Digestive disorders are very common and can have a significant effect on your quality of life. Research states that:
“Around 40% of people have at least one digestive symptom at any one time, according to Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital in London.” NHS website 2018.
The most common digestive symptoms are constipation, bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, pain and heartburn. The NHS states that: “Most digestive problems are to do with lifestyle, the foods we've eaten, or stress. Which means that taking steps to change your lifestyle can help, and often prevent, many of these problems," said Dr Emmanuel. As a Nutritional Therapist I know from the patients I see that making changes to your diet, lifestyle and stress can significantly help.
In some cases they can be a sign of something more serious so it is important to check with your GP if you experience any of the following: blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, heartburn which is becoming increasingly worse, sudden change of bowel movements.
In most cases digestive problems are not serious and as a Nutritionist I have helped countless patients to feel well again.
So what causes digestive problems?
Poor diet – a diet high in refined sugars and low in fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Poor gut biome – meaning low beneficial bacteria
Overgrowth of pathogens such as bacteria, yeasts or parasites.
Recent courses of antibiotics as these wipe out all bacteria in the gut.
I work from a functional medicine perspective and I always aim to get to the root cause of what has caused this problem in the first place.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common gastrointestinal problem in the UK and approximately 17% of the population suffer with this condition. IBS affects the digestive system and causes symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and constipation. There are lots of potential IBS causes and in particular it is estimated that between 7-31% of patients report onset of IBS following a bout of acute gastroenteritis. Other causes can be food sensitivities, lactose intolerance, stress, gut infection etc. Diet, lifestyle changes and getting to the root cause of the condition can provide significant improvement and relief of symptoms. The NHS often recommends a FODMAP diet and this can be helpful depending on the root cause of your condition. I would always advise that any exclusion diets are carried out under the guidance of a qualified practitioner as FODMAP in particular is not recommended as a diet long term.
Often diagnostic testing can be very helpful. My two go to tests are a comprehensive stool analysis and a food intolerance test. However, diagnostic testing does come with a price and this can be an issue for some. There is a lot I can do to help without testing however for clients who have had long term digestive problems and for those who have tried everything and it has not helped, then this can often be really helpful in getting to the root cause of what is going on.
In addition, the gold standard of food intolerance identification is often an elimination diet, meaning the most common trigger foods are eliminated for a number of weeks and then slowly introduced one by one to identify any reactions. This is best done under the guidance of a practitioner because often patients find that when they reintroduce the food it can cause a reaction or they are just so happy to be symptom free they don’t want to change anything and stay with the diet. Long term this may not be beneficial and could be lacking in certain nutrients.
Here are my general tips:
Whole foods – you diet should comprise of: fruits (low sugar such as berries, apples, pears), vegetables- a wide variety but go easy on starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, complex carbohydrates- oats, quinoa, brown rice; good quality protein, essential fats.
Good water intake – 1.5-2 litres per day of filtered water.
Include prebiotic food in your diet (note for some this may actually make symptoms worse and if so then please stop and consult a practitioner). Prebiotic foods are: garlic, onion, asparagus, chicory root, dandelion greens, apples, flaxseed, sauerkraut, and kefir.
A good quality probiotic (look on the back and ensure it has a minimum of 5 billion bacteria, ideally 10 billion. Also ideally it has a number of strains of bacteria and not just one. Probiotics help repopulate the gut with good bacteria and this is essential for normal digestion. Probiotics should also be used after a course of antibiotics and despite the research being mixed on whether it is helpful to take with antibiotics I would actually take the probiotic alongside and then continue for another 4-6 weeks. Probiotics can be expensive and the good ones usually are so get advice on what to take.
Reduce wheat products –without thinking we can easily have bread/pasta at every meal during the day. The problem with bread is that it isn’t what it used to be. Bread should contain 4 ingredients but if you look on the back of a regular supermarket bread packaging you can count 20 ingredients. Food intolerances in general are increasing within the population and to be honest I’m not surprised with the mass produced food that is available and all the rubbish that is added to it. If you are eating bread check the ingredients. Flour, water, salt and yeast should be all you need. There is a resurgence of artisan bakeries and providing you check the ingredients then this would be a better option. I also like wholemeal pitta bread (not to be confused with tortilla wraps) and also Biona Organic Rye Bread which can be bought in all supermarkets.
Dairy – how do you feel after eating diary? If you think it doesn’t agree with you when why not give it up for 2 weeks and see how you feel. I like Oatly oat milk with added calcium as an alternative, and if you are concerned about calcium intake then by adding in nuts and seeds and sardines you will hit the recommended intake. Another option is to try lactose free milk. Many people cannot digest milk as their body does not product lactase which is the enzyme needed to digest lactose.
Exercise - the body is designed to move and ensuring you are incorporating exercise into your weekly routine is really important. If you have been diagnosed with IBS then yoga would be really helpful.
Stress – how stressed are you? What is going on in your life? How do you feel? It is not all about the specific foods you eat because you can have a really amazing diet and still feel unwell. If you are stressed out your body never actually relaxes and your body moves all of its resources away from the digestive system to deal with the stress. This can severely impact your digestive system.
Sleep – are you getting a minimum of 8 hours a night?
I cannot recommend Rosie enough. I’ve had a long history with IBS and despite referrals from the GP to a gastroenterologist my only choice to manage the condition was medication which I didn’t want to take long term. My colleague at work recommended Rosie and I felt at ease as soon as I met her. Based on my symptoms she recommended a FODMAP diet to me which involved elimination of gluten, dairy and lentils/beans for 1 month. We then worked together to add them back in whilst also recommending supplements to kill off the bacteria in my gut and probiotics to repopulate with good bacteria. I can honestly say I have not felt this well in years and it is great to have the support on hand to ask advice throughout the process.
I’ve had IBS for years but for once I feel like I’m in control of it and not the other way around. Rosie diagnosed me with SIBO and once we addressed that everything changed for the better.
Want to know more?
The advice given above is general and if you are suffering with digestive issues then I would suggest you book at consultation for us to look in depth and get to the root cause of you problem.