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6 Signs that your digestive health may be off-balance

Your body does a pretty good job of telling you when something isn’t quite right. For instance, when you’re stressed, exhausted or not eating right, it can send you some loud signals that all is not well inside. So what are some of the signs that your digestive health is off-balance, and what can you do about it?

hands over digestive system

Photo credit: macniak/iStock/360/Getty Images

Dr. Sandra Cabot, the medical and executive director of the Australian Women’s Health Advisory Service, shares six signs that your digestive health may be off-balance.

1

Bloating

This is a pretty clear sign that your digestive system is off-balance. It could be as simple as overeating, or it could be a sign that a bigger issue is developing. “You don’t have to have coeliac disease to be gluten-intolerant,” Dr. Cabot says. “Gluten — which is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats — can cause excess inflammation in the stomach, small and large bowel and poor absorption of many nutrients.”

Solution: Experiment with cutting out certain foods from your diet, such as sugar and gluten.

2

Chronic constipation

If it happens as a one-off, it may just be a signal that you ate something your system doesn’t really agree with. However, “A change of bowel actions from your regular pattern — either constipation or diarrhoea — is a sign that something isn’t right,” Dr. Cabot says.

Solution: “A fibre powder called Fibretone is most helpful if you suffer with constipation,” Dr. Cabot says. Make sure you see your doctor if you experience prolonged or persistent symptoms, however, as it could be a sign of a more serious issue.

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3

Heartburn

“It’s a burning feeling in the upper central abdomen and may spread upwards behind the breastbone,” Dr. Cabot explains. “This is often associated with stomach contents refluxing upwards into the gullet (oesophagus) when the burning feeling may extend up to the throat.” It may be caused by overeating, anxiety (which causes the stomach to churn), and too much coffee or alcohol.

Solution: Eliminate irritants from your diet, such as coffee and alcohol. “Aloe vera juice can also soothe the lining of the stomach and intestines and is useful for those with acid reflux, and stomach and duodenal ulcers,” Dr. Cabot says.

4

Itchiness

If you are itchy around your anus, vulva or other parts of your skin — such as your scalp — it could indicate a Candida imbalance or a parasite infection. “Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by yeasts that belong to the genus Candida,” Dr. Cabot says. “Candida fungi usually live harmlessly along with the ‘friendly’ species of bacteria that colonise the gastrointestinal tract… but Candida fungi and other yeasts can multiply out of control if the numbers of friendly bacteria in your gut are reduced.”

Solution: Treatment can include changing your diet to eliminate sugar, and/or taking antibiotics to restore balance to your gut; visit your GP for a formal diagnosis.

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5

Blood

Excess blood in the faeces may indicate a haemorrhoid or a benign polyp, or it could be a sign that something in your digestive system is off-balance, particularly if it happens frequently (i.e. not a one-off event). “Strange-looking objects in the faeces may also signal intestinal parasites,” Dr. Cabot says.

Solution: Again, visit your doctor for personalised treatment. They will ask various questions to get an idea of what is causing the bleeding.

6

Abdominal pain

If you’re experiencing unexplained discomfort in this area, it could be a sign of a range of intestinal problems. If the pain starts in the right upper abdomen and radiates around to the right side of the lower chest and into the right shoulder, it “may signal gallstones, or an inflamed or non-functional gall bladder,” Dr. Cabot says. “This is often associated with nausea or vomiting after eating fatty foods.”

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