Front Range Functional Medicine

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Gastrointestinal disorders

Gastrointestinal disorders arise when there are problems anywhere within the gastrointestinal tract which extends from the mouth to the rectum and includes the accessory digestive organs such as the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.

■ Bloating and Abdominal Pain

In most cases, bloating results from gas trapped in the abdomen and bowels as a byproduct of the life cycle of parasites, bacteria, or viruses within the gastrointestinal tract. Someone experiencing bloating feels a full and tight abdomen. There are many causes of bloating, including food intolerance, SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth), lactose intolerance, acid reflux, and constipation.

Abdominal pain is a sensation of pain felt in the upper or lower abdominal areas. The level of pain can vary in intensity from mild to severe. The pain may be a result of a variety of causes, including, but not limited to, gallbladder disorders, stomach ulcers, low stomach acid, food poisoning, diverticulitis, appendicitis, cancers, gynecologic issues (for example, fibroids, cysts, sexually transmitted diseases – STDs), and vascular problems.

■ Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a disorder wherein the body expresses loose, watery stools, typically accompanied by feelings of cramping and bloating. Acute (or short term) diarrhea is often caused by food, bacteria, or a virus, and symptoms typically last for a couple of days. On the other hand, chronic diarrhea is typically a symptom of an illness such as inflammatory bowel disease, food intolerances, and SIBO.

■ Heartburn and acid reflux

Heartburn is a painful sensation of burning in the upper abdomen that often radiates up into the chest. This is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux. It may be caused by both high and low stomach acid levels which cause gastric contents to travel back up into the esophagus (food pipe). It generally occurs after meals but may also happen in the middle of the night, in which case the pain might wake the sufferer from sleep.

■ Low stomach acid (Hypochlorhydria)

Hypochlorhydria, or low stomach acid, is a condition in which there is a deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This acid helps the body break down, digest, and absorb nutrients from food. Low levels of stomach acid may impact the body’s ability to properly metabolize nutrients, and can cause digestive problems, chronic intestinal inflammation, and lower nutrient absorption, as well as lead to infections and other chronic health problems.

■ Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that causes symptoms of abdominal cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation. Despite causing extreme discomfort, IBS does not harm the bowel organs and tissue. It is often caused by imbalances in the gut microbiome, SIBO, gut motility issues, and/or food sensitivities.

■ Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) includes both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. In IBD the body’s immune system attacks its own intestinal lining. This leads to symptoms of diarrhea (often containing mucus and blood), abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss.
In Ulcerative colitis the inflammation is present only in the large intestine and rectum whereas in Crohn’s disease the inflammation can affect any part of the small intestine or large intestine.

■ Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease

People with gluten sensitivity experience a variety of symptoms if they consume foods containing gluten. Symptoms may include fatigue, stomach pain, anxiety, diarrhea, muscle cramps, balance issues, and more. Symptoms of this condition may be similar to those suffering from celiac disease, but with celiac disease is more severe form of this.

Celiac disease is a serious immune condition wherein individuals can’t consume gluten, as doing so damages their small intestine. The damage to the lining of the gut means that the body is not able to properly absorb nutrients from food. There is a gentic predisposition to celiac disease.

■ Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when there is an excessive amount of bacterial within the small intestine. These bacteria produce excess gas within the small intestine and in doing so cause symptoms including bloating, cramping, diarrhea and constipation. SIBO may also lead to ongoing intestinal inflammation.

■ Leaky Gut or Increased Intestinal Permeability

Leaky gut is a condition in which the cells which line the intestine and provide a barrier between the material inside the intestine and the blood stream/immune tissue on the other side of the intestinal wall becomes damaged. In leaky gut the immune system can become hyper-stimulated as it is seeing more bacteria, food particles, toxins, etc… than it is meant to. As a result of this one may develop autoimmune disorders, nutritional deficiencies, increased toxin exposure, and general increase in inflammation throughout the body. Leaky gut can be healed by looking for causes of intestinal inflammation, removing these, and providing needed nutrients and healthy bacteria to restore health to the intestinal cells.

■ Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities occur when someone develops inflammation and immune system activation form eating certain foods. It is sometimes referred to as food intolerance, non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity, or non-allergic food hypersensitivity. There are certain types of food most commonly associated with this condition, namely: dairy products and gluten-containing grains
We can try to discover food sensitivities with elimination diets or with food sensitivity testing.

■ Dysbiosis (abnormal gut bacteria)

Dysbiosis is a general term for microbial imbalance that oftentimes affects a person’s digestive tract—that is, the stomach and intestines. It may also affect other parts of the body (skin, eyes, lungs, ears, nose, sinuses, nails, and vagina). We continue to learn more about the multiple roles that these gut bacteria have. Imbalances may affect our health in many ways including gastro intestinal symptoms, anxiety/depression, concentration issues, autoimmune disease, and muscle/joint pains.

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