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Digestive Issues: The Three Most Common Causes


March 17, 2015 | Published by

stomach illustration

Good health starts in the gut. It may seem cliche by now, but this statement is certainly true. If the gut isn’t working properly, it’s likely that nothing else will either. There are many potential causes of gut distress, and in this article I am addressing the three most common culprits, along with their common side effects. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

1. Stress

Stress has short- and long-term effects on gut health. It can lead to poor digestion, decreased nutrient intake and disruptions in microbial balance, and can immediately cause stomach discomfort.

There’s a close relation between your emotions and your gut, which is often referred to as the second brain. Your second brain actually produces more neurotransmitters than the brain in your head. In fact, more than 80% of your body’s serotonin is produced in the gut!

On top of that, stress can cause even the strong-willed to abandon healthy eating habits in favor of quick and nutrient-devoid comfort foods. These are the type of foods that further compound gut distress and leave you feeling worse. High stress can also cause people to be less active, eliminating one of the best stress reducers from their lives (exercise).

Side effects of stress on the digestive system include constipation, diarrhea, indigestion/heartburn and loss of appetite. Malabsorption and improper digestion can also be brought on by chronic stress.

How to Relieve a Gut Damaged by Stress

It’s important to address both the effects of the stress and the stress itself. I like to recommend lighter exercises for stress management, such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi and meditation. I also make nutritional recommendations, which are best done on a case-by-case basis. There are many vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements that can support the stress response system, as well as the digestive system. In most cases, prescription drugs are not required.

Many folks with digestive issues have unaddressed emotional issues. In order to truly recover, it’s important to deal with the root cause lying beneath the surface. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to talk with someone. It takes a strong person, not a weak one, to ask for help.

2. Fermentation of the Digestive System

Fermentation tends to take place in the small intestine, and is a ‘backfire’ of the digestive system. Just like it sounds, your body starts making its own beer and wine (in a bad way), instead of properly breaking down starches and sugars. This disorder, though common, can be quite serious, as it disrupts both the digestion and absorption processes.

The most common cause of gut fermentation is stress. Stress can lead to hypochlorhydria (a lack of stomach acid), which paves the way for fermentation. Fermentation can also occur after traveling overseas, after a long holiday (especially if stress and bad food are in the mix), while recovering from an illness, or after antibiotic treatments.

Symptoms of fermentation include bloating, increased gas, nausea, changes in bowel and/or appetite, body odor, cold hands or feet, increased sweating, fatigue and irritability.

How to Relieve a Gut Damaged by Fermentation

Fermentation can be detected by way of a simple urine test. If the urinary indican chemical is present, chances are the gut is not digesting food properly. Treatment typically involves a “kill program” made of specific herbs and nutrients, as well as strict diet changes excluding all starches, sugars and yeast. Digestive enzymes taken at mealtime may also prove helpful.

Generally, fermentation itself is not a serious problem and can be easily remedied. If left untreated, it can progress into a more serious issue. such as dysbiosis.

3. Candidiasis (Yeast Infection)

There are more than 400 different species of organisms living in the gut, and it takes a balance of their population to maintain good gut health. Candida Albicans is one of these organisms, and is generally not harmful until an overgrowth occurs. This imbalance, known as intestinal dysbiosis, is extremely common and can manifest in several ways.

Like many of the problems discussed here, the most common cause of intestinal dysbiosis is chronic stress. Dysbiosis can also be brought on by fermentation, poor eating habits, high alcohol consumption, antibiotic treatments and some forms of birth control.

Symptoms of candida overgrowth include skin rashes/irritation, chronic fatigue, brain fog, vaginal thrush, increased urinary frequency, diarrhea, bloating and constipation.

How to Relieve a Gut Damaged by Candida Dysbiosis

Generally, a candida overgrowth can be easily detected by a healthcare practitioner. There are several questionnaires that can be helpful, as well as serum and stool tests to measure candida antibodies. I recommend being tested for candida overgrowth before taking any strong measure to fix it.

For mild cases, treatment often includes a special diet, anti-fungal supplements, as well as vitamin and mineral-based supplements. For more severe cases, heavier testing and treatment may be required, such as the use of anti-fungal drugs, a comprehensive digestive stool analysis and food allergy panel.

dr eric bakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at

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  • Tania says:

    Fermentation of the digestive system! This is exactly what I think has been my problem for at least the last 10 years, yet I have never heard anyone talk about it.

    Can a regular GP (doctor) test for the urinary indican?

    • Brandon Derrow says:

      Hi Tania,

      Many practitioners, through testing labs, can run this test. You may be able to work with some testing labs on doing the test directly through them. If you need help finding a practitioner, we may be able to help.

  • Umber javaid says:

    Dear Admin
    If candida is suspected can it be in gut only or other signs must be there like skin inections, thrush etc ?

    • Adrenal Fatigue Team says:

      Hi Umber,

      Yes, candida overgrowth can manifest in different ways, including oral thrush, tiredness and fatigue, recurring urinary tract infections, and fungal infections of the skin and nails.

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