Hello, Herald readers! I am so happy to be bringing this new monthly column to you to discuss all things digestive health and related conditions. I am very passionate about helping people feel empowered to improve their digestion.
After a 20-year battle with irritable bowel syndrome, which came complete with no helpful interventions, whether from doctors, specialists or even natural practitioners, I took my digestive health into my own hands. I found out what was causing my misery and did testing and tried dietary change and other holistic treatments to help me return to full health.
With the tools to recover my own health, I have become even more passionate about helping as many people as possible to avoid the heartache and the bathroom misery that I lived through. I hope you aren’t squeamish about “potty talk,” as I will be writing all things digestion.
My goal is not to joke about poop, but rather, to be very frank and educational in discussing digestive ups and downs. While I am a doctor, I may not be your doctor, so please run any major changes in your diet or health plan by your primary care physician to make sure that they approve of and support these changes.
As a naturopathic doctor, I use tools that may be outside of the typical medical paradigm (ie: diet, nutrients and testing) to help people restore their digestive balance and regain their health. I hope to teach you more about this different, holistic view of testing and treatments for digestive health conditions.
First, let’s discuss the words that I will be using in describing normal digestion. Bowel movement or BM, refer to the act of moving your bowels, but it is just another term for pooping. We all know about poop — but sometimes I will also refer to poop as “BMs” or “stool.” It can also be called “feces “or “guano” or many other things, but, just to let you know and to avoid any confusion, I may rotate between these different terms but I still mean poop.
The “digestive tract” is just another term for describing the tube that goes from our mouth to our anus and the organs that are associated with the function of this tube. “Gut” is a general term for the intestines and their microbiome (gut microbes and their DNA) and all of the functions of the digestive system and the process of digestion.
The digestive tract houses 70% of our immune system and controls our absorption of nutrients from our food. Our microbiome (the combination of the organisms and their DNA) has so many amazing contributions to our general health and well-being.
The digestive tract and the microbiome it houses play an active role in so many processes. It helps with hormone balance, nutrient absorption, and serves as a physical barrier that protects our bloodstream from foreign organisms and toxins. Ninety percent of our serotonin in our bodies (our main “good mood” hormone) is made in our gut, so it isn’t a leap of the imagination to know that a happy gut can absolutely support a better-balanced mood.
Gut health 101
Normal digestion should be free from pain or abnormal stool contents, and bowel movements should be formed and occur at least once per day. If none of what I just mentioned is happening for you, you likely have a digestive imbalance that should be further tested and treated to help you get back to balance. I will be discussing these and other many digestive conditions, what causes them and strategies for getting help to address them in the months ahead.
I want to share a brief overview of some of the most common digestive conditions. These conditions are 100% treatable, and if the strategies you have tried thus far aren’t working, there are many more testing and treatment areas left to explore.
Diarrhea is loose or liquid stool that may be present in conditions such as acute or chronic gut infections, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease and may co-occur with other digestive symptoms.
Constipation is when you have fewer than one bowel movement per day, and it can be painful and difficult to pass.
IBS is defined as abdominal pain, cramping or bloating that is related to passing a bowel movement. It is also associated with changes in the appearance of and frequency of bowel movements. We will discuss IBS in more detail and explore the underlying causes in a future column. Hint: The causes aren’t just stress.
IBD, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, are autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation of the bowel that results in bleeding ulcers, diarrhea, pain, iron deficiency and much more. People suspecting IBD should be seen by a gastroenterologist.
Reflux, or heartburn, is chest discomfort or even digestive juices flowing back up into our mouths. Reflux can be severe, or it can be more subtle with a small amount of heartburn that we can feel behind our sternums.
Nausea (queasiness or the feeling like you need to throw up) has many causes but often can be created by liver issues or acute or chronic infections. Identifying the cause of the nausea and treating that cause can help to reverse the nausea.
If you haven’t worked on your nutrition or lifestyle, small changes in these areas could make a huge difference in your gut health and general well-being. Work with a qualified practitioner to test for the underlying causes of your digestive conditions. There is hope for recovering your gut balance. Please don’t suffer needlessly. There are so many helpful approaches out there.
Dr. Christine Bowen of Everett is a licensed naturopathic doctor, keynote speaker and has been published in the Townsend Letter. In practice since 2005, Bowen specializes in holistic approaches for digestive health and autoimmunity. Go to www.bothellnaturalhealth.com for more information.