Making sure your body has enough zinc may not be as simple as eating foo...
- By Dr. Todd Watts
- 16 Jul 19
If you rarely experience digestive problems, you are in the minority.
Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans report gut health issues — including diarrhea, constipation, and bloating — in any given week. (1)
That may come as a surprise to you, as many people don’t discuss their digestive issues — not even with their doctor.
Problems like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating can be embarrassing to talk about. But, if you suffer from them, you’re far from alone.
Many people have learned the secrets to conquering their gut health issues. You can fix your digestive issues, too. It just requires addressing the root causes, such as bacterial overgrowth, parasites, and other infections.
Here’s a closer look at diarrhea, constipation, and bloating, including underlying factors and effective ways to restore gut health.
Your autonomic nervous system controls your digestion. Just like breathing or the beating of your heart, it should be automatic.
Yet, sometimes digestion goes awry. Frequent gut distress can make stomach health and intestinal health seem elusive.
Three of the most common symptoms that point to an unhealthy gut are:
In a nationwide survey, about 20% of Americans reported one or more of those three gut health problems in the past week. (1)
For some people, these may be only occasional problems. For others, they’re regular occurrences. That’s when it’s time to do some detective work and figure out what’s really going on in your gut.
Diarrhea is so common it probably goes without defining. It’s typically characterized by loose or watery stools — and often an urgent need to run to the restroom.
It’s sometimes a short-term issue that may last just a day or two. In other cases, it’s a long-term or chronic problem and is a clue to more serious digestive health issues. Doctors generally call it chronic diarrhea if you’ve dealt with it for at least four weeks. (2)
Frequent watery bowel movements increase your risk of dehydration. Chronic diarrhea could also lead to malnutrition since it reduces the time your gut has to absorb nutrients.
Some of the factors that can cause short-term episodes of diarrhea include:
Many short-term causes of diarrhea often resolve themselves and don’t need any special treatment.
Still, due to the risk of dehydration, even short-term diarrhea can be dangerous. Infants, young children, and older adults are especially vulnerable to dehydration. (7)
Some cases of food poisoning can also be severe and require treatment. Newer research also shows that food poisoning is sometimes the root cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with diarrhea. In such a case, diarrhea becomes a chronic issue. (8)
Examples of other chronic issues that could lead to diarrhea include:
You need strategies to reduce diarrhea in the short term as well as address underlying issues in the long term. Fixing the root cause is ultimately essential to resolve diarrhea and restore gut health.
Here are some strategies to consider:
It’s not “normal” for certain foods to trigger diarrhea, but sometimes they do. Digestive reactions to foods may be permanent, but often they’re not. So, you may be able to eat them again someday.
If you have celiac disease, you need to avoid gluten permanently. Additionally, if you have lactose intolerance, you’re deficient in the enzyme required to digest milk sugar. You may struggle with that long term unless it’s caused by an underlying factor that you can resolve. (13, 14)
“True” food allergies are also generally permanent, though children may outgrow some of them. Food allergies usually trigger severe symptoms beyond diarrhea and can be life-threatening. You should never try to eat foods to which you’re allergic. (15)
But, if you have food sensitivities, you may regain your tolerance of foods if you fix the root cause. Food sensitivities won’t show up on standard food allergy tests that check for elevated IgE antibodies. Food sensitivity symptoms are triggered by different types of immune responses. (16)
If you have food sensitivities, omitting food triggers can help you control your symptoms while you work to resolve the underlying causes, such as parasites.
Additionally, chronic illness with Lyme disease, Candida overgrowth, and mold toxicity can activate immune cells called mast cells to release histamine. That could also contribute to food sensitivities. (17, 18, 19)
Are you ready for some detective work? That’s what it takes to identify food sensitivities.
Keep a journal of what foods you're eating and your symptoms, including diarrhea. Though you may get symptoms within a few hours after eating, sometimes your symptoms are delayed. So, you may have to look for patterns.
If certain foods are likely diarrhea culprits for you, avoid them entirely for a few weeks. Once your symptoms are under control, challenge a suspected food by eating a small amount. This could help tell you whether the item is indeed a problem. (22)
If pesky parasites are the reason behind your diarrhea, completing a parasite cleanse could help get your gut back to normal.
Parasites can inflame your digestive tract and lead to increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). This could increase your risk of food sensitivities and allergies. Parasites can also upset the balance of microbes in your gut, which could trigger loose stools as well. (23, 24, 25, 26)
Don’t think you have parasites? Think again.
Parasites are often difficult to detect in laboratory tests, even though they’re wreaking havoc in your gut. Because they’re so prevalent, it’s generally simpler to assume you have them and work on getting rid of them.
If your microbiome becomes imbalanced, Candida infection can take over and cause some significant health issues. One potential problem is chronic diarrhea.
Following a Candida support protocol could help you eliminate the yeast overgrowth and the problems that come with it.
Though there are specific ailments where antibiotics are required, they’re often overprescribed. Studies suggest that up to half of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. (27)
Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. They do nothing against viruses and fungal infections.
Protect the health of your gut microbiome and reduce your risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by avoiding unnecessary prescriptions. For example, if your doctor suspects your cold is just a viral infection, wait it out.
Your stress level has a significant negative impact on your body — your gut included.
Examine your life and look for ways you can minimize tension. You may find going for a walk helpful, while others may get relief through journaling. Something as simple as slowing down and focusing on your breathing for a few minutes can also help. Find what works for you.
It’s also important to slow down when you eat. Sit down and eat at a leisurely pace. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not inhaled.
You may have the exact opposite of diarrhea when it comes to gut health — constipation. Or, you might alternate between the two over time.
Constipation is generally characterized as having less than three bowel movements a week. Your stools can become hard, and you may have to strain to eliminate. This can be painful and may cause hemorrhoids. (28, 29, 30)
Still, the concern about sluggish bowels goes beyond needing more time in the bathroom and having a painful back end.
Your stools are a significant way your body eliminates toxins. Your liver processes contaminants filtered from your blood then secretes them into the bile. Bile is released into your gut during digestion, and some is swept out in your bowel movements.
If you aren’t “going” regularly, you can’t detoxify well. At a minimum, this means going at least once a day. When you’re doing a detoxification program, the goal is 2 to 3 times a day.
Many factors can slow your stools. Some of these include:
Constipation often involves more than one of these risk factors. But, there are ways you can reduce your odds of this problem and restore gut health.
Some of the strategies to overcome diarrhea may also help with constipation. This is because they promote gut health in general. Here are several approaches to consider:
Dietary changes could go a long way toward alleviating constipation. Besides making sure you’re getting plenty of fiber and water, you can also:
Exercise can help get your gut moving, as well as lower your chances of diseases like obesity and diabetes. (41)
Find activities you enjoy, then get out and do them. It can be as simple as walking or joining a recreational sports team.
If you suspect that parasites or Candida overgrowth are preventing you from having regular bowel movements, it’s time to take action.
Complete a cleanse by taking parasite-combating herbs and use Mimosa pudica seed to help carry them out of your gut. You may also need to follow a Candida support protocol to help restore gut health. Coffee enemas may give you some relief from sluggish bowels, too.
Because heavy metals and chemicals like herbicides can damage the nerves of your digestive tract, detoxing from these contaminants may help alleviate constipation.
BioActive Carbon, available in supplement form, binds heavy metals and chemicals to its surface. Then, it helps remove them from your body.
This powerful carbon is also a rich source of nutrients. It contains building blocks that could help repair damage to your gut wall.
Nature can come to your rescue when things just aren’t moving well, despite your best efforts.
Intestinal moving herbs — such as senna leaf and ginger root — promote normal muscle contractions in your gut to help prevent constipation. Combinations of such herbs are especially helpful since they may have slightly different benefits in your digestive tract.
When your body tells you it's time to “go” — GO! Nature’s call may not come at an ideal time, but don’t put it off simply because it’s inconvenient.
Going when your body is signaling you to can help create a healthy routine of eliminating. Pooping will require less effort when you’re working with what your body naturally wants to do.
Research whether the pills you’re taking list constipation as a potential side effect. If so, talk to your health care practitioner to see if there are alternatives that won’t cause constipation.
The underlying causes of constipation are usually several, not just one. Applying a variety of these strategies could help you resolve constipation and support your gut health.
Some gas is normal and harmless. When it's excessive, it could be a sign of a deeper problem. It can also be embarrassing when excess gas causes your abdomen to swell like a balloon.
Studies suggest that bloating affects 10–30% of the general population. Among those with chronic digestive disorders, bloating may affect as many as 96% of individuals. (42)
In the short term, something as simple as eating too much much and too fast could trigger bloating. If that’s happened to you, you probably learned from the experience pretty quickly.
Chronic bloating is a bigger problem. Some of the underlying causes of recurrent bloating and excess gas include:
Just as with other chronic digestive issues, you may need strategies to reduce bloating in the short term as well as address underlying issues in the long term. You ultimately need to address the root cause to restore gut health and stomach health.
Here are some ways to help resolve bloating and excess gas:
Certain dietary factors can lead to gas and bloating. Eliminating them while you track down and fix underlying contributors can give you some symptom relief.
FODMAPS, which are foods high in fermentable carbohydrates, are often bloating triggers. When the bacteria in your gut ferment these carbs, they produce gas. So, you may be prone to intolerance to FODMAPS if you have SIBO or a disrupted microbiome. (53)
Onions, broccoli, kidney beans, milk, apples, cherries, and low-calorie “sugar alcohol” sweeteners like sorbitol and erythritol are among the many other sources of FODMAPS. Only certain high-FODMAP foods may trigger symptoms for you. (54)
Are you ready for more detective work?
To identify your FODMAP triggers, eliminate all sources for a few weeks. Then, reintroduce foods one at a time to see if they cause symptoms. Your goal is to add back as many as possible if you can eat them without symptoms. Over the long term, a restrictive diet increases your risk of nutrient deficiency.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is often overlooked as the source of painful gas and bloating. Doctors use breath tests to help diagnose it. (55)
Certain factors may contribute to SIBO, so eliminating them may improve the condition. Antacids and proton pump inhibitors can lead to overgrowth and imbalance of the microbes in your small intestine. This is because they lower your stomach acid. (56)
Try adding a digestive enzyme supplement to reduce symptoms until the overgrowth is resolved. You can also try taking herbs with antibiotic properties. Studies suggest oil of oregano may be as effective as antibiotics to get bacterial overgrowth under control. (57, 58)
Clearing out uninvited guests is critical to restore gut health and get rid of bloating.
Avoiding sugar and detoxing heavy metals could also help resolve parasite infections and Candida overgrowth. BioActive Carbon helps remove heavy metals. It also helps mop up the toxins that fungi, parasites, and bacteria produce. (60, 61, 62)
Your gut health can have a massive impact on your entire body. If you don’t address why you have chronic diarrhea, constipation, or bloating, your health problems could multiply over time.
For instance, chronic diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Your mitochondria don’t function well when you’re dehydrated, and that can drain your energy.
Poor absorption of vitamins due to SIBO could increase your risk of night blindness, impaired immune function, and neuropathy or nerve pain. Parasites can also contribute to poor nutrient absorption. (57, 63, 64)
Moreover, researchers have linked an unhealthy gut microbiome to anxiety, depression, and impaired immune function. Poor microbiome health may also increase obesity and heart disease risk. (65, 66, 67)
Additionally, when Candida is the culprit of your digestive difficulties, it may lead to:
Clearly, your stomach health and gut health can have far-reaching effects.
Diarrhea, constipation, and bloating are often caused by pathogens like parasites, Lyme bacteria, and Candida, as well as poor microbiome health.
So, do everything you can to clear out uninvited guests. This should include using herbs that support good digestion and help kill critters. You also need to support your drainage pathways, as well as omit food triggers and get regular physical activity.
There’s no need to feel chained to your bathroom due to loose stools or be so restricted in what you can eat that you avoid social gatherings. Tackle your gut issues now so you can live life to the fullest, as well as reduce your risk of health issues in the future.
What will be your first step in restoring gut health?
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