Is your gut feeling grumbly? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one—but you may want to mention it to your doctor. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 60-70 million people in the United States suffer from some sort of digestive disorder. That’s one fifth of the population not enjoying their meals due to gut discomfort!
All digestive diseases are concentrated in the gastrointestinal tract, although their effects may be felt far beyond. Talking to your doctor about your digestion, or lack thereof, can be instrumental in their understanding of certain health issues. Your symptoms may be acute and easily treatable, but there is the possibility that your digestive condition is chronic and requires long-term treatment.
Acute GI issues can commonly be attributed to your diet, a relatively easy fix. Chronic digestive problems, on the other hand, are usually caused by an alteration in the fundamental processes of the gastrointestinal system, such as the gut lining or hormone function. Some people are prone to chronic issues due to diet as well—however, some alteration regarding what you put in your body, as well as supplementary treatments, can make these issues manageable.
Probiotics, due to their proliferation in the GI tract and effectiveness at regulating digestion, are common treatments or supplements for those with digestive issues. They may be administered for general symptom management, to restore population balance, or to restore a certain function in the body.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the most common digestive disorders, their causes and potential treatments. An unfortunate caveat to these is that digestive disorders often have similar or identical symptoms, with varying causes.
Ulcerative colitis is characterized by long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract, specifically the inner lining of your large intestine and rectum. This heavy inflammation often results in symptoms such as pain, weight loss, fatigue, irregular stool, and a bloody stool. Ulcerative colitis can be identified and treated early—symptoms often begin before the age of 30.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome/Disease
One of the most common, and most broad, digestive issues is IBS, or IBD. Symptoms can range from abdominal pain, to bloating, to gas, to irregular stool. Lactobacillus paracasei LP-DG® is one of several strains which has been shown to alleviate symptoms of IBS. The root cause of this prolific syndrome is hard to pin down, however, and varies widely by experience. IBS may be caused by muscle contraction, abnormalities in the nervous system, inflammation, severe infection, or bacterial changes. Symptoms may be triggered by diet, environment, stress, or hormones. Most symptoms can be controlled with changes to diet and lifestyle, and medication if needed—although the remedies for IBS are nearly as diverse as its symptoms. While its treatments are simple and the symptoms are merely uncomfortable, IBS can also indicate an increased risk for more serious conditions such as colon cancer and so should be monitored with some caution!
For those who endure the symptoms of DD, a seemingly small change in the body can lead to rather severe consequences. Diverticular disease is the result of small fluid sacs (diverticula) which form in the wall of the large intestine. The lasting presence of these sacs can lead to perforation of the intestine, narrowing of the colon, fistulas (tracts to other organs) and bleeding. Although the exact mechanism of diverticula formation is unconfirmed, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons asserts that “the most commonly accepted theory is that low amounts of fiber in a person’s diet can cause the stool to become relatively dry, forcing the colon to create high pressures to move the stool along. These high pressures cause the weakest point of the colon wall to bulge out.” As there are a surprising lack of symptoms among those with DD, it is often diagnosed via colonoscopy. A mild case of diverticular disease can be remediated with antibiotics and a liquid diet, or by a gradual reversal of the conditions which allowed diverticula to form initially.
Crohn’s disease is chronic inflammation of the digestive tract which can cause abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease is particularly debilitating due to the way it penetrates into several layers of tissue, and can even affect skin, eyes, joints, liver and bile ducts. This disease can be hereditary, or can also be triggered by bacteria or a virus. Crohn’s disease is one of the most serious digestive diseases: its long-term complications are wide-ranging, and include ulcers, fistulas, colon cancer and more.
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
While the large intestine is thick with good bacteria when it’s healthy, the small intestine has a fraction of the population count. SIBO occurs when the population in the small intestine increases in number or type beyond its normal capacity, resulting in stomach discomfort, diarrhea, weight loss and malabsorption. SIBO can be the result of an alternate digestive disease, so it is important to look at the bigger picture when it comes to this condition!
GERD (Gastroesophagal Reflux Disease)
GERD is one of the few digestive diseases without a root in the large intestine. GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), or ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, is not effectively blocking the backflow of stomach contents up the esophagus. The LES may be weak or spastic—this can sometimes be remediated through lifestyle changes, but some cases require medication or even surgery. Having a hiatal hernia (migration of the upper stomach into your chest) can weaken the LES and aggravate symptoms of GERD. Many people over the age of 50 have a hiatal hernia, which means they are also more at risk of heartburn and acid reflux as a result of a weak LES.
Leaky Gut aka “Increased intestinal permeability”
Increased intestinal permeability is an ailment in which bacteria and toxins have increased ability to pass into your GI system. This can create inflammation and a more intense immune response. Leaky gut can also lead to bloating, food sensitivities, fatigue and skin issues. Scientists speculate that leaky gut could be traced back to zonulin, the only known key gene which controls intestinal permeability. Additionally, excessive sugar intake, NSAIDs, excessive alcohol intake, stress, and poor gut health could also play a role.
Although a large number of people suffer from digestive diseases with a wide range of severity, treatments for all of the above are readily available, and are in a consistent state of development. If you are experiencing mild gastrointestinal discomfort, taking a balancing probiotic supplement such as L. paracasei LP-DG® can be a simple and prophylactic remedy. Everyone deserves to eat in comfort!