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More about Digestive Conditions
Digestive conditions plague nearly 70 million Americans. With few exceptions, the epidemic of digestive illness is directly related to the diet and lifestyle decisions we make on a daily basis. Recent research has revealed that 60 percent of the immune system is located in or around the digestive system.
Also, more nerve endings are located in our digestive system than in our spine. This puts "butterflies in the tummy" into a whole new perspective, and explains the direct connection between stress and every aspect of digestion.
Believe it or not, the digestive system actually starts in the brain. As soon as the idea of eating comes into our minds, our bodies prepare for digestion. When we chew our food, it mixes with saliva and enzymes. Then we swallow the food and it travels down our esophagus.
The esophagus is connected to the stomach by the esophageal sphincter. This is a muscular ring. Normally, this muscle performs two major functions:
- It opens to allow food to pass into the stomach.
- It also closes to keep the stomach contents out of the esophagus.
If this sphincter weakens or relaxes, the contents of the stomach splash back up into the esophagus. This splashing is known as gastroesophageal reflux, GERD.
In the stomach, food is acidified and liquefied into chyme (kime). The stomach empties the chyme into the small intestine. There, it is neutralized and broken down further by pancreatic enzymes and bile (produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder). The small intestine absorbs digested nutrients. The left over watery sludge passes through the ileocecal valve and enters the large intestine or colon. There, the remainder of the nutrients and water are absorbed and stool is formed. When enough waste has collected, we get the urge to eliminate.
What is peristalsis?
From the time we swallow, food moves through the system by sets of smooth muscles using involuntary rhythmic contractions called peristalsis. The peristaltic contractions are influenced by what we eat and by our emotional state. We experience pain when the contractions are too strong; diarrhea, if too frequent; and constipation if they are sluggish and slow or obstruct the tube.
What is leaky gut - intestinal permeability?
The wall of the small intestine acts as a filter, allowing nutrients to pass into the bloodstream blocking non-nutrient substances. There are a number of conditions that cause toxic by-products in the small intestine.
These toxins irritate and inflame the intestinal walls, causing tiny perforations. This interferes with the intestine's filtering ability. Food particles and bacteria pass through into the blood stream.
These non-nutrient particles alert the immune system, because they don't belong there. The miniscule leaks are referred to as "leaky gut" syndrome, or increased intestinal permeability.
Only the digestive system is equipped to process food. Once a particular food escapes the system it is tagged as an antigen. The body shows its displeasure with bloating and gas.
Besides this response food sensitivities have also been implicated in a number of other digestive problems, including constipation and diarrhea. On occasion inflammation of the inside lining of the stomach and intestines occurs - gastroenteritis.
Gatroenteritis is the inflammation of the inside lining of the stomach and intestines. It often describes a sudden infection that affects the stomach and intestines. Gastroenteritis can also be caused by chemical or toxin exposure.
This condition commonly causes:
- loss of appetite,
- abdominal distress or
- flu-like symptoms like headache, joint pain or muscle soreness.
Causes of Gastro enteritis include:
- Infection - In children, infection is usually due to viruses e.g. rotavirus. Bacteria such as Campylobacter are more common causes of the condition in adults.
- Food Poisoning - usually due to toxins made by bacteria. In these cases, the bacteria often do not cause an infection. However, the toxin produced by the bacteria can get into food and make a person sick. This occurs in staphylococcal food poisoning.
- Exposure to Chemicals or Toxins- This occurs in sudden lead poisoning or puffer fish poisoning.
- Drug Reactions from Medications such as Antibiotics
The digestive system requires an adequate amount of enzymes to break down the food. Sometimes an individual may have a deficiency of an enzyme known as lactase, causing lactose intolerance.
The large intestine or colon eliminates waste. The efficient colon pulls 8- percent of the water (which carries electrolyte minerals) from the chyme, about two and a half gallons each day. This is absorbed into the blood stream. Healthy stool is composed of about two-thirds water, undigested fiber, and food particles. The other third is bacteria.
Sufficient water, fiber and beneficial intestinal organisms (probiotics or flora) are necessary for good health. A diet high in fiber is essential. It speeds transit time. This means waste isn't sitting in our colon producing toxins which are then absorbed into the blood.
Sufficient fiber also keeps our intestinal flora happy and balanced. Most importantly, it appears to be a preventative factor in several diseases of the large intestine, including colon cancer, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
This is a condition in which bowel movements become uncomfortable or less frequent than usual.
- Acute constipation begins suddenly and noticeably.
- Chronic constipation may begin slowly and last for months or years.
The role of the digestive system is to extract nutrients from the food ingested prepare the leftover material for elimination. This left over material passes through at least 20 feet of intestine before being stored temporarily in the colon, where water is removed.
Finally, this fecal residue is excreted as a bowel movement. The frequency of bowel movements considered normal varies from person to person. "Normal" may range from movements 3 times a day to 3 times a week.
Constipation is not an illness, but it may be a symptom of another problem.
A person who is constipated may have:
- infrequent bowel movements,
- hard stools,
- difficulty passing stool,
- pain passing stool,
- a feeling that the bowel is not completely empty,
- a bloated feeling after eating and
Constipation can be caused by:
- a recent change in diet
- dietary factors, such as not drinking enough fluids, eating too much animal protein, or not eating enough fiber-rich foods
- a decrease in physical activity or too little physical activity
- iron tablets
- certain drugs, such as those for pain, depression, and high blood pressure
- rapid weight loss
- ignoring the feeling or need to pass stool
- hormone changes, such as those in pregnancy
- high blood calcium
- specific diseases, such as colon cancer or an underactive thyroid
- depression, tension, or anxiety
Acute constipation may be caused by a serious problem, such as a blockage or poor blood supply to the large intestine, or nerve and spinal cord injury.
Diarrhea is a condition in which loose, watery stools are passed more often than normal. It occurs when the colon or large intestine becomes irritated. This can be caused by many things, including:
- chemical toxins,
- stress, or
The colon responds to this irritation in these ways:
- The amount of water and mucus in the stool is increased.
- The amount of water the colon reabsorbs from the stool is decreased.
- The intestine empties the stools from the body more often.
The key symptom of diarrhea is frequent bouts of loose, watery stools. There also may be abdominal pain and cramping. The person may have loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
Viruses cause many occurrences of diarrhea.
Other common causes of diarrhea are:
- bacterial infection, such as traveler's diarrhea
- certain medicines, including antibiotics
- diet, including an excess of fruit or fruit juice
- inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- irritable bowel syndrome
Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics involves the passage of frequent, loose stools along with a variety of other symptoms.
- Most antibiotics have the ability to cause diarrhea in some people.
- Sometimes the antibiotic irritates the bowel, and that causes the diarrhea.
- At other times, the antibiotic can make a bacterial infection more likely. The bacterial infection itself then causes the diarrhea. This is the case when antibiotic-associated colitis develops.
- In most cases the symptoms are due to irritation of the bowel by the antibiotic. In these cases, symptoms include:
- abdominal distress or
- nausea and
Cases of diarrhea from a bacterial infection may cause the same symptoms.
- Diverticula are small sacs that sometimes form in the wall of the intestine. When these sacs become infected and inflamed, a condition known as diverticulitis results.
- The term diverticulosis means the presence of many diverticula in the bowel.
- A person's diet is thought to play a role in the formation of diverticula.
- Diverticula do not usually cause symptoms. However, if diverticula become inflamed, symptoms usually do occur.
- The condition causes:
- abdominal distress, especially in the lower left quarter of the abdomen,
- tenderness when the abdomen is touched,
- tightness in the abdominal muscles, known as abdominal rigidity and
- blood in the stool.
- Diverticulitis can only occur in people who have diverticulosis.
- Both conditions are more common in people older than 50.
- Diverticulosis is more common in people who have a low intake of fiber in their d iets.
- Diverticula usually occur in the left side of the large bowel or colon.
- This may be due to higher pressure in this part of the bowel.
- The key is to prevent the diverticulosis from developing.
- Eating a diet high in fiber and low in dietary fat is thought to decrease the risk of diverticulosis.
- Once diverticula form, there are no other ways known to prevent the disease.
This is a condition in which a person cannot digest enough lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products.
The individual has a deficiency of an enzyme known as lactase.
People with lactose intolerance don't have enough lactase to break down the lactose they eat or drink.
They cannot break the lactose down into glucose, which is the form of sugar used by body cells.
When lactase is missing from the intestine, the condition is called lactase deficiency.
Types of lactase deficiency
Congenital lactase deficiency is a rare disorder that often runs in families. Infants begin to have symptoms of bloating and watery diarrhea shortly after starting on breast milk or formula feeding.
Acquired lactase deficiency comes on gradually over time. It also appears to run in families. It affects certain ethnic groups more than others.
The enzyme lactase is present in the baby's intestine from about the middle of pregnancy onward. The amount of lactase in the intestine begins to drop after weaning. By 5 to 7 years of age, a child's lactase activity is about 10% of what it was at birth.
Temporary lactase deficiency is sometimes caused by gastroenteritis in children. When the child has diarrhea, the intestines are stripped of the enzyme lactase. The child then has trouble digesting lactose when consuming milk products.
When lactose is not digested, water is retained in the bowel. This results in bloating and watery diarrhea. Lactose that passes into the large intestine is fermented by bacteria. This produces carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane. Bloating, cramping, and flatulence, or passing gas results.
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- abdominal bloating and cramps,
Infants with congenital lactase deficiency may exhibit the following symptoms: dehydration, failure to thrive, irritability, vomiting and watery stools.
Did you know that Great Smokies Lab offers an easy to administer breath test to verify lactose intolerance?
In popular terminology, the terms "sensitivities "and" allergies" are often used to mean the same thing, although many sensitivities are not true allergies.
The term "sensitivity" is general and may include true allergies, reactions that do not affect the immune system (and therefore are not technically allergies), and reactions for which the cause has yet to be determined.
Allergies are responses by the immune system to a particular food, inhalant (airborne substance), or chemical.
Some non-allergic types of sensitivity are called intolerances and may be caused by toxins, enzyme inadequacies, drug-like chemical reactions, psychological associations, and other mechanisms.