Part 1: What’s in my gut? Understanding 4 common digestive issues

Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heart burn, brain fog

Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heart burn, brain fog got you down? Read on to find out more about the four most common digestive issues that could be creating havoc in your gut and your life. Digestive issues can be very complex and sometimes have more than one cause. In this article we break down some of the dysfunctions that could be the root cause of your digestive upset or even your immune health or mental concerns. 

FODMAP sensitivity

So what does FODMAP even mean? Have you cut out gluten and switched over to more of a whole foods diet but still feel crummy? The culprit could be poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates called olgiosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccarides and polyols, also called FODMAPs. These  essentially are,  short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. Some people experience digestive distress after eating them like cramping and IBS. Common FODMAPs include:

  • Fructose: a simple sugar found in many fruits and vegetables that also makes up the structure of table sugar and most added sugars
  • Lactose: a carbohydrate found in dairy products like milk
  • Fructans: found in many foods, including grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley
  • Galactans: found in large amounts in legumes
  • Polyols: sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, and mannitol. They are found in some fruits and vegetables and often used as sweeteners

Here is a list of some common foods and ingredients that are high in FODMAPS:

Fruits: apples, applesauce, apricots, blackberries, boysenberries, canned fruit, cherries, dates, figs, peaches, pears, watermelon

Sweeteners: fructose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol

Dairy products: ice cream, milk (from cows, goats, and sheep), most yogurts, soft and fresh cheeses (cottage cheese, ricotta, etc.), sour cream and whey products.

Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, fennel, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, shallots

Legumes: beans, baked beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, soybeans

Wheat: biscuits, bread, most breakfast cereals, crackers, pancakes, pasta, tortillas, waffles

Other grains: barley, rye

Beverages: beer, fortified wines, fruit juices, milk, soft drinks with high fructose corn syrup, soy milk

By simply avoiding or reducing FODMAPs in your diet you may relieve most if not all of your digestive symptoms. Why not give it a try for a few months?

Low enzyme activity

Do you often eat large amounts of foods, eat in a stressed state or eat in a tired post workout state, or even during workouts? Protein rich foods such as meat, eggs and beans consist of large protein molecules and your pancreas and small intestine will secrete enzymes that break down protein carbohydrates and fats into nutrients we can absorb. But there can be problems for example, if you over eat. The amount of food consumed can exceed your body’s ability to create the proper amount of digestive enzymes, if you have been chronically stressed or are on certain medications your pancreatic enzymes could be low. 

The pancreas creates enzymes that break down sugars, fats, proteins, and starches. Here is a list of what they are and what they do:

Amylase helps break down starches into sugar for energy. Low amylase can lead to diarrhea.

Lipase and bile work together to emulsify fats. If you are low on lipase, you will have trouble absorbing fat or vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Symptoms include fatty stools and diarrhea.

Protease breaks down food proteins and helps protect against unhealthy bacteria and yeasts in the intestines.

Sufficient pancreatic enzyme output is extremely important in preventing food sensitivities. The more thoroughly the gut breaks down foods into small amino acids, the less likely your immune system is to react to them.

 Common symptoms include: 

  • Feel like you have a brick in your stomach after eating
  • Acid reflux or burning
  • Bloating and poor digestion in response to eating starches
  • Tend to avoid foods high in fiber or lots of plant fiber, such as big salads
  • Pain in lower left rib cage

Imbalanced gut bacteria or SIBO

Believe it or not you can have too much gut bacteria, something called, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or (SIBO). Sibo is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine that can originate from years of: low stomach acid production, IBS, Celiac or Chron’s disease, poor liver function, history of multiple courses of antibiotics, heavy alcohol consumption and taking oral contraceptives. How does this happen you ask? Well, SIBO is a chronic infection of the small intestine. These bacteria that normally live in other parts of the GI tract begin to expand into the small intestine and interfere with proper absorption of nutrients and cause perforations and damage to the actual small intestine. Over time this leads to nutrient and vitamin deficiencies and malabsorbtion of foods which feeds the bad bacteria that are harbored here, thus creating a cycle of dysbiosis and infection. Over time this can create food sensitivities and allergies because the immune system starts to react to the undigested food particles. You can test for SIBO with a simple at home breath test that measures the amount of gas given off by the bacteria. Want to learn more about SIBO and how to fix it? Go to

Gluten and Gliadin Sensitivity

Gut imbalances and sensitivities wouldn’t be complete without the topic of gluten sensitivity. Even though its diagnosis has grown in popularity it should be ruled out as it is known to cause a host of problems including, chronic gut inflammation, leaky gut, autoimmune disease and neurodegeneration. Many people actually have one of the listed above causes, incorrectly thinking that gluten is the sole culprit. But it is important to talk about as a large subset of the population is effected by gluten intolerance and the highly processed, monocropped version of wheat that exists in most contemporary Western countries, namely the U.S.

So really it’s gliadin, this gut bloating substance that lurks behind most gluten sensitivities. 

Gliadin is a protein molecule found in most gluten containing foods namely, wheat, rye, barley, kamut, spelt, teff and cous-cous. If you have a gliadin sensitivity and consume food containing it, it causes a cascade of inflammation in the GI tract that involves heat, redness, swelling of the GI tract and interrupts the function of the small intestine and the blood vessels in the intestines enlarge causing permeability of the membrane. Within 12-14 hours of consuming it, the immune system diminishes and the gut begins to heal. This can take up to 10 days in some individuals. That means if you have a sensitivity to gliadin and you continue to consume it, the gut will remain perpetually inflamed and cause a host of symptoms. There are simple blood tests that a naturopathic doctor can administer to find out if this is happening. The 23 and me test also shows if you may have a genetic predisposition to this particular sensitivity or a test by the company VIOME.

What’s next?

Come in and see one of our qualified practitioners at Wellbalanced Center for Integrative Care and they can recommend next steps, work with an existing diagnosis and/or refer you to other practitioners in house to work as a team to get to the root of what’s in your gut. Come visit us today to begin the path of feeling better faster.