The Health Index
A large proportion of clients who book an appointment with a nutrition practitioner experience digestive complaints. The gastrointestinal tract is long, and there is a lot of scope for things to go wrong between the mouth and the anus.
Complaints range from heartburn, bloating, flatulence, and inconsistent bowel movements – such as diarrhoea, constipation, or an alternation between the two – to nausea, stomach cramps, stomach pain, blood in the stool, food poisoning, infection, yeast overgrowth, and suspected food intolerances.
Most of our clients have already seen their doctor once or more about these issues, and some have undergone invasive investigations such as endoscopy and colonoscopy, yet no explanation for those complaints were found. Even in such cases, it is still worth speaking to a nutrition practitioner. Often, a damaged digestive tract does not cause noticeable digestive symptoms, but causes problems such as headaches, tiredness, lethargy, joint pain, or sleep problems.
What damages the gut?
Gut health begins even before we are born. We now know that our digestive tract exists in symbiosis with the microbiota – the bacteria that live within it. In the last few decades, researchers have uncovered how important the microbiota in our intestines actually is. It has a far-reaching influence on overall health: the microbes are not only digestive aids that process the foods we eat, but they also support the entire immune system and closely affect our mood and the production of important neurotransmitters in the brain.
Because of all these functions of the intestine and the micro-organisms living in it, some experts think of the gut as a “super organ”. When it comes to gut health, we must therefore think of the health of the microbiota as well. Colonisation begins at birth at the latest. Recent research suggests that it starts even before. After birth, colonisation continues for approximately four years, during which time more and more species are introduced via breast milk and the environment we live in.
Although the composition of the microbiota keeps changing throughout our lives, the foundations are laid when we are very young. Antibiotics save lives and have revolutionised medicine. Unfortunately though, they do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, and a course of antibiotics always damages our good gut bacteria.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to prescribe antibiotics to small children, and it is at that age that the negative impact on gut bacteria is the greatest. Other factors that affect the gut microbiota are alcohol, food additives and other environmental toxins (e.g. pesticides), stress, inactivity, poor sleep, and a limited diet. Damage to the structures of the digestive tract can occur due to infection, inflammation, toxins, food intolerances, over-exercising, medication and much more.
Symptoms of a damaged digestive tract
Acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion
Excessive gas (bloating, flatulence, burping)
Alternating diarrhoea and constipation
Blood in stools