How to Recognize and Treat Digestive Disorders - Integrative Medicine Physician Austin

How to Recognize and Treat Digestive Disorders

Do you feel like you’re doing everything right with your diet, but you still aren’t seeing the results you’d like?

Despite your best efforts to eat all the right things and avoid all the wrong things, are you finding yourself with any of the following, almost unexplained symptoms?

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Inability to lose weight
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Belching
  • Fatigue
  • Fungal infections in the nails, skin, or genitals
  • Joint Pain
  • Rashes, eczema, hives
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vitamin deficiencies

In my article on the gut microbiome, I talked about how critical the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your digestive tract are to health.

When your gut microbiome is healthy and thriving, it can be an amazing partner in creating positive outcomes for your body. But when things get out of balance in the microbiome population, trouble can start.

Sometimes, certain pathogenic microbiota can cause an infection that isn’t easy to diagnose. 

Often times, people with these infections can go from doctor to doctor without finding answers. Other times, patients with these infections harbor symptoms for years without realizing that it’s tied to a microscopic entity in their gastrointestinal tract.

The truth is, we’ve been conditioned to believe that a certain amount of gastrointestinal discomfort is just part of life. 

Just a reminder, gastrointestinal upset is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal.

In fact, your digestion shouldn’t involve any overabundance of gas, belching, or reflux. I talk more about the hallmarks of healthy digestion in this article.

What Causes Yeast Overgrowth?

Candida is a yeast that lives in small numbers on and in the body.

But sometimes, when its numbers begin to grow beyond normal healthy levels, it can cause an infection. Often times, patients are somewhat confused by the seemingly unrelated symptoms they experience. They may try to treat one of the symptoms, not realizing it can be caused by a candida overgrowth within their entire system.

When everything is functioning as it should be, the growth of candida is checked by the other, more friendly members of the microbiome…but when those friendly bacteria are compromised in any way, they can be overpowered by some of these more troublesome members of the family.

The friendly microbiota can be compromised by:

  • Antibiotic use
  • Poor diet — too many refined carbs and sugars
  • Lack of sleep
  • High levels of stress
  • Compromised immune system (from things like autoimmune diseases or chemotherapy)

Some of the symptoms of candida overgrowth include:

  • Digestive issues
  • Skin infections
  • Nail infections
  • Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
  • Mood disorders 
  • Fatigue
  • Vaginal yeast infections
  • Cravings for sugar 

In functional medicine, we have sophisticated ways to test for candida overgrowth. Depending on how your symptoms present, your functional medicine doctor may test for candida in your stool or blood. We also search for underlying conditions that may cause candida overgrowth. High levels of candida are often associated with disease of the gastrointestinal tract

What Causes H. Pylori Infection?

Helicobacter pylori is another bad actor that can cause havoc in our gastrointestinal systems. 

H. pylori is a spiral-shaped bacteria that attacks the stomach lining. 

Researchers believe that up to 50% of the world’s population may have an H. pylori infection but do not present any symptoms at all. They live with an overabundance of this bacteria for years and don’t realize it.

Sometimes, however, patients have symptoms, but they attribute it to just “typical” digestive disturbances.

Some of the symptoms H. pylori may cause include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Burping
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea

H. pylori infections can lead to ulcers. If the infection gets to this point, you will likely experience some pretty significant abdominal pain.

Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth Symptoms 

Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth or SIBO for short, is another gastrointestinal disorder that may be puzzling for some.

Many patients suffer from SIBO for years before they figure out exactly what’s going on.

All of those friendly, amazing bacteria that live in the large intestine are super helpful when they are colonizing the large intestine…but when they escape the confines of the large intestine and travel into the small intestine, it’s not ideal. 

Once they set up shop in the small intestine they can cause some pretty uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas 
  • Unexplained weight loss

Again, many people assume these symptoms are just “normal” digestive problems and sometimes it takes a while for them to finally figure out what’s wrong with their digestive tract.

Typically, SIBO is diagnosed by a breath test that measures the gaseous output of the bacteria in the small intestine. 

SIBO is often the result of an underlying condition — the bacteria travel outside of the colon due to any number of other conditions, from celiac to Crohn’s disease. It can also be tricky to completely eradicate. If you’re dealing with a reoccurring flare-up, don’t give up hope. We often need to try a couple of different treatment options to get rid of this overgrowth for good.

How To Treat Digestive Disorders

If you find yourself with unexplained gastrointestinal discomfort that persists, I know it can be frustrating trying to figure out what’s going on.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to understand that normal, healthy digestion doesn’t include any excess gas, heartburn or abdominal pain. 

So if you’re regularly experiencing discomfort or pain, it’s time to get to the bottom of the issue. Most of the time, the bandaids that we are encouraged to use to address these symptoms only mask the problem, they don’t actually treat it.

Things like antacids and proton-pump inhibitors don’t actually solve any problems. 

The most important thing to do when treating gastrointestinal disorders is to first, figure out what the underlying cause is.

Luckily, in functional medicine, we have several ways to uncover the root of your problems. Tests that aren’t necessarily available at a typical physician’s office. 

Once we are able to properly identify what’s really troubling your digestion, we can make a sensible plan of action to treat it.

In general, keeping inflammation low and your gut microbiome strong is the first line of defense against many gastrointestinal issues. It may not be revolutionary, but getting plenty of rest, keeping stress at bay, and eating an anti-inflammatory diet are all great ways to give yourself the best chance to thrive.

If you’ve been struggling for a while to find out why your health isn’t where you want it to be, it may be time to assess your gastrointestinal tract properly. I’d love to help you stop searching and finally find answers. 

You can schedule a consultation with me here.

References

“Candidiasis | Types of Diseases | Fungal Diseases | CDC.” https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html.

“Inflammation and gastrointestinal Candida colonization – NCBI.” 28 Jul. 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163673/

“Helicobacter pylori: a review of research findings. – NCBI.” 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1888832.

“Helicobacter pylori: epidemiology and routes of … – NCBI – NIH.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11218379.

“Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth – NCBI.” 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099351/.

“Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and ….” 15 Mar. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5347643/