Digestive dysfunction is rampant in the US. Approximately 9 million people suffer from at least one digestive problem-abdominal pain, IBS, constipation, or diarrhea. One in five of us suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract characterized by diarrhea, stomach cramps and bloating. Digestive problems are the number one reason people see their medical doctor, especially as we age.
These conditions have serious effects on our health but what many people don’t know is the enteric(gut) nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels. Serotonin is a hormone that is involved in the regulation of several processes within the brain, including, depression, mood, emotions, aggression, sleep, appetite, anxiety, memory and perceptions. Low serotonin levels are often attributed to anxiety, panic attacks, obesity, insomnia, and fibromyalgia.
Your digestive tract has a direct effect on your mood. Besides serotonin levels getting depleted, when the digestive tract function is altered you also don’t effectively absorb your food so you become deficient in important mood enhancing vitamins and minerals. A network of neurons lining our guts that is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it our “second brain”.The connection between your mood and how your bowels are moving extends to anxiety and depression. As Dr. Emeran Mayer, Director of the Center for Neurovisceral Sciences & Women’s Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, asserts, “The majority of patients with anxiety and depression will also have alterations of their GI function.”
Digestive dysfunction also affects hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and cortisol. Imbalances with these hormones can increase depression, alter sleep, and increase symptoms associated with PMS and menopause.
The traditional medical approach to digestive dysfunction is medication to stop the symptoms. Acid blockers for heartburn, laxatives for constipation, the pink stuff for diarrhea. These work temporarily, but they do not take care of the cause of the problem. None of these medications do anything to restore the low serotonin and hormone imbalances.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to support healthy GI function and resolve digestive health problems. Finding the cause of the GI malfunction is paramount in correcting it permanently.
We utilize many functional medicine tests such as the Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis or CDSA to analyze the gut and based on the testing recommend diet and lifestyle changes as well as proper nutritional supplementation.