Articles GI Issues

Because digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, constipation, and others, are so widespread today, the topic of gut health has become popular. Digestive diseases are one of the most severe and costly health issues in the United States, affecting about 3 million people yearly. They are also among the top reasons for absenteeism in the workforce in developed countries. However, stomach disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in developing nations.

What is the source of this global digestive illness epidemic? What factors contribute to the development and spread of these illnesses among diverse populations with varied customs, diets, and genes? How will they endure, and what can we do about it?

What are Digestive Issues?

Digestive diseases affect the digestive apparatus, from the esophagus to the large intestine. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are also involved in digestion.

Common symptoms of digestive diseases include:

Depending on the type and severity, digestive disorders can be minor to life-threatening. Digestive conditions can worsen over time without treatment, even if they are limited to one's gastrointestinal tract. Aside from problems within the digestive system, the nervous system influences digestive diseases. Functional and structural are the two major categories of digestive disorders due to this interaction.

  • Functional gastrointestinal diseases manifest when everything in the physical GI system appears normal, but it doesn't work correctly. These include irritable bowel syndrome, functional constipation, acid reflux, and more. This may be due to an imbalanced nervous system triggered by chronic stress over a long time.
  • When structural abnormalities appear visibly abnormal in the digestive tract and don't function correctly, that's when structural gastrointestinal diseases occur. Some ailments include inflammatory bowel disease, constrictions in the intestines, diverticular disease, and colorectal cancer.

Most Common Digestive Diseases

You're not alone if you're experiencing any of the following gut disorders.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome: IBS-D (diarrhea), IBS-C (constipation), and IBS-M (mixed).
  • IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis are all inflammatory bowel diseases.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPR)
  • Diverticular disease
  • Functional Constipation
  • Gut infections

These gut diseases became more common as Western nations industrialized and expanded throughout Asia, South America, and Africa, along with their economic development. IBD is also frequently identified early in life, implying that the burden of the disease continues to increase as more people are diagnosed and the condition deteriorates over time.

In traditional medicine, IBD is most commonly medicated with pharmaceuticals, such as steroids and biological drugs. And while diet, stress levels, and environmental factors are increasingly being seen as root causes of the disease, usually, these issues only receive supportive treatments in addition to drug therapy.

Gastro Health Statistics (International)

In a study conducted in 33 countries with 73,076 adults, 40% of the participants had some form of functional gastrointestinal disorder. These disorders include irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, and many more constipation variations.

According to research from the United European Gastroenterology, gastrointestinal and liver diseases are responsible for over a million deaths each year throughout Europe, especially among people in their fifties. IBD, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis increased dramatically across Europe during the last 30 years, particularly in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.

A recent study has shown that as countries in East Asia, such as South Korea, Japan, and China, continue to develop and adopt Western dietary habits, the number of gastrointestinal diseases will increase. The study projects that by 2035 there will be a significant rise in inflammatory bowel disease, specifically in Asia and Iran.

Based on these statistics, the main question is not whether digestive diseases are increasing globally but where and to what extent they will continue to impact human health.

Why Are Gastro Issues Common in the US?

Why are Americans riddled with digestive illnesses? Although there is no one answer, we can gather some clues based on research on the microbiome, environmental factors, and societal pressures.

Undoubtedly, one of the frequent causes of digestive issues is stress. Hence, it's no wonder Americans tend to be a stressed population with all the continuous news around us about political arguments, class disparities, expensive living costs in many areas, and other pressure-filled topics. Whenever we experience imbalanced stress levels disrupts our nervous system, creating functional digestive issues such as IBS.

Overall, Americans are exposed to more harmful pesticides than people in other countries, like China, Brazil, and members of the European Union. Pesticides in food and water can damage the gastrointestinal system by causing leaky gut and dysbiosis.

However, the standard American diet is the most common culprit. This eating consists of lots of carbohydrates, refined sugar, poisonous seed oils, and processed meals lacking in fiber and micronutrients. Gut dysbiosis and weakened immune functioning can all be attributed to this form of eating.

Common Link in Digestive Diseases

Although the digestive system is different for everyone, recent research suggests that environmental causes have more to do with disorders than genetics.

For example, individuals with inflammatory bowel disease are often found to have low levels of beneficial bacteria in their microbiomes and deficiencies in the metabolites produced by these bacteria. These include specific vitamins and gut-supportive short-chain fatty acids like butyrate.

Various chemicals, pollutants, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and other hazardous substances in our water and air might also lead to digestive diseases. Your digestive system is one of the first areas that these substances affect when you consume them.

There are plenty more: inadequate nutrition from processed foods, high-stress levels, traumatic experiences, or simply a lack of social support can all take a toll on gut health.

Are Gastro Issues Reversible?

You may take charge of your digestive health by following a nutritious diet, reducing stress and relaxing the nervous system, and limiting your exposure to toxins and pollutants as much as possible. This entails making conscious food selections, planning meals, committing to mindfulness exercises like meditation and yoga, and upgrading or downsizing personal care products. Certain nutrients might also be supplemented to aid in gut health maintenance.

Probiotics have become a popular gut health supplement for many, and it's easy to see why. They are backed by a plethora of high-quality scientific research, which is why they are so popular. But be careful about guessing what probiotic strains you'll need based on your reading; one of the most prevalent myths about probiotics is that they're all the same. It's impossible to put results from one probiotic strain to another.

Taking Control of Your Gastro Health

Gut health is becoming more of a problem worldwide, but more resources are now available to help you learn about your gut health and implement changes to support it. Gut health is highly individualized, and dietary, lifestyle, and supplement experimentation is usually required to figure out what works for you. However, good gut health is within reach for everyone—whether you want to heal from a digestive illness or improve your digestion for better overall well-being. If you have a gastro issue or have been diagnosed, reach out to GI Associates and set up an appointment, our professional team of doctors can help.

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