Have you been told you have a food intolerance? maybe gluten or dairy? Time and time again food intolerances are given as the reason for why you get bloated, gassy, stomach cramps, diarrohea, urgency, constipation, brain fog etc. I often have clients coming to me who have given up whole food groups thinking that they have a food allergy or intolerance and can’t eat these foods anymore. It may improve things a bit by cutting out these foods but it is not giving you complete freedom of symptoms and you still get random gut problems, but what if your “food intolerance” is actually the symptom of low stomach acid! I see this far more frequently than I see true allergies and intolerances, especially in women over 40.
How is Your Stomach Acid?
When we eat, we chew using (hopefully) a mouthful of teeth, swallow, the food descends into a bag of acid. The stomach should be pre-fired up with hydrochloric acid which is one of the strongest acids known to man! The acid effects the bonds holding food molecules breaking them apart rendering them into simpler structures ready for digestion in the small intestine. If this chain of events is weakened or disrupted digestion is hindered and food remains in the stomach for longer leading to bloating and fermentation (gas). This can be the cause of excessive burping, acid reflux and indigestion which will often end up with a doctor prescribing antacids yet this could be the exact opposite of what is needed.
When acid production is good, food is mixed into an acid loaded mushy mess (chyme) in the stomach and after a time, squirted into the small intestine. The change of pH in the small intestine then triggers a further delivery of digestive enzymes to be added to the mix to break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins ready for digestion and absorption. The majority of nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine leaving water and waste matter to continue on its journey through to next stage; the colon where most of the water is resorbed leaving behind the undigestible fibres and waste which is moulded into sausage shaped lumps ready for expulsion.
This is why it can help to describe “North to South” digestion. Every part of the journey starting North at your brain, continuing south to the very “last stop” is all designed so perfectly but often our stress, diet and lifestyle choices get in the way.
Now consider if this could be you…a stomach not producing enough acid known as hypochlorydia is more common than you would think. Hypochlorydia can occur when there has been a period of illness, after an infection requiring medication including PPI drugs that inhibit acid production such as Omeprazole, but this is also very common during perimenopause and menopause. The loss of oestrogen and fluctuating hormones can play havoc with our digestive system! Hormones are powerful and have far-reaching effects including the gut and how we digest food.
In a state of low stomach acid food is unable to be effectively broken down properly resulting in a heavy feeling in the stomach (just under the ribs/bra-line). Undigested food sits there “like a stone” and can leave you with a distended stomach which feels very uncomfortable. This is often how my clients describe the feeling after eating a meal “like a stone” often sitting in the middle, under the bra line or ribs.
A food intolerance such as lactose intolerance means you have an inability to break down lactose (the sugar naturally occuring in dairy products). The intolerance is a symptom of the lack or insufficiency of an enzyme. This is where people can get confused and begin restricting their diet by cutting out “gluten” or “dairy” but it is rarely the foods that are the problem. By supporting your body to create digestive enzymes these foods can be included in a healthy, balanced diet without any problem. I have worked with people who have restricted their diets so severely that they are in a terrible state and require a long term, slow and careful approach to restoring their digestive health which is possible but you don’t want to get there in the first place. Sadly, people are misdirected to follow a longterm low fibre diet or “low residue” diet to fix the problem but this is not going to help fix anything, not in the longterm.
Fix Your Digestion
This is why the very first step I check when working out where things could be going wrong with a client’s digestion is to ask if they eat on the go or in a rush or do they spend time prepping meals, sit down to eat at a table and chew each mouthful carefully before swallowing? Well, honestly do you sit down when you eat? I bet for most of us we are grabbing a mouthful between talking, emptying dishwasher, replying to messages/emails??
These critical anticipation and initiation steps are the very first steps of proper digestion and can be so effective when we actually do take the time to implement them.
We have forgotten how to eat properly with such fast-paced lives, mealtimes where we sit and engage with our food are saved for weekends or the odd evening only. It is so important to anticipate mealtimes, think about your food, prepare and touch the food, smell it, use your senses. The sight, smell and touch of the food increases your stomach acid production and digestive enzymes so your stomach can be prepared for the food. These senses send a message from the brain to your stomach and initiate acids and enzymes to be pumped in to help you digest the food on its way.
1, 2, 3, Digest!
Try these simple steps and see if it makes a difference to how you feel.
- Anticipate! Spend time chopping, prepping and laying your food out ready to eat
- Use your eyes, nose, touch, taste to engage all of your senses as you begin to eat
- Sit down. Chew each mouthful 20-30 times before swallowing.
I do wonder if suspected food intolerances would halve if we simply sat down, engaged with our food and ate properly chewing each mouthful carefully. I am sure they would. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have had a lot of happy clients who have managed to get back to including all of the food they once used to enjoy after a few tweaks to how they eat and potential trigger foods*
Eating properly is becoming a lost art. We have literally forgotten how to recognise hunger and prepare ourselves for food anymore, we have forgotten how to eat!
If you get bloated, uncomfortable and very gassy after eating you could give my simple 1, 2 3, steps a go. If you continue to feel that food leaves you uncomfortable or you get any urgency, constipation or have *food triggers it is worth booking a discovery call to see how I can help. These symptoms are often very easily resolved with a few tweaks to your diet and you may need some digestive support using enzymes. Either way, let’s have a chat and discuss as you are unique and there are a myriad of things for us to consider from symptoms, stress, sleep, hormones, diet, lifestyle, medication etc.,
Food intolerance testing
Food intolerance testing can be helpful at identifying specific triggers in diet however, the aim of finding the root cause often lies in your digestive enzyme production and your gut microbial balance so should be undertaken after working on improving digestive sufficiency and improving gut health first. This is why I never recommend food intolerance testing at the outset. It can be a complete waste of money. All you will get is a long list of foods to give up leading to a restrictive diet that could end up making you much worse off with deficiencies.
Digestive enzyme support
As we get older we sometimes have a reduced digestive enzyme production. This can be due to an inability to make enough enzymes from a specific nutrient deficiency or a larger need for them in some cases to help you digest and absorb nutrients. Symptoms you might need digestive enzyme support can be bloating, distention, constipation and flatulence.
If you have been going around in circles for years with these symptoms and never got to the bottom of it (no pun intended) then it is time for us to discuss stool testing. The Comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA) is the best way to get answers of what is going on inside your gut. It will provide answers including bacterial overgrowth, lack of beneficial species of bacteria, yeast overgrowth, digestive enzyme capacity, inflammation, fat absorption, how you digest carbohydrates and proteins and check for pathogens and parasites. This is why it is called the comprehensive! It doesn’t miss anything and gives us the information you need for us to get a bespoke, targeted plan of action in place to get resolution once and for all!
I hope you found this helpful. Please let me know how you get on and if I can be of any help.
Evie (gut geek).
*trigger foods: a specific food that purportedly triggers a series of symptoms
The information contained in this blog is provided for information purposes only. The contents are not intended to amount to medical advice and you should not rely on any of the contents without first seeking advice from a professional. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this blog without first seeking individual advice through privately consulting with Evie Whitehead registered, qualified, Nutritional Therapist. dipION, mBANT, CNHC. Evie Whitehead disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents.