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.
What Are the Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut?
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.
What causes diarrhea?
Some of the factors that can cause short-term episodes of diarrhea include:
Pathogens: Diarrhea is frequently a symptom of specific infections. Sometimes people call infection with these bugs “the stomach flu.” (3)
Food poisoning: Consuming foods and beverages contaminated with dangerous microbes — such as E. coli and Salmonella — can produce inflammation and toxins in your gut. This may trigger diarrhea to help purge the toxins quickly. (4)
Stress: Acute stress and anxiety may cause stomach cramping and trigger your colon to empty. (5)
Antibiotics: These medicines result in loose stools in up to 30% of people. Diarrhea may happen while you’re taking antibiotics. Or, it may develop up to two months later due to the antibiotics killing beneficial gut bacteria. (6)
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:
Parasite infections: You can unknowingly acquire these nasty, uninvited guests through contaminated food or water. Though your risk is especially high when you travel to some foreign countries, you can also get parasitic infections close to home. (9)
Celiac disease: Diarrhea is a common sign of this severe autoimmune reaction to gluten. That’s a protein in wheat, barley, rye, and related grains. (10)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main types of IBD. They’re generally classified as autoimmune disorders and can cause diarrhea, which may be bloody.
Candida overgrowth: This yeast is a normal part of your microbiome. Even so, if it grows out of control, it can lead to diarrhea. (11, 12)
Medications: Antibiotics aren’t the only drugs that can trigger diarrhea. Many medicines you may take long term for chronic health conditions could also cause loose stools. More than 700 different drugs list diarrhea as a potential side effect. (2)
Strategies to combat diarrhea
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:
1. Examine your diet and eliminate offensive foods
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)
More specifically, elevated histamine levels in your body could increase your sensitivity to foods high in histamine, such as spinach, avocados, and ripe tomatoes. (20, 21)
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)
2. Get rid of parasites
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.
Purging parasites could also help you avoid other problems down the road. For example, these critters can also cause issues like hair loss and emotional symptoms.
3. Conquer Candida
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.
4. Avoid antibiotics when possible
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 fungal infections and other pathogens.
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 an infection, wait it out.
5. Manage stress
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.
What causes constipation?
Many factors can slow your stools. Some of these include:
Lack of exercise: Physical activity tends to stimulate your colon. If you aren't moving enough in general, you may not be moving much in the restroom either. This is also why constipation can become a challenge if you’re bedbound. (28, 31)
Holding it in: One of your colon’s jobs is to reabsorb water from your stools before you eliminate them. The longer you put off pooping, the more water your colon will pull out of your stools. This makes them drier, firmer, and more difficult to eliminate. (28)
Dehydration: If you lack adequate water, your colon will extract more water from your stools to help you stay hydrated. (32)
Low fiber diet: Fiber helps bulk up your stools and soaks up water. This makes them softer and more comfortable to eliminate. (33)
Parasitic infections: Ironically, some parasites cause diarrhea while others can cause severe constipation. (34)
Candida overgrowth: Similar to parasites, Candida infection can cause either constipation or diarrhea. (35)
Environmental toxins: Exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals may damage the nerves that help regulate colonic movement. (36)
Medications: Painkillers, blood pressure medicines, antidepressants, and antacids are common drugs that can slow down your bowels. Overusing laxatives may also cause constipation. (28)
Dietary Support: Calcium and iron support sometimes trigger constipation. Certain forms (such as calcium carbonate) and higher doses of these minerals may pose a greater risk of this. (32, 37)
Medical conditions: Issues such as hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease can alter the functioning of your intestines. This can lead to constipation. (28)
Pregnancy: A growing baby can cause the mother’s bowels to slow down, especially during the last months of pregnancy. (28)
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.
Strategies to combat constipation
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:
1. Change your diet
Dietary changes could go a long way toward alleviating constipation. Besides making sure you’re getting plenty of fiber and water, you can also:
Add fermented foods. For example, sauerkraut and kimchi — if they’re not heat-treated — are rich, natural sources of probiotics and fiber. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can promote gut health and support regular elimination.
Omit dairy. Dairy products can cause diarrhea, but they may also be a factor in constipation, especially in children. If you suspect it’s a culprit, try removing all dairy to see if it’s preventing you from pooping regularly. (38)
Get rid of gluten. Gluten can also cause either constipation or diarrhea. If you suspect it’s a trigger, get tested for celiac disease. If that test is clear, you may still have some sensitivity to gluten. So, avoid it entirely for a few weeks, then try eating it again. (39)
Watch certain fruits: Fruits are a good source of fiber. Still, certain ones may be problematic. Unripe bananas are high in a type of starch that is resistant to digestion, which may slow your gut too much. Persimmons may also trigger constipation due to certain phytochemicals in them. (40)
Keep a food-symptom diary. Just as with diarrhea, food sensitivities can trigger constipation. Careful record-keeping and watching for patterns may help you identify the culprits.
2. Get moving
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.
3. Remove pathogens
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 herbs to combat parasites. 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.
4. Use binders
Because heavy metals and chemicals like herbicides can damage the nerves of your digestive tract, detoxing from these contaminants may help alleviate constipation.
Binders can bind heavy metals and chemicals to its surface. Then, they help remove them from your body.
5. Try herbs for constipation
Nature can come to your rescue when things just aren’t moving well, despite your best efforts.
Certain herbs 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.
6. Obey the urge
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.
7. Check side effects
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.
Bloating and Excess Gas
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)
What causes bloating and excess gas?
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:
Parasitic infections: Gas and bloating can be among the first signs that parasites have decided to make you their host. As they multiply in your small intestine, they create inflammation and can trigger gut symptoms. (43, 44, 45)
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): The majority of your gut microbes belong in your colon, not your small intestine. If too many migrate to your small intestine, they can generate significant gas and bloating soon after eating. (46)
Candida overgrowth: Besides altering bowel movements, overgrowth of Candida can generate gas and bloating. Excess growth of fungi like Candida in the small intestine is sometimes called small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO). (47)
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD): Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may alter your digestive system in ways that lead to bloating and abdominal pain. Some evidence suggests parasites may play a role in IBD. (48, 49, 50)
Constipation: If you don’t poop often enough, waste can build up and trap gas in your colon. That can lead to bloating. (51)
Gastroparesis: This is when your stomach doesn’t empty as quickly as it should, which can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea. Gastroparesis is more common in people with uncontrolled diabetes. In other cases, the cause is unclear. (52)
Strategies to combat bloating and gas
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:
1. Try a low-FODMAP diet
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, 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.
2. Check for SIBO
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 to reduce symptoms until the overgrowth is resolved. You can also try taking herbs with antibiotic properties. Certain essential oils may be as effective as antibiotics to get bacterial overgrowth under control. (57, 58)
3. Remove pathogens
Clearing out uninvited guests is critical to restore gut health and get rid of bloating.
Take herbs to help eliminate critters in your stools. Boosting your oxygen levels may help deter parasite growth in your gut. (59)
Avoiding sugar and detoxing heavy metals could also help resolve parasite infections and Candida overgrowth. Binders help remove heavy metals. They also help mop up the toxins that fungi, parasites, and bacteria produce. (60, 61, 62)
Remember to support the drainage of toxins when you go after parasites and other unwelcome guests. This includes via your colon, as well your kidneys, liver, and lymphatic system.
How Does the Gut Affect the Rest of the Body?
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:
B vitamin and magnesium deficiency (68)
Brain fog (69)
Urinary tract infections (70)
Joint pain (71)
Eczema (itchy red rash) (72)
Clearly, your stomach health and gut health can have far-reaching effects.
Restore Gut Health Now
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?