Gut Reaction – what’s causing discomfort?

If you are suffering from bloating, belching, indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain, IBS or any other digestive complaint, or even other symptoms but after meals, you might be wondering if there’s something you are eating that you are intolerant or allergic to.

Actually, they are not the only options and you can find out what’s going on with a few simple experiments.

Digestive enzymes

Your body produces 10 litres of digestive juices containing enzymes and acids and other secretions that break down food. There are different enzymes and secretions for different foods. For example, protein needs stomach acid then a sequence of protein splitting enzymes such as pepsin, protease and so on. Fat, on the other hand, needs lipase and bile, made in the liver. Milk needs lactase. Greens need glucosidase while beans needs galactosidase, as do cruciferous veg like broccoli.

So, the first ‘test’, especially if your symptoms include bloating and indigestion straight after certain meals, is to take a digestive enzyme supplement containing all these. If the problem goes away you know your problem is that your body is not producing enough of the right enzymes for certain food groups. Knowing, this you’ll be able to work out which foods are difficult for you by trial and error.

The reason for the bloating is that if you don’t digest foods completely bacteria in your gut will ‘eat’ it and produce gas.

Low stomach acid

Some people, especially later in life, don’t make enough stomach acid and can end up with indigestion, bloating and, ironically, heartburn. The heartburn is caused by very small amounts of stomach acid getting through the shut-off valve at the top of the stomach into the oesophagus leading to the throat. Without enough stomach acid, food isn’t properly digested however nor are harmful bacteria killed off. So, the right balance of bacteria in the gut gets disrupted. The net result can be more ‘upward’ gas, leading to belching and heartburn caused by acid leaking.

If a person under-produces stomach acid this can be supplemented as betaine hydrochloride. I explain how to do this in my report on GastroEnterological Reflux Disorder (GERD) and Acid Reflux Relief.

Dysbiosis – imbalanced bacteria

This then highlights the next ‘test’. You may have an imbalance of the right bacteria in the gut, called dysbiosis. While there are stool tests which can measure what’s going on, available through nutritional therapists, I often recommend two weeks to a month taking a good probiotic supplement every day. This needs to contain both Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacteria, and at least 1 to 5 billion viable organisms per dose.

If this solves your problem all well and good, but there are some gut ‘infections’ that need a different approach. An example of this is infection with Helicobacter pylori, the organism that causes most stomach ulcers. Read my report on stomach ulcers if this is your problem.

Another example here would be some kind of food poisoning in which case you may need antibiotics if it doesn’t resolve quickly. I also recommend taking probiotics to restore healthy gut bacteria.

My digestive support supplement provides both a full array of digestive enzymes and probiotics, plus glutamine powder, which nourishes the cells that line the gut.

Allergy or Intolerance?

If you’ve ruled out indigestion and dysbiosis the next most likely contributor to your digestive problems is a food allergy or intolerance. Allergies are caused by the immune system producing antibodies that ‘attack’ certain food proteins because it considers them as aliens. The most extreme type of allergic reaction involves a type of antibody called IgE. If you have a pin prick allergy test on your arm, in which a drop of potential allergens are put on a pin prick, if you react you get a red wheal. This immediate reaction, within ten minutes, is an IgE reaction.

But many reactions against food involve a different kind of antibody called IgG. Most people call these food intolerances even though they do fit the bill for the definition of an allergic reaction. IgG reactions don’t occur immediately so it isn’t always easy to know what you react to.

For this reason it is worth having a test to find out what you may be reacting to. This can be done from a tiny amount of blood, collectable with a home test kit. The leading laboratory is called www.yorktest.com. They send you a kit, you prick your finger (it isn’t painful) and send them the blood as instructed.

They then measure the presence of IgG antibodies in your blood and give you a report that tells you how strongly your immune system is reacting against which foods.

Healing the gut

The first step is to avoid those foods you react strongly to. You can ‘rotate’ those foods which produce a mild reaction which means eating them not more than every five days. (If you eat a reactive food every day your level of reactivity builds up.) Yorktest include a session with a nutritional therapist by phone who can help you do it right.

The good news is that IgG antibody reactions often go away if you a) avoid the food strictly for 3 to 4 months and b) heal the gut. The same is not true for IgE based reactions. I, for example, have an IgE allergy to milk. I always react even if I haven’t had any for a year even though there are things I can do to reduce the severity of the reaction.

We often develop food intolerances because the gut wall becomes inflamed or damaged allowing incompletely digested food proteins to enter the body and bloodstream. The gut wall is also damaged by alcohol, painkillers, too much coffee and fried foods.

Certain foods irritate the gut wall. An example is wheat, containing gliadin. This is why a lot of people are somewhat intolerant of wheat. However, this may not be the whole story because an ancient form of wheat, kamut khorosan doesn’t seem to do this. In a study giving kamut wheat or regular wheat to IBS sufferers all their symptoms – bloating, indigestion and abdominal pain, bowel regularity – got better on kamut wheat.

Fortunately, the cells that line the gut wall heal and replenish very quickly, especially when you feed them an amino acid called l-glutamine. So, supplementing l-glutamine can speed up gut healing. My digestive support supplement contains l-glutamine however if you want to heal a ‘leaky’ gut it is better to have 5 grams (a heaped teaspoon) of glutamine powder in cold water (hot water destroys this amino acid) last thing at night or at least half an hour before eating.

In summary

  • Take digestive enzymes with each meal
  • Take probiotics daily for at least two weeks
  • Identify and avoid your food intolerances
  • Take glutamine daily for at least two weeks

For more help and advice read my book Improve Your Digestion