Have you always wondering whether your own individual digestive health is normal. It’s certainly hard to gauge, as not everyone is an open book about their digestion sharing their personal experiences in the bathroom. This can make it hard to tell what is normal and what isn’t, ultimately making bowel talk feel like a taboo subject. Our concept of what is normal digestively can also be skewed. For instance, perhaps your friend talks about being bloated and gassy which makes you feel that your bloated and gassy must be ‘normal’. Guess what? It’s not!
For our clinical nutritionists at The JCN Clinic, talking and discussing topics like bowel movements, wind, burping, reflux, bloating and more is second nature. In fact, the largest percentage of our clients at the JCN Clinic come to us with digestive issues. I want to therefore open an important discussion about the type of digestive symptoms we should be red flagging and ultimately assisting with clinical intervention. Below are the top 11 symptoms of digestive problems that require further investigation and treatment:
1. infrequent bowel movements
If you are skipping days between bowel movements, this is a sign of a sluggish digestive system that is not passing stools with enough frequency. Ideally we should have a bowel movement every day, often around the same time of the day. You may even go twice a day. When you have infrequent bowel movements, for example you go every 2 -3 days, then you are not eliminating waste regularly enough. This build up is associated with increased recycling of toxins from the stool back into enterohepatic circulation (the blood system that runs from the gut to your liver). This results in common local and systemic symptoms such as bloating, poor appetite, skin breakouts, headaches and smelly gas. (1)
2. overly frequent bowel movements
This is the reverse scenario. Daily or twice daily is great, but if you are going up to 4 – 6 times a day, particularly with urgency and looseness, or with a feeling of never feeling like you got it all out (see incomplete bowel movements) then this is also not right. This means that your intestinal tract is upset and trying to eliminate something with more urgency.
3. incomplete evacuation
Incomplete evacuation (aka feeling like you haven’t got it all out) – if you are spending a lot of time on the toilet trying to go, but not feeling relief when you finally do – like there is still more in there that won’t come out – then again this is not a good bowel habit. This is a sign of intestinal aggravation and your digestive system struggling between being sluggish and constipated and also trying to expel contents it is not happy with.
4. loose bowels
If your bowel movements are loose, as in sloppy, diarrhoea, watery and/or explosive then your digestive system is sending you a strong message. It is either not happy with what is going into it or trying to expel the contents quickly and/or you may have a strong bacterial/yeast overgrowth or a parasite (parasitic causes are often less likely). Stress can also cause loose bowels, yet I often see that the stress exacerbates an underlying issue more so.
5. blood and/or mucus in your bowel movements
A little blood from a small tear around the rectum is not a major concern, but a lot of blood or blood in the stool itself (called occult blood – often darker in colour) needs to be investigated. Similarly, mucus in the stools is sign of strong inflammation and is often linked with chronic food intolerances and intestinal inflammation.
6. excessive wind
So we all get a bit windy on and off, and a little bit of flatulence through the day is normal. However, if you have a build up of wind that creates stomach pains and just keeps building up and needs to be expelled constantly, then again this is an issue of digestive unease. Excessive wind is often due to gut bacterial imbalance, food reactivity’s and general gut inflammation.
7. ongoing belching
Again, we all have a good old burp ever now and then. Yet if you have a tendency to burp constantly then this is a sign of upper digestive discomfort. Excessive belching is often due to food reactivates and/or stomach acid issues, which may also be an overflow from lower digestive concerns related to small intestinal overgrowth (SIBO) or lower bowel microbial imbalances.
We all can feel a little bloated occasionally, especially woman at around the time of our period. However, you should not feel like your belly is distended to the point that you look pregnant. You should also not get a build up of bloating through the day to the point of strong abdominal distension, or a significant bloated and distended abdomen straight after a meal. Strong bloating is a sign of gut bacterial imbalance, yeast overgrowth and food intolerances. It is also very common with the above bowel symptoms.
9. a super noisy, gurgling gut
When our digestive system is unhappy it likes to make a bit of noise and let us know. Not everyone experiences this, but it is common. If you find that your belly is constantly rumbling, gurgling and almost feeling like it is ‘popping’ with air pockets then your gut is not happy. This type of intestinal noise is usually associated with food intolerances and/or an imbalanced gut microbial environment.
10. pain & cramping
It is not normal to experience pain and cramping in your abdomen or stomach area. Whether that pain be a short stabbing pain or an ongoing ache, pain is telling you something is not okay. Pain is often due to inflammation or sometimes functional issues, so it’s vital to get this checked out. Pain and cramping is also linked to the increased gas production often seen with a lot of bloating due to a physical build up of gas pressure, hence they are often seen hand in hand.
11. reflux and indigestion
That burning sensation you get in your stomach (that’s just below the centre of your ribs) can sometimes be bought on by stress, but more commonly is due to food reactivity’s or low stomach pH due to ongoing gut inflammation. Occasionally this may be a structural issue with the oesophagus, but this is less common than the aforementioned. Reflux and indigestion are also often exacerbated by bacterial imbalances in the small intestinal tract or bile issues.
If you feel like some of the above resonate with you, please know that these are some of the most common symptoms we see at the JCN clinic. When given the correct and appropriate treatment by a trained clinical nutritionist your digestive issues can be resolved. What do we mean by resolved? We mean a well formed stool, passed once to twice daily with ease, no blood/mucus, with no excessive bloating, pain, burping, wind and/or indigestion. Sounds good doesn’t it!
Need personalised nutrition advice catered to your needs?
If you are after personalised nutrition advice and dietary planning individualised to your health and dietary needs then contact us at The JCN Clinic with your enquiry. We are always happy to answer any questions you have!
Jessica Cox is a qualified practicing Nutritionist with a Bachelor Health Science (Nutrition) and over 15 years of clinical experience. She is the founder and director JCN Clinic, published author and established recipe developer. Jessica is well respected within health and wellness space for her no fad approach and use of evidence-based nutrition.