoimmune diseases and other health problems.

The microvilli or brush border we’ve been discussing exists on the inside of cells called enterocytes, these enterocytes are bound together all along your intestinal walls by something called tight junctions.

While the microvilli allow the passage of properly digested food, the tight junctions make sure to keep larger particles, bacteria, and toxins from getting into the bloodstream.

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of leaky gut, including chronic stress, infections, certain medications, an unhealthy diet high in refined sugars and processed foods, and some autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac.

7. Stress

Stress can have a significant impact on the digestive system. When you are stressed, your body produces stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can affect the muscles in the digestive system, slowing down or speeding up digestion. Stress can also affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut, leading to digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.

In addition, stress can interfere with the normal production of those digestive enzymes, which are necessary for breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food. This can lead to malnutrition, as the body is not able to properly absorb and use the nutrients from the food you eat.

Stress can also weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and other health problems. Some research has suggested that chronic stress can contribute to the development of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and leaky gut.

Other possible causes of G.I. symptoms

Female reproductive issues or hormonal imbalances

  • Whether it be due to fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS, menopause, hormone imbalances, or hormone shifts – these situations can lead to all of the most common G.I. symptoms for a few different reasons.
  • Both estrogen and progesterone affect the rate of digestion, so if one or both is too high or low, it can result in diarrhea or constipation, both of which can lead to gas, bloating, and cramping.
  • The other reason is due to the actual physical manifestations themselves. So, cysts, endometriomas, and fibroids can all put pressure on the bowels (and bladder). Endometrial tissue outside the uterus contracts, sheds, and bleeds within the abdominal cavity causing a whole slew of problems. And all the pain and discomfort these issues cause tension in the abdomen as well as stress and anxiety – that we now know only add to our digestive woes.
  • And, this is a topic for a whole other post, but a hormonal imbalance can begin in the gut. For instance, your microbiome plays a big role in estrogen regulation. And the proper intake, breakdown, and absorption of food provide the building blocks for all your hormones including thyroid, cortisol, progesterone, and estrogen.

Abdominal adhesions

  • This is a malady I am all too familiar with. Abdominal adhesions are bands of scar tissue that form inside your abdomen. This scar tissue can cause your organs to become stuck to other organs and even your abdominal wall. Specifically, they can kink, twist, pull or compress the intestines.
  • Abdominal adhesions are most commonly caused by abdominal surgery but are also common with endometriosis, Crohn’s, diverticulitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or peritonitis.
  • Not everyone with abdominal adhesions will have symptoms but for many others, it can result in anything from nagging discomfort to debilitating pain and even bowel obstruction.

DIY tips for finding and resolving the root cause of your digestive issues:

  1. Nutritional Self Assessment – use an app like Cronometer (make sure it tracks micronutrients, not just macros). You’d be amazed by how many clients come to me and are not even hitting the RDI (recommended daily intake) of vitamins, minerals, and all of the other essential nutrients we all need to maintain proper digestion as well as overall health.
  2. Digestive Self Assessment – indigestion, feeling heaviness after eating (especially protein), bloating, getting “the runs” shortly after eating greasy food, and of course seeing undigested food in your stool are all signs you are not properly breaking down food. Lowering stress, prioritizing sleep, avoiding alcohol, adding fermented foods as well as eating a nutrient-dense diet can all produce a dramatic improvement.

But we know that’s all easier said than done especially when you are already not feeling well.

There’s an easier way…

If persistent or chronic G.I. symptoms have been disrupting your life, I highly recommend the Optimal Health Blueprint. Let us do the heaving lifting of identifying possible root causes, creating practical protocols for your unique body, personality, and lifestyle as well as supporting you all along the way.

You have enough on your plate to deal with on a day-to-day basis, get started today for as little as $79 and get on the fast track to relief. Not just with your digestive symptoms but any of your persistent health complaints.

Jessie Faber

Functional Health Practitioner, Researcher, Writer, Lifestyle Design Experiment, World Traveler, and Nomad.

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