The digestive system is comprised of a collection of organs which are responsible for breaking down food into its components for the body to use. The culmination of years of effects of diet, lifestyle, stress, diseases, and medications can lead to digestive complaints such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, indigestion and heartburn. It is estimated that at any one time at least 40% of people have one or more of the above digestive symptoms.
Bowel habit-What’s normal?
Normal bowel habits vary from person to person and depend largely on diet, the amount of fluids ingested as well as the physical activity undertaken. Age, pregnancy state and the amount of stress an individual is under also have an impact. Typically, having a bowel movement somewhere between three times a day and three times a week is considered to be healthy. Bowel movements should pass smoothly with no pain and stools should not be too watery or loose, nor too lumpy or hard. It;s important to note that prescribed medications may also cause digestive or gut issues as side effects.
When digestive conditions are a cause of concern:
Generally and digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas or loose stools, settle down by themselves. However, they may be a signal for a more serious illness. During a consultation with a client it’s important to be aware of Red Flags in this system.
*Any worsening of heartburn, stomach pain or indigestion symptoms.
* Difficulty with swallowing.
*Sudden weight loss.
*A sudden change in bowel function.
* Any bleeding from the bowels.
Stress and Digestion:
A moderate amount of stress in our daily lives can act in a positive manner, allowing us to be motivated and alert. Though too much pressure from work-life demands can lead to stress, which can affect us physically, emotionally and psychologically. Ultimately, this may lead to illness. In the body, the autonomic nervous system manages our response to stress via the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. These systems are also responsible for routine functions in the body such as blood pressure, heart rate, sugar levels and also the process of digestion. It has been discovered that around 90-95 per cent of our serotonin lies in the gut, in addition to a number of other important neurotransmitters.
The enteric nervous system (the nervous system of the gut) is constantly in contact with the autonomic nervous system, so when stressful situations arise, the action of the sympathetic nervous system on digestion can cause symptoms in the digestive system that range from a heavy, sinking feeling in the stomach to diarrhoea and constipation.
Other conditions associated with digestive issues:
Conditions such as autism, parkinson’s and osteoporosis are also thought to be related to poor gut function. Stimulating the vagus nerve (which mimics signals from the gut to the brain) has not only been found to improve memory and learning, but also has been used as a treatment for epilepsy and depression and may well be useful for other conditions from migrane to tinnitus to Alzheimers.