Digestive Issues

The National Institutes of Health estimates that up to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases. Common digestive conditions include gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gallbladder and liver disease, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome), chronic constipation, and food allergies/sensitivities.

As a Naturopathic Medical Doctor, Dr. Stengler has been intensively trained to identify and treat digestive ailments’ underlying causes. The reason for his extensive training is that integrative doctors recognize that many health conditions have their cause or part of their cause from the digestive tract. The digestive system is so intricately involved with the rest of the body because since it is the place for nutrient absorption, where neurotransmitters such as serotonin are formed, trillions of bacteria reside for the microbiome, and region for tremendous immune system activity.

Interestingly, Dr. Mark Stengler’s interest in nutritional and naturopathic therapies arose as the result of a chronic digestive illness he had as a teenager. Conventional approaches were a failure, while holistic methods resolved his digestive problem.

Using state-of-the-art testing, Dr. Stengler identifies root causes of digestive diseases such as comprehensive stool analysis, food allergies/sensitivities, and intestinal permeability.

Recommending a diet appropriate for one’s condition and genetics is very important in the long-term treatment of digestive ailments. As well, targeted nutritional supplements are used to improve digestion and promote tissue healing.

Dr. Stengler has written much about his experience treating digestive conditions. For example, he had a peer- review paper published in the Journal of Nutritional Health & Food Engineering on treating gastroesophageal reflux disease with diet. In addition, he has chapters on irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease in the bestselling book Prescription for Natural Cures. In addition, he co-authored a comparison book between pharmaceutical and natural therapies with common disorders, including digestive conditions, in Prescription for Drug Alternatives.

Your digestive system is responsible for breaking down the food you eat and turning it into nutrients that your body can use. But if something goes wrong with this process, it can lead to digestive issues and diseases.

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to digestive problems, including poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, medications, and underlying medical conditions. 

In some cases, these issues can be resolved with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications. However, more serious problems may require treatment from a gastroenterologist or other medical specialist.

As a naturopathic medical doctor, Dr. Stengler has been extensively trained to identify and treat the underlying causes of digestive problems. Integrative doctors recognize that many health conditions result from issues and complications related to the digestive tract. 

The digestive system is intricately involved with the rest of the body since it is the place where nutrients are absorbed — where neurotransmitters such as serotonin are formed, and where trillions of bacteria reside for the microbiome. This system also operates as an important catalyst and regulator of the immune system and its activity.

In this article from the holistic medical expertise of the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine, we’ll take an in-depth look at digestive problems in general and explore some common issues and diseases, their causes and triggers, various symptoms, and how these conditions are normally treated.

What Is the Digestive System and Its Process?

Your digestive system is a series of organs that work together to break down the food you eat and turn it into nutrients that your body can use. This complex system includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), rectum, and anus.

The digestive process starts as soon as you take your first bite of food. 

As you chew, your salivary glands begin to produce saliva, which contains enzymes that start to break down carbohydrates in your food. Swallowing sends this mixture of food and saliva down your esophagus and into your stomach.

Once food enters your stomach, it is mixed with gastric juices secreted by the lining of your stomach. These juices contain hydrochloric acid and enzymes that help to further break down food. The mixture of food, gastric juices, and enzymes is then passed into your small intestine, where most of the digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place.

The indigestible remainders of the food you eat travel through your large intestine to your rectum and are eventually eliminated through your anus in the form of stool.

The entire digestive process usually takes between 24 and 72 hours from start to finish.

Prevalence of Digestive Issues

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 60 to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases. These disorders account for more than 100 million visits to the doctor each year and are the leading cause of hospitalizations.

The most common digestive issues include:

  • Heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Diverticulosis/diverticulitis
  • Gallstones
  • Lactose intolerance

What Causes Digestive Issues?

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to digestive issues, including poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, medications, and underlying medical conditions.

Diet

What you eat (or don’t eat) can have a big impact on your digestive health. A diet that is high in fat, sugar, or processed foods can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and a host of other problems. Eating too much at one time can also cause indigestion or heartburn. On the other hand, not eating enough fiber-rich foods can make constipation worse.

Lack of Exercise

Being physically inactive can lead to weight gain and a host of other health problems, including digestive issues. Exercise helps to keep your digestive system functioning properly by stimulating bowel movements and preventing constipation.

Stress

Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your overall health, including your digestive system. When you’re stressed, your body produces hormones that can lead to inflammation and other problems. Stress can also make underlying conditions worse.

Medications

Certain medications can cause side effects that include digestive problems. For example, some antibiotics can kill the helpful bacteria in your gut, leading to diarrhea. Some pain medications can also cause constipation.

Underlying Medical Conditions

There are a number of medical conditions that can contribute to digestive issues, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastroparesis.

Age

Digestive problems are more common as you age. This is due in part to the fact that the digestive system slows down with age and is less able to break down food properly. Additionally, older adults are more likely to take medications that can cause digestive side effects.

Common Digestive Issues and Diseases

There are a number of different digestive issues that can occur, ranging from mild to severe. Some of the most common include heartburn, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, and gastritis.

Heartburn

Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest that is often caused by eating spicy or fatty foods, lying down after eating, or eating too much at one time. Heartburn is usually relieved by antacids or other over-the-counter medications.

Indigestion

Indigestion (also called dyspepsia) is a general term that describes a variety of different symptoms, including bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, and belching. Indigestion is often caused by overeating, eating too fast, or consuming fatty, spicy, or acidic foods.

Constipation

Constipation is characterized by infrequent or hard stools, and can be caused by a variety of different factors, including a lack of fiber in your diet, not drinking enough fluids, or certain medications. Constipation is usually treated with over-the-counter laxatives or stool softeners.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is the opposite of constipation and is characterized by loose, watery stools. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, food poisoning, or a number of other factors. Diarrhea is usually treated with over-the-counter medications like loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol).

Gastritis

Gastritis is a general term that describes inflammation of the stomach lining. Gastritis can be caused by a number of different factors, including infection, stress, certain medications, and alcohol abuse. Gastritis is usually treated with antacids or other medications.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. IBS is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation). There is no cure for IBS, but symptoms can be managed with diet, exercise, and stress reduction.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten, they may experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and weight loss. Celiac disease is treated with a gluten-free diet.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s disease is characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue. Crohn’s disease is treated with medication, surgery, or a combination of both.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is another type of IBD that affects the large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue. Ulcerative colitis is treated with medication, surgery, or a combination of both.

Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach takes longer to empty than normal. Gastroparesis can be caused by a number of different conditions, including diabetes, viral infections, and certain medications. Gastroparesis is treated with dietary changes, medications, or surgery.

Treatment for Digestive Issues

The treatment for digestive issues depends on the underlying condition. 

For example, heartburn is often treated with antacids or other over-the-counter medications, while constipation is usually treated with laxatives or stool softeners. 

More serious conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, may require medication, surgery, or a combination of both.

Naturopathic Solutions for Digestive Issues

In addition to conventional treatments, there are a number of naturopathic solutions that can help improve digestive health. These include:

  • Herbal medicine: Herbal medicine is a form of therapy that uses plant-based medicines to treat various conditions. There are many different herbs that can be used to improve digestion, including ginger, turmeric, licorice, and dandelion.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body. Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including digestive issues.
  • Massage therapy: Massage therapy is a type of therapy that uses touch to promote relaxation and healing. Massage therapy can be beneficial for people who suffer from digestive issues, as it can help to reduce stress and relax the muscles.

When it comes to digestive issues, it’s important to see a doctor if you are experiencing severe symptoms or if over-the-counter medications are not providing relief. 

Digestive issues can be painful and uncomfortable, but there are many different treatment options available. With the help of a doctor, you can find the best treatment for your individual needs.

Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine: A Holistic Approach To Digestive Health

At the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine, we take a holistic, integrative approach to digestive health. We are focused on the overall health and well-being of our patients — not just the specific symptoms being experienced.  

We believe that the key to good digestive health is a balanced diet, adequate hydration, and stress reduction. In addition to these lifestyle changes, we also offer a variety of methods and therapies that can help improve digestion and relieve complications using a top-down approach to medicine.

Treating the Underlying Cause of Digestive Issues

The first step in treating digestive issues is to identify and treat the underlying cause. 

For example, if constipation is caused by a lack of fiber in the diet, then increasing dietary fiber will be the first step in treatment. If heartburn is caused by stress, then stress management will be the first step in treatment. 

Once the underlying cause has been treated, symptoms will often improve or resolve completely.

The Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine offers a variety of solutions for digestive issues. We use a combination of conventional and naturopathic therapies to provide our patients with the best possible care. 

If you are experiencing any digestive issues and are interested in learning more about our approach to digestive health, we invite you to contact us! You are not alone, and we are here to help.