Digestion problems such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and heartburn affect around 40% of us at any one time. Most of these symptoms are short-term and are easily treatable with over-the-counter remedies or small changes to diet.
However, your digestive health is not only related to what you eat, there are also links between digestion and stress and other psychological factors, and some medicines also cause unpleasant digestive symptoms.
It may also be that your digestive problems relate to a more serious complaint (such as Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or ovarian cancer). If you have persistent symptoms, have lost weight unexpectedly, are having difficulty swallowing or have blood in your stools, see your doctor.
Everyone is different, and the foods that inflame or irritate someone else's gut will not necessarily irritate yours. However, common foods and drinks that irritate the digestive system are:
Things that are generally good for your gut include:
If you are not sure which foods are causing you digestive problems, try keeping a diary of the foods you eat and any digestive symptoms you experience for a couple of weeks. This should help you identify the cause of the problem, and may be a useful resource to take to your doctor.
Everyone reacts to stress in different ways; some people eat more when they feel stressed, for example, while others eat less. Stress can cause some people to feel sick, experience diarrhoea or stomach ache, and others get constipation. Chronic stress can actually change the bacteria in your gut and can aggravate stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and disorders like Celiac disease.
Although the evidence is not conclusive, it is thought that the bacteria in your gut can actually influence how depressed or anxious you feel. Mice who had experienced a stressor (being separated from their mothers) early in life and had certain types of bacteria in their gut showed anxious/depressed behaviour later on in life, while those who had been exposed to the same stressor, yet did not have the same bacteria in their gut, did not show the same symptoms of anxiety/depression.
Transferring the bacteria to ‘normal’ mice, also brought on the anxious/depressive symptoms, suggesting a causal link between gut bacteria and anxiety and depression.
Of course, this study relates to mice and not humans and only examines anxiety and depression as brought on by early stressors. But many of us do experience digestive problems when we feel anxious or depressed. Some know all too well the feeling of an 'anxiety stomach pain', suggesting that our mental health and digestive function are linked.