The digestive system: understanding its crucial role.
The digestive system plays a crucial role in providing our bodies with the nutrients we need. It’s more than just a simple “pipe”; its primary function is to break down food into nutrients so that our cells can function properly.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from functional digestive disorders, characterized by chronic digestive symptoms without any apparent physical or physiological cause. This can potentially lead to suboptimal nutrient absorption, affecting cell function.
Common Functional Digestive Disorders
Among these functional digestive disorders, we find conditions like functional dyspepsia (difficulty in digestion), which manifests as a feeling of “heaviness” in the stomach, heartburn, quick satiety, burping, nausea, and even vomiting.
Other common issues include constipation, diarrhea, intestinal gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, which are all possible symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Many of these discomforts are common in various digestive pathologies or may simply result from food intolerances or sensitivities. It’s essential to understand these issues in order to improve the situation.
Understanding Digestive Disorders
In some cases, inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, or hemorrhagic colitis, and allergic conditions like celiac disease or wheat allergy, are overlooked by medical tests and healthcare professionals. When no organic abnormality is detected or confirmed, individuals often feel that their condition is not well understood. They are often presented with a diagnosis that appears overly general, even though these functional digestive disorders significantly impact their quality of life. Consequently, every single day, healthcare professional encounter patients seeking help for their digestive issues.
Potential Causes of Digestive Disorders
Several potential causes can explain these unpleasant symptoms. These include possible issues with intestinal motility. The muscles surrounding the intestines receive abnormal nerve signals, leading to a form of digestive tract paralysis (constipation) or an increase in movements (diarrhea). We also consider the possibility of visceral hypersensitivity, where a person is more sensitive to what’s happening in their digestive tract, similar to how someone might be more emotionally sensitive or sensitive to food textures, for instance. This is referred to as a disrupted gut-brain axis.
The gut microbiota can also be a contributing factor. Sometimes, a specific bacterial pattern is associated with ongoing problems, with certain bacteria present in greater or smaller quantities. This imbalance in the bacterial equilibrium or an alteration in the intestinal barrier can gradually lead to the development of chronic inflammation, that, in turn, can potentially give rise to the previously mentioned symptoms.
Learning to Manage Digestive Disorders
Fortunately, several modifiable factors listed below can assist in managing these digestive challenges or common digestive disorders, provided they are personalized for optimization, as each individual responds uniquely to lifestyle changes.
Based on our dietary choices, it is possible to minimize problematic foods and modulate the microbiota in order to reduce chronic inflammation and optimize our immune defenses.
Stress impairs the optimal functioning of the intestinal barrier. It is important to note that many digestive issues are associated with barrier permeability, or in other words, a disruption of its functions.
Lack of sleep induces stress on the body, potentially exacerbating the issues mentioned in the previous point.
Supporting stress management, physical activity appears to be a key element in the quality of the intestinal microbiota.
Depending on the probiotic trains consumed, it will be possible to alleviate certain digestive symptoms or simply lend a hand to the existing beneficial bacteria to enhance our immune defenses, reduce inflammation, and limit the attachment of pathogenic bacteria. Discover our full probiotic range.
In the vast realm of nutrition, we need to consider factors like fiber and fat intake, hydration, consumption of prebiotics and probiotics, meal speed and frequency, portion size, the presence of food intolerances like FODMAPs, and irritants. These elements are part of a nutritional approach to resolve or reduce digestive issues, as macronutrients, their portions, and their distribution throughout the day, can impact intestinal motility and digestion. Fiber and prebiotics nourish the “good” bacteria, while probiotics optimize their function. If symptoms persist, the search for culprits will be based on nutritional assessment, medical history, symptoms, and a food diary. The final approach aims to eliminate the culprits and, more importantly, replace them to ensure optimal dietary variety.
Digestive health is at the core of overall health. Taking care of your digestive system is essential for improving your quality of life, every day.
This article was written by:
Andréanne Martin, Health and Nutrition Specialist, and Founder of the Clinique AM – Vos intestins: notre savoir-faire.
Drossman DA: Functional gastrointestinal disorders: History, pathophysiology, clinical features, and Rome IV. Gastroenterology 150:1262–1279, 2016. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2016.02.032