Here are some examples of digestive problem questions I was asked at the BBC Eatwell show when I appeared on an Expert Panel. (I've written the questions from memory and also added some other common questions I get asked!).
Q: Can stress have an affect on our digestive system?
A: Yes! When we're stressed our body is using the sympathetic part of our nervous system. For digestion to work optimally we need to be 'Resting & Digesting', this involves our parasympathetic nervous system. The stress process removes resources away from our digestion because we don't need our digestion when we're about to 'fight or flight'.
It's an evolutionary process; as caveman (or woman) we would see a lion and get stressed, our body had the choice to fight or flight (run away). The body just knew it was a stress and it released stress hormones, our blood pressure increased, sugar was released into our blood stream to give us the energy to run away AND energy was taken away from our digestion.
The issue with modern day living is that we're often stressed, if we're sitting in a traffic jam getting stressed then our 'fight or flight' process is working and we're not giving our digestive system the support it needs.
Q: Can the health of our digestive system affect the rest of the body?
A: All of our body systems are connected like a spiders web - digestion, detoxification, hormonal systems, immunity, bones and joints. If one of them is out of balance then of course if might influence our other body areas.
We know that the neurotransmitter serotonin the 'happy hormone' is found in the gut and in the brain. We know that much of our immune system is housed in the gut. There are just two examples, an out of balance digestive system might affect our immunity or our mood. When I teach yoga I often notice rumbling stomaches at the end of class, I see this as a good sign 'Rest & Digest' is taking place.
Q: Can you recommend supplements for my digestive system.
A: I can recommend this as part of a nutrition consultation. I need to check that what I recommend is tailored to you and if you take medications I check that there are no known interactions. I sometimes recommend that you organise a digestive stool test (done discreetly in your home) as this can help guide us even more.
Q: Can you recommend a probiotic? Could I just eat probiotic food?
A: Probiotic is the generic name for the 'beneficial bacteria', these can become out of balance in our digestive system. You can eat food with probiotic properties and the most obvious is natural yoghurt, although it is unlikely to give ynou as high a density of bacteria as a supplement .
Q: I've been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease but I'm still having problems, what can I do?
A: You may need help from a number of areas, a Nutritional Therapist can help advise you on avoiding gluten containing foods, choosing alternative foods to ensure you are getting the right nutrients and give you practical support and motivation. There are many Functional Laboratory tests that may highlight other actions you can take, a 1-1 consultation is recommended. For examples there are tests that look at foods that might act in a similar way to gluten. Your GP may also be able to offer you further advice and the Nutritonal Therapist can write to them for you. The Coeliac Society has some excellent information available.
Q: Can you tell me about the FODMAP diet, should I try this if I have digestive issues?
A:The FODMAP diet is a challenging diet that excludes certain types of foods that contain specific types of sugars, it can also mean excluding foods that are otherwise healthy. There are ceratin sugars that can ferment in the digestive system and cause digestive imbalance, there is research to support this type of diet for some people. If you came to see me with digestive issues then there are a number of other actions we could take before moving to this approach if it was needed.
Q: Is there anything else I can do to help myself?
A: Keeping a Food Diary can be really helpful, note down what you ate and when and how you felt a few times each day. You could give your digestion a rating of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and see if you can link it to any foods.
A Nutritional Therapist can then help you in a couple of ways.
If you can identify something that doesn't suit you we can look at alternative nutrient sources and also consider if this is a short or long term approach.
If you can't identify what it is or have many issues then the gut may need some support or 'healing' or there may be food groups that can be investigated.
(A couple of weekends ago I was on the Expert Panel at the BBC Eatwell show answering questions about digestive health. I appeared with Amelia Freer a fellow Nutritional Therapist and we were interviewed by Jane Wake. This was part of my role for Nuffield Health).