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Gastrointestinal Health (Probiotics)

The human body relies on different microorganisms to keep functioning properly and to keep our body healthy. Probiotics are one of such microorganisms.

Probiotics are microorganisms that provide a health benefit to its host. Probiotics are used as a treatment for various medical conditions especially in the treatment of a variety of gastrointestinal diseases or disorders.

What Is Gastrointestinal Disorder?

Gastrointestinal disorders refer to any disease or condition that occurs within the GI tract (gastrointestinal tract). The gastrointestinal tract is a series of long continuous organs from the mouth to the anus.

These organs are; the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine, and the anus. These organs alongside the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder make up the digestive system.

Gastrointestinal disorders could be functional or structural. Functional disorders are conditions where the gastrointestinal tract appears normal but does not function properly. Structural disorders are conditions in which the gastrointestinal tract looks abnormal and does not function properly too.

Often, the structural disorder would have to be removed or corrected with surgery. Some examples of structural gastrointestinal disorders are colon cancer, colon polyps, hemorrhoids, etc.

A lot of factors could upset the gastrointestinal tract and affect its ability to function properly. Some of these factors are:

  • Eating foods that have a low fiber content
  • Not doing enough exercise
  • Stress
  • Traveling or a change in your routine
  • Change of environment
  • Large intake of dairy products
  • Resisting the urge for a bowel movement
  • Pregnancy
  • Overuse of laxatives like stool softener. It tends to weaken the bowel muscles over time
  • Taking antacid drugs that contain aluminum or calcium
  • Intake of certain medicines like iron pills, antidepressants, and strong pain-reliever medicines such as narcotics

Common Gastrointestinal Disorders and Their Symptoms

Different kinds of diseases or conditions can affect the gastrointestinal tract which would have an impact on the digestion process and our overall health. Some of the common gastrointestinal disorders are:

1. Celiac Disease

This disease is a very common gastrointestinal disorder. Research shows that 1 in every 100 Americans are suffering from it even though most of them are not aware that they have the condition. Celiac disease is a serious disorder in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in rye, wheat, and barley. Eating gluten can cause your immune system to attack the small intestine. It damages the Villi (a small fingerlike protrusion in the small intestine which helps in nutrient absorption).

Celiac disease can affect both adults and children and the symptoms are bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, bone loss, fatigue, and anemia.

Currently, the only available treatment for celiac disease is complete avoidance of gluten. Other alternatives to gluten are brown rice, lentils, quinoa, soy flour, amaranth, and cornflour.

2. Constipation

Constipation refers to difficulty or infrequency (less than 3 times a week) in passing out feces (stools). Some of the symptoms of constipation are small, hard, and dry stools which are usually difficult to pass out. Other symptoms are bloating and pain when passing out stools.

Constipation is often caused by lack of or inadequate fiber in your diet. Other causes of constipation are pregnancy, dehydration, inactivity, or the intake of certain medications like antidepressants or iron supplements.

You can treat constipation by exercising regularly, increasing the amount of fiber in your daily diet, and not resisting the urge when you have a bowel movement.

You can also use laxatives to treat constipation. However, only use under medical prescription as the overuse of laxatives could result in a worse condition.

3. Crohn’s Disease

It is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder known as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). It causes patches of inflammation in any of the gastrointestinal tract organs. However, this mostly affects the terminal ileum (the point where the small intestine meets with the large intestine).

The exact cause of this disease is yet to be known. However, it can be inherited because it is genetic and runs in the blood. Stress and diet could further aggravate the disease. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, and rectal bleeding.

It can be treated with medications such as immunosuppressants, corticosteroids, aminosalicylates, and biologics. Surgery could also be used to correct the disorder.

4. Diverticular Disease

This disease is a very common gastrointestinal disorder that occurs in 50% of people above 60 years and 10% of people above 40 years. It is a condition in which the small out-pouching or small pockets (diverticula) are present in the muscular wall of the colon.

Diverticulosis (when you have diverticula but no visible symptoms) rarely causes problems. It is most common among older adults. However, diverticula could become inflamed when food particles get trapped within them which then leads to symptoms such as fever, cramps, nausea, or abdominal pain. This is called diverticulitis.

Treatment for diverticulitis includes antibiotics, a high fiber diet (whole grains, vegetables, and legumes), and increased fluid intake. If the condition is complicated, surgery might be required to remove the affected segment in the colon.

5. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

This disease is also known as acid reflux or heartburn. It is a gastrointestinal disorder that occurs when the muscle fibers that surround the opening into our stomach become very weak. As a result, it remains partially open thereby allowing stomach acid and partly digested food to leak back into the esophagus. This causes irritation and a burning sensation in the middle of your chest.

This burning sensation often occurs at night or after meals. The common symptoms of GERD are persistent heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, bad breath, nausea, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, and tooth erosion.

GERD can be treated with antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and H2 blockers. You should also avoid foods that trigger the symptoms. However, some cases of GERD would require stronger treatment like surgery.

6. Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are inflamed blood vessels at the end of the digestive tract. They can be itchy and very painful. Bright red blood in your stools might be a sign of hemorrhoids.

There are two types of hemorrhoids which are internal and external hemorrhoids. Some of the common causes of hemorrhoids are chronic constipation, inadequate fiber in your diet, pregnancy, and persistent diarrhea.

Hemorrhoids can be treated by eating a lot of fiber foods, exercising regularly, and drinking a lot of water. However, if the hemorrhoids are large, persistent and painful, you might need to remove the hemorrhoids surgically.

7. Anal Fissures

These are tiny tears or cracks in the thin tissues that line the anal opening. They are more common in infants and occur when passing watery or very hard stools.

These fissures lead to intense pain or bleeding after spasm movement. Intake of a high fiber diet and the use of laxatives are the common treatments for anal fissures.

8. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome which is also known as nervous stomach or irritable colon is a gastrointestinal disorder where the colon muscles contract more frequently than normal. Emotional stress, medicines, and certain foods are some of the factors that can cause IBS.

The common symptoms are cramps, abdominal pains, bloating, excess gas, constipation, and change in bowel habits. The treatment of IBS includes avoiding common trigger foods like caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and dairy products. Eat foods with low fat and high fiber content.

Other gastrointestinal disorders are lactose intolerance, malabsorption syndromes, polyps and colorectal cancer, peptic ulcer disease (PUD), ulcerative colitis, anal fistula, Perianal abscesses, and gallstones.

Uses Of Probiotics In Gastrointestinal Disorder

Probiotic supplement are healthy bacteria that are used in the treatment of several medical conditions such as atopic dermatitis, bacterial vaginosis, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, and the prevention of dental caries. Probiotics are also used in the treatment of various gastrointestinal disorders. 

They aid a healthy body system from the mouth to the anus, and they also help to control the activity of harmful microorganisms and germs. Probiotics help digestion and improve the absorption of nutrients.

Probiotics lower PH levels in the colon and also helps absorb protein in your diet. For this reason, they are used in the treatment of various gastrointestinal diseases like malabsorption syndromes, polyps and colorectal cancer, peptic ulcer disease (PUD), ulcerative colitis, anal fistula, IBS, GERD, diarrhea, constipation, and so on.

Aside from the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, some of the other health benefits and uses of probiotics are:

  • It improves mental health condition
  • Certain kind of probiotic can help keep your heart healthy
  • Reduce the severity of eczema in infants and children
  • It helps lower blood pressure
  • It helps protect against infections by harmful bacteria

Foods Containing Probiotics

Probiotics are found naturally in cultured milk and fermented foods. However, probiotics can also be synthesized and produced in the laboratory as probiotics supplements. Some of the food that contains probiotics are;

  • Aged Cheeses, Like Cheddar, Mozzarella, Or Gouda
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Pickles
  • Traditional Buttermilk
  • Non-Dairy Yogurts
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Some Soy Beverage

Conclusion

Gastrointestinal disorders refer to any conditions or disease that occurs within the GI tract. Some of these conditions are constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, anal fissures, anal fistulas, perianal abscesses, perianal infections, colitis, diverticular diseases, cancer, and colon polyps.

Most of these conditions can be minimized, prevented, or maintained with a good bowel habit, a healthy lifestyle, and ensuring a periodic cancer screening. Also, friendly bacteria like probiotics which are found in yogurt can help you feel better.