Improve Your Digestion

Improve Your Digestion

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iStock_000007610987XSmallby: Dr. Craig A. Maxwell

When you walk down the “digestive health” aisle of any grocery store or pharmacy, it’s amazing how many acid reducers and anti-diarrheal pills and liquids there are to choose from. Despite what the media would have you believe, constant stomach pain, gas, bloating, and acid reflux are not normal. Your digestive system is trying to tell you something. This digestive health page can show you how to improve your digestive system instead of just masking the symptoms.

Common Digestive Problems

  • Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a common digestive problem for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the go-to treatment for this is antacids. These are the worst things you can take to treat acid reflux. Why? The reason you have acid reflux is because you don’t have enough stomach acid. That’s right. Your body isn’t making enough stomach acid to properly digest your food and naturally close your esophageal sphincter.

If you “treat” acid reflux with antacids, you further decrease the amount of essential hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which continues to reduce your ability to digest food. Without hydrochloric acid, your digestive system is unable to make pepsin, a necessary compound responsible for the breakdown of protein. Without the ability to break down protein, your body will not get the amino acids you need for your brain to regulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

In addition, lack of hydrochloric acid leaves your body open to parasites, yeast, and bacterial infections.

  • Gas/Bloating

Gas and bloating is another common digestive issue plaguing modern Americans. Chronic gas and bloating can be related to food allergies, low stomach acid, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, parasitic infection, bacterial infection, poor diet or a combination of any of these. Your stomach and intestines may gurgle after you eat or you find yourself passing foul-smelling, embarrassing gas. Another sign of chronic bloating is distended stomach. You’re relatively thin but your gut sticks out like you’re expecting a child. This is usually a sign of food allergies and poor digestion.

  • Abdominal Pain

digestive_distressChronic low-grade abdominal pain is a serious problem for many people. If the pain feels like a band around the lower abdomen, this may be a sign of gluten intolerance. Chronic abdominal pain may also be the result of constipation, parasites, leaky gut syndrome, or chronic candida infection.

  • Diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea is defined as having loose stools for one month or more. Causes of continued diarrhea are wide and varied and may indicate food allergies, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid disease (hyperthyroidism), intestinal infections, and parasitic infections. While taking an anti-diarrheal medication can help stop the situation in the short term, it is very important to get to the root cause of your diarrhea to avoid further health complications. People who have had their gallbladders removed or who have had gastric bypass surgery may also struggle with chronic diarrhea.

  • Constipation

Many believe that having 1 or 2 bowel movements a week is normal. It’s anything but. Since as a society, we don’t spend much time talking about how to have happy, healthy bowels, many of you out there aren’t aware of how miserable yours actually may be. Constipation can be the result of thyroid disease (hypothyroidism), slow digestive motility, dehydration, poor dietary choices, lack of exercise, stress, and certain medications. A healthy person should have at least one or two formed bowel movements per day. If you’re having less, you suffer from constipation.

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Dr. Maxwell is Board Certified in Family Medicine, Integrative Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine. He is one of a small number of physicians nationwide to attain, and maintain, certification in three medical specialties.

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