In today’s world of high stress, processed meals, antibiotics and chemicals in our food supply and over-prescription of medications, many people suffer from poor digestion.
With more than 100 million Americans experiencing digestive problems, most people know that bloating, constipation, heartburn and gas are signs that something is amiss with their intestinal health.
But there are plenty of other symptoms that can indicate your digestive system may not be in tip-top shape! From brittle nails to arthritis, here are some of the lesser known indicators of poor digestion that you should watch out for.
If you’re experiencing bad breath that won’t go away no matter how much you brush your teeth then you may have to look a little deeper – right down to your digestive system.
Referring to digestive issues as a ‘little-known but major cause of bad breath’, Dr. Mercola states that a fishy smell suggests kidney problems, while a fruity-smell may signal uncontrolled diabetes. Caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, the smell may even get worse after you eat something sugary, because the nasty bacteria is feeding off the sugar.
Digestive system disorders, such as reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are also a cause of foul smelling breath.
Take a high dose of probiotics (here are some of the best probiotic supplements) and fermented foods to help your body better digest foods and feed the good bacteria. These foods also alter the flora in your mouth leading to better smelling breath in no time.
Recommended Reading: 12 Probiotic Foods To Improve Your Gut Health
Impaired digestion causes the production of smelly chemicals in the gut which are then absorbed back into the body and are eliminated through the skin in the form of sweat.
Because protein-rich foods (particularly red meat) can be difficult for the body to digest, they can often cause body odor as it takes them longer to pass through our digestive system. A 2006 study published in the ‘Chemical Senses’ journal reported that the participants on a non-meat diet had a significantly more attractive, more pleasant and less intense smell than the meat eating participants.
If you are experiencing a rise in body odor, especially after eating, then your digestive enzymes levels may be lower than ideal. Avoid red meats and fatty foods which can be harder for the body to process.
Tiredness after Eating
If you need a post-dinner nap then you may be suffering from a sluggish digestive system. When your system is under strain your body needs to direct its energy to digesting and assimilating the food, leaving you feeling tired.
If you are overeating your body will also struggle to fuel both you and your digestive system and you’ll feel sleepy. Try smaller meals with healthy snacks in between to give your system a break.
Taking a short walk after your meal has been shown to improve digestion – plus the fresh air should help give you a burst of energy. You could also try taking a spoonful of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water before each meal, which is beneficial for some in helping digestive issues.
Iron Deficiency / Anemia
Have you been diagnosed with iron deficiency, or suspect you are anemic? Take a look at your digestive health. Gastrointestinal blood loss is cited as the most common cause of iron deficiency in men and in post-menopausal women. The gastrointestinal tract (containing the stomach and intestines) is the part of the body that is responsible for digesting food. There are often no obvious signs and symptoms of this blood loss.
In addition, insufficient stomach acid, leading to poor digestion, is another cause listed by the Iron Disorders Institute. And a digestive disorder, such as celiac disease, may lead to anemia due to the body’s impaired ability to absorb nutrients from digested food.
Brittle nails can be a good indicator that you aren’t producing enough stomach acid to digest food properly. This means you won’t be reaping nutrients like protein, calcium and zinc from your foods – which are all essential for great nails and hair. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, unhealthy nails and hair are considered to be a common physical sign of poor digestion because they reflect your ability to absorb and digest nutrients.
The American Academy of Dermatology cites digestive problems as one of the main causes of ingrown toenails – and you thought it was just because your shoes were too tight! In addition, an iron deficiency (as mentioned above) can cause the nail bed to be thin and concave and have raised ridges or spoon-shaped nails.
Recommended Reading: 10 Warnings That you Fingernails May Be Sending You
Acne & Other Skin Conditions
Many skin conditions (like acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis or rosacea) actually begin in the digestive system. Dr. Mark Hyman MD stresses the importance of understanding that many diseases that seem to be totally unrelated to the gut, including eczema and psoriasis, are actually caused by digestive issues.
If you have dry or flaky skin, it may be that your body is struggling to digest fat, because it’s low in the enzyme lipase. Similarly, if your body is not breaking down food properly, you won’t be absorbing vitamins essential for smooth and glowing skin like A, K and E.
Vitamin A is key in preventing acne. Not only does it help the skin repair itself but it boosts the immune system so you can fight off the acne-causing bacteria. Vitamin K prevents redness, pimples and speeds up healing; and the antioxidant qualities of Vitamin E are essential for clear and healthy skin.
Low levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut can also cause inflammation which leads to puffy skin and uneven skin tone.
Food Intolerances & Allergies
Digestive problems are sometimes thought to be an underlying factor in the development of food allergies in children. While it is important to identify and avoid the foods that cause a reaction, it’s also important to take steps to improve overall digestive health.
Food intolerances can often be caused by a lack of certain digestive enzymes, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, if you are deficient in the lactase enzyme, then you may not be able to digest lactose from dairy products – making you ‘lactose intolerant’.
Allergies and intolerances are not the same thing, even though many use the words interchangeably, and must be approached in different ways. It’s important to speak with your doctor in relation to any reactions you may have – particularly in the case of an allergy, which can be more severe and dangerous than an intolerance.
Poor digestion wreaks havoc in the entire body, with many now believing that it could be a contributing factor in the development of arthritis.
Since digestive issues lead to system inflammation, and inflammation causes joint pain, many nutritional practitioners and doctors are beginning to look at arthritis as a symptom of poor digestion. A link between the two has long been recognized in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a common autoimmune condition, is now being increasingly linked to gut health and the permeability of the intestinal tract. If food products and toxins can break through the intestinal tract, then they may provoke the body into producing an immune response, causing the symptoms of RA and a host of other illnesses like celiac disease, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
The research also suggests that further studies should be carried out to discover if these kinds of autoimmune responses may be reversed.
Recommended Reading: 9 Powerful Natural Remedies For Arthritis
Difficulty Maintaining Weight
Weight loss can be a symptom of a digestive problem due to the inability to fully absorb food nutrients, according to experts.
However, a few digestive issues, including slow bowel movements, may cause weight gain. Dr. Kenneth Brown details how he sees patients, struggling with acid reflux or stomach ulcers, eating frequently to temporarily decrease their pain. It works because the saliva and food neutralize the acid, but once the food is digested there is even more pain from rebound acid production.
The bloating caused by poor digestion, by food intolerances and even from medications taken to relieve the symptoms of poor digestion can also be confused for weight gain.
Candida is a type of yeast which is naturally occurring in the intestinal tract. While we need a certain level of this yeast in our tract we can run into problems if it begins to take over. There are so many symptoms of yeast overgrowth – many of which are related to digestive function.
Besides being a symptom of Candida overgrowth, poor digestion can actually be a cause of Candida. Because stomach acid aids in sterilizing the stomach and killing bacteria and yeast that may be ingested, it’s imperative that our stomach acids remain at optimum levels. However, poor digestive health can lead stomach acid levels to become low, allowing bacteria and yeast to find their way into to the intestines where they multiply and cause problems.
While all of these symptoms in isolation don’t necessarily point to a digestive issue, pay attention to your body as several together could definitely call your digestive health into question. It’s always important to consult a doctor to diagnose and treat any possible medical conditions.