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A look behind 6 of the most common gut symptoms

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

If you're like most people with gut trouble, you've probably had it for a long time. You may have tried many things to resolve it and have likely been given the run around, feel fed up and have learned to simply put up with it and carry on.

Gut symptoms like bloating, cramps and constipation are so common, and because they're not externally obvious or life threatening, they're often seen as insignificant or having no consequence. Until they do.

Gut health effects so many aspects of whole health. Many of the symptoms below can signal or lead to a variety of other health complications down the track.

Gut discomfort is so common it's often ignored
Gut discomfort is so common it's often ignored

Most people with gut issues have had them for so long that despite the pain, discomfort, inconvenience and embarrassment, they simply put up with it.

If you're not sure if you're affected, or you know you're affected but aren't sure why, read on.

I've outlined 6 really common gut symptoms and just some of the many reasons they may come about. Keep in mind this is a very brief overview of complex issues that will differ from person to person. It is not intended as medical advice.

My intention is to give you some ideas, based on my clinical knowledge of gut health, as a start point to explore yours.

1. Constipation What is it? Constipation is often described as having a bowel movement less than once every three days. It can also be the passing of very lumpy, hard or 'pebbly' stools, stools that are difficult to pass or passing stools without a sensation of relief.

Possible contributors: Some medications. Lack of fibre, or for some people, excess fibre. Insufficient water and lack of exercise. Lack of magnesium. Nervousness and anxiety. Impaired bowel contractions. Dysbiosis (an imbalance of bowel bacteria), methane-producing gut bacteria.

2. Diarrhoea

What is it? Here we're talking about persistent loose or watery bowel movements, more than twice a day, every day for an extended period of time. Often with urgency.

Possible contributors: Some medications, alcohol and certain types of sugar. Food intolerances, often but not limited to dairy foods. Poor fat digestion, lack of digestive enzymes. Nervousness and anxiety. A variety of fungi, bacteria and parasites which could be present from previous food poisoning, gastro, environmental exposures and also from diet.

3. Bloating

What is it? Frequent, uncomfortable swelling of the upper and or lower abdomen, sometimes with pain but not always. It may happen shortly after eating. It may happen every day, sometimes all day, sometimes only toward the end of the day. Sometimes the abdomen can be so bloated that skin is taut and distended. There's a lot of variance between people.

Possible contributors: Food sensitivities and intolerances. Lack of digestive enzymes. Insufficient stomach acid. Imbalanced gut bacteria. Yeast and fungal overgrowth in the gut. SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth).

4. Painful and foul smelling gas

What is it? The one we laugh about or are most embarrassed by. For this reason it's probably the most overlooked. Frequent, crampy, painful and foul smelling gas isn't funny.

Possible contributors: Food sensitivities and intolerances, especially gluten and dairy. Lack of digestive enzymes. Low stomach acid. Bacterial infections. Yeast and fungal overgrowth in the gut. SIBO.

5. Indigestion

What is it? That feeling when your food is stuck and not moving down the digestive tract as it should. Belching and trouble swallowing. Again, not a problem if it's a one off event, but if this happens all the time, you should look into it.

Possible contributors: Poor chewing. Eating too fast. Lack of digestive enzymes. Nervousness and anxiety.

6. Reflux/ GORD (Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disorder)

What is it? Not to be confused with indigestion or heartburn, although both may be present in GORD. Heartburn is a burning feeling in the upper digestive area, mostly after eating. Reflux is the sensation of food or acid coming up the digestive tract and into the mouth. GORD may include both, as well as belching, bloating, hoarse/sore throat, bad breath and poor oral health. It's problematic when it happens frequently for extended periods of time.

Possible contributors: Can be a mechanical issue like low oesophageal muscle contraction or hiatus hernia. Some foods can trigger reflux, but are not the cause eg. alcohol, chocolate, rich, fatty or spicy foods. Can be due to low stomach acid and/or insufficient digestive enzymes. Also SIBO and the presence of certain pathogenic bacteria.

Foods can trigger gut symptoms but aren't necessarily the cause

Important things to point out before ending:

  • Many of these symptoms exist alongside one another. For some poor souls it's possible to experience all of the above.

  • Treatment often targets 'relief' rather than root cause/s. Ex; laxatives for constipation. Acid suppressors for reflux. Finding the cause is more effective and better for long term health, especially as some of these may lead to more significant health issues.

  • Finding the causes and contributors to your gut symptoms requires personal exploration. It requires looking at your symptoms, diet, lifestyle and health history. Sometimes testing is required - stool tests, food tolerance tests and so on.

Once you know more about what may be causing your gut symptoms, you have much better starting point to correct them.

*Note, this article is for information and education only. It does not replace medical advice or advice from your personal health practitioner.

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