Our Gastroenterology Blog
Posts for category: Digestive Health
When it comes to your diet—it’s important to trust your gut.
Your gut microbiome is incredibly diverse, containing 50 trillion or more bacteria crucial for proper digestion. Not surprisingly, the rest of us feel off when our gut feels off too. This could signify that your current diet could be feeding harmful bacteria or causing inflammation or other problems. Here’s how to nourish your gut for a healthy life.
Increase Your Fiber Intake
A standard American diet doesn’t contain much fiber. Unfortunately, it’s reported that as many as 95 percent of adults and children in the US do not meet the daily fiber requirements. A low-fiber diet has been associated with high blood pressure, gastrointestinal diseases, type 2 diabetes and more.
Both soluble and insoluble fibers are important for your gut for different reasons. The soluble fiber ferments intestinal bacteria to reduce the risk of insulin resistance and improve the function of the gut. In contrast, insoluble fibers are great for removing old, damaged cells from the colon to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Incorporate oatmeal, psyllium husk and other unprocessed or low-processed forms of fiber into your diet.
Avoid Refined Sugar
While we all love a good pastry or treat once in a while, Americans consume far too much sugar. It seems like refined sugar is in everything, including salad dressings and seemingly “healthy” foods. It’s important to read all food labels and avoid sugary drinks and foods that could make your gut health worse. After all, consuming refined sugar can damage the gut's good bacteria, leading to widespread inflammation.
Stay Away from Seed Oils
Vegetable and seed oils are quite common kitchen and restaurant staples. Unfortunately, highly processed oils such as canola, soy or corn are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. While you might think that sounds like a good thing, omega-6 has contributed to widespread inflammation, increasing an individual’s risk for heart disease, obesity and diabetes. To protect your gut, avoid vegetable and seed oils and stick with olive oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, coconut oil or ghee.
Add Probiotics Into the Mix
Probiotics are the good “gut bugs” people need to support a healthy gut. Probiotics can be found in certain yogurts and dairy products; however, you can also find probiotics in fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. You may also take a daily probiotic, especially if your gut needs a little extra support (e.g., you’re dealing with a virus or taking antibiotics).
If you have concerns or issues with your gut, it’s always best to turn to a gastroenterologist to find out what’s going on, especially if symptoms persist for weeks. A gastroenterologist can tell you which foods to consume and avoid and what supplements could support a healthy gut.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Most people don’t think about how their guts impact the rest of their health, so you may be surprised to discover that the gut and brain are interconnected. This means that your anxiety and depression could actually be signs of gut issues. After all, the gut is where the majority of serotonin is produced and 70% of our immune system is also in our guts. For our guts to function optimally, and for us to feel our best, it’s important that we are feeding the good bacteria in our guts and protecting the gut from bad bacteria.
Know the Signs of Gut Issues
While most of us will experience gut problems at some point, it’s also important to recognize recurring or persistent symptoms that might warrant seeing a gastroenterologist for care. Signs of gut problems include,
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pains
- Loose stools
- Unexpected weight loss
Our food culture is based around a lot of fast, processed foods, so it’s not surprising that so many Americans are dealing with gut problems that could easily be remedied by simply improving their diet. Gut-healthy foods include,
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi provide the gut with prebiotics (which feed the probiotics or good bacteria in the gut)
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Fresh vegetables
- Live yogurt and kefir
- Lean protein such as wild-caught salmon
- Low fructose fruits such as berries and citrus fruits
American diets are high in sugar and bad fats, so it’s no surprise that our guts are in distress. Some of the most common gut offenders include,
- Low-fiber diets
- High sugar diets
- Vegetable and seed oils
When it comes to concerns about your health, trust your gut! Don’t ignore recurring digestive issues. A gastroenterologist can help you figure out what’s going on and how to best address these issues.
Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. Chronic constipation occurs when symptoms continue for more than a few weeks. Some of the causes of chronic constipation include,
- Poor diet or a low-fiber diet
- Sedentary lifestyle (aka lack of physical activity)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Bowel obstructions
- High levels of calcium in the bloodstream (hypercalcemia)
- Certain medications (e.g., diuretics; opioids; tricyclic antidepressants)
The first step you should take is to change your diet and lifestyle to see if that helps your bowel movements. If constipation does not improve then it’s time to see your doctor. Make sure to write down any other symptoms you may be experiencing along with constipation such as abdominal pain, fatigue, unexpected weight loss, or hair loss. We will go through the medications you’re taking and decide whether we should run blood tests to rule out certain health problems such as diabetes or thyroid function.
In some cases, a gastroenterologist may recommend a colonoscopy, which allows your doctor to be able to better examine the colon and large intestines to look for obstructions, bleeds, ulcers, inflammation, irritable bowel disease, or other possible causes of constipation.
Most patients can improve their constipation issues through simple dietary and lifestyle changes, or through over-the-counter products; however, if you still don’t get relief, our gastroenterologist may recommend a prescription-strength medication that can help with chronic constipation.
If chronic constipation is caused by an underlying health problem such as diabetes or hypothyroidism you must get the proper medication and treatment you need from your doctor. By getting these health problems under control we can also alleviate your gastrointestinal symptoms.
The two main types of inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both diseases cause inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract. This chronic inflammation can also cause ulcers to develop within the intestinal lining. Crohn’s disease most often affects the small intestines while ulcerative colitis typically affects the lower part of the large intestines.
Some people have Crohn’s disease but don’t know it because they don’t experience symptoms right away. In fact, for years someone may deal with abdominal cramping or diarrhea without realizing that this could be a sign of an IBD. More serious symptoms of Crohn’s disease include,
- Stomach cramping and pain
- Bloody stools
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea or bloody stools
- Widespread inflammation that may also result in fever, canker sores, and skin rashes
Those with ulcerative colitis may experience flare-ups of,
- Increased frequency of bowel movements
- Chronic diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Bloody stools
- Abdominal pain
- Skin rashes
- Decreased appetite
You must see a qualified GI doctor if you suspect that you might have IBD. Your doctor will provide you with a comprehensive treatment plan that may include,
- Prescription anti-inflammatory medications such as steroids
- Lifestyle changes such as dietary modifications, exercise, and staying hydrated
- Supplementation and vitamins
- Surgery (may be necessary to remove part of the intestines, colon, or rectum for those with severe cases of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
What causes chronic diarrhea?
There are a variety of disorders, diseases, and even everyday habits that could be leading to your chronic diarrhea, which is why it’s a good idea to see a gastroenterologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the digestive tract. Information that we garner from your initial evaluation (e.g. a family history of irritable bowel syndrome) can help us determine which tests to run.
Along with a physical examination, a gastroenterologist may also perform a blood test and stool sample to look for infections or signs of inflammation. A stool sample may be able to tell us whether your chronic diarrhea is being caused by:
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections
- Certain medications (e.g. antacids; laxatives)
- Gluten intolerance and Celiac disease
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Certain chronic or preexisting conditions (e.g. diabetes; thyroid disorders)
- Immune dysfunction
- Hereditary disorders (e.g. cystic fibrosis)
- Past surgeries of the digestive tract
If nothing is revealed in these diagnostic tests, it is possible that your chronic diarrhea could be caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While there is no cure for IBS, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make, particularly to your diet, which can reduce symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating.
A gastroenterologist is going to be the specialist you need to get chronic diarrhea, severe bloating, and abdominal pain under control. We know how frustrating chronic diarrhea can be, but we can give you the answers and treatment you’re looking for.
If you’re not celiac, you don’t need to say goodbye to gluten forever
There are more and more health experts talking about the problems with gluten, so if you are an otherwise healthy individual who doesn’t have celiac but is curious about making the switch, then know that you don’t have to avoid gluten or that trace amounts aren’t going to hurt you. However, if you are concerned that you might have celiac or gluten intolerance you must see a doctor.
You can still enjoy some grains
Most people assume that once they go gluten-free that all grains are literally off the table! While you will need to avoid wheat (and derivatives of wheat such as semolina and farro), rye, barley, malt, and wheat starch you can still enjoy these delicious, gluten-free grains,
- Oats (make sure there is a gluten-free label on the packaging)
- Brown rice
If you are trying to go gluten-free because you think that it might help you lose weight, then you may want to consult a medical professional. A gluten-free diet simply helps those who are gluten intolerant and those with celiac avoid an ingredient that could harm or damage their gut. If you are simply trying a gluten-free diet to lose weight this may not be the best method. Talk to your doctor first.
It takes time to notice changes
If you have celiac disease then sticking with a gluten-free diet is a must, as even the smallest amount of gluten can cause serious damage to the gut. As your gut heals you will notice a marked improvement, which will continue for days, months, and even years. This can vary from person to person, with some people noticing a change within just a few days while it may take other individuals months or even years.
You must see a gastroenterologist if you are experiencing symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Your doctor can provide you with a customized treatment plan to help you and your gut get the proper relief.