The gastrointestinal system includes the whole digestive path from the mouth to the anus. However, the term “gastrointestinal imbalance” is mostly used to refer to the stomach and intestines because this is where most people tend to have issues. If you have a gastrointestinal imbalance, it’s unlikely that you’ll be feeling on top of the world, largely because of its connection to the whole body. This connection is evident from the body-wide symptoms that often accompany gastrointestinal issues, including: fatigue, headache, nausea, aches and pains, mood disturbances and poor general health.
There are many gastrointestinal conditions, such as:
Many gastrointestinal conditions can have similar symptoms, so diagnosis requires and in depth case taking history and some form of testing. In the case of IBS, it is often a process of elimination. It’s important to try and understand the true root cause of the gastrointestinal imbalance or else treatment might be just symptom relief, rather than fixing the problem. This is particularly important where there are multiple gastrointestinal conditions coexisting. For example, a diagnosis of lactose intolerance can be a secondary condition caused by gut damage, so assessment and treatment of the gut damage would be treating the root cause. Improving overall health should also be a treatment aim because the gut has strong connections to the entire body.
Many of the functions of the gastrointestinal are related to our gut bacteria, also known as our microbiome. There are 10 times more bacteria in our bodies than cells. There is growing scientific evidence showing the connection between our gut bacteria and many chronic health conditions. If you type “microbiome” into Pubmed you will observe an exponential rise in scientific articles on this topic over the past 10 years.
Some gut bacteria have been associated with good health and others with ill-health. The good bacteria have many positive affects on the body, such as:
A poor microbiome composition is termed dysbiosis. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as taking the good strains of bacteria (probiotics) to fix dysbiosis because research shows that many strains don’t colonise the gut after early infancy. Rather, certain strains of bacteria given via probiotics can positively affect our microbiome by assisting the good strains to multiply.
There is emerging evidence of the role that diet plays in influencing the composition of the microbiome. For example, within days of adopting a plant-rich diet high in fibre, there is an increase in good bacteria with corresponding positive health effects.
Addressing the cause of the gastrointestinal imbalance is important, along with healing the lining of the gastrointestinal tract that occur in conditions of the gut. Nutrition should be the mainstay of treatments for healing the gut with a focus on fresh, whole organic foods that reduce adverse environmental exposures, feed the good bacteria and provide the necessary nutrients for healing.
Like all health conditions, gastrointestinal treatment needs to focus on health-promoting nutritional, lifestyle and environmental health interventions. There are a lot of general treatments that can improve gastrointestinal health, but different conditions will require different interventions. Therefore, seek out qualified health practitioners who have access to the latest evidence-based treatments. It’s really important to treat gastrointestinal issues early to reduce the risk of chronic health issues, such as immune dysfunction.
“Your genetics load the gun, your lifestyle pulls the trigger.” – Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD
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