The Low Down on Tummy Trouble

Woman touching stomach painful suffering from stomachache causes of menstruation period, gastric ulcer, appendicitis or gastrointestinal system disease. Healthcare and health insurance concept

We see patients with tummy trouble all the time. Pain, bloating, gas, poop problems – none of those are pretty. But many of us seem to experience them, some of us chronically. Often, there are underlying issues at play that can be corrected, and that’s exactly what our Functional Medicine department tries to uncover. A common thread they’ve discovered? A poor balance of water and fiber.

I sat down with Val Carlson, Nurse Practitioner in Functional Medicine at Rejuv Medical, to talk about the ticket to overcoming tummy trouble.

Kirsten: Do a lot of your patients come to you with gut health issues?

 Valerie: In Functional Medicine, our patients come to us for a variety of things from fatigue and pain to low energy and struggles with weight loss. All of those on-the-surface symptoms are signs of deeper issues. Often times, that deeper issue can be gut-related, so yes, we cover the topic of gut health with most of our patients.

 Kirsten: So how do those conversations usually get started?

Valerie Usually those visits are prompted by the patient’s concerns with digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, gas, pain or all of the above! The first steps in solving those particular problems involve ruling out food allergies, avoiding high-sodium processed foods and artificial sweeteners (sugar alcohol is a big bloat booster) and incorporating proper hydration and fiber.

Hydration is a big one. Our cells need to be properly hydrated. If they are not, our body will give us signs. Those signs include headaches, dry skin, thirst obviously, but an angry gut is also a big sign of not being adequately hydrated. Often our patients are simply not drinking enough, or they are drinking the wrong things. Water is best. Coffee and tea (peppermint tea is great for your tummy!) are OK too as long as they are not filled with additives. Pop is bad for you for so many reasons and the fizz in any bubbly drink is only adding more gas to your system (so can chewing gum!). Water is really the key ingredient to getting your gut health on track. Don’t like water? Infuse your water with fruit, lemon, lime or cucumber.

 Kirsten: Those are great hydration tips. Where does fiber come into the picture?

Valerie: Yes, and then there’s fiber. I can’t stress how important fiber is to gut health which is the key to our overall cell health.

There are two types of fiber; soluble and insoluble, and both are extremely helpful for bodies for many reasons and we can get both naturally in the food that we eat.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water. It slows down your digestion, so it takes longer for your body to absorb sugar which helps prevent blood sugar spikes (are you paying attention diabetics?) and consequently also helps your body absorb the good nutrients out of your food. It also binds with fatty acids and flushes them out of your body and helps lower your bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in fruits like raspberries, apples (eat the peel!) bananas, oranges, mango, persimmon, guava and strawberries, dark-colored vegetables like carrots, beets, broccoli, collard greens, swiss chard and artichokes, beans, nuts and oats.

Insoluble fiber does NOT dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber helps us hydrate, helps us feel full, helps prevent constipation and moves waste through our intestines which may help reduce the risk of colon cancer. It is found in whole grain foods such as wheat bran and in the seeds, skins and cellulose of many fruits and vegetables.

 Kirsten: What if there are days when those high-fiber foods are out of reach?

Valerie: Then you can turn to functional fiber which is natural fiber that’s been extracted from natural sources and then added to supplements or fortified foods. Psyllium husks are a good example. Psyllium husk comes from an Indian herb called Plantago ovata, which produce up to 15,000 tiny, gel-coated seeds per plant. The husks of those seeds are a great natural laxative, effective for both constipation and diarrhea, plus are known to have a positive effect on cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Beta-glucans are another functional fiber that may be extracted from oats, mushrooms, and yeast. Cellulose is another example that comes from the plant cell walls of oats, wheat, peas, soy, or cottonseeds.

 Kirsten: How does fiber work?

Valerie:  Fiber works in conjunction with your liver to help bind up toxins and waste and get them out of your body which is so important. But the average person only gets about half of the daily fiber they should be getting to be doing the job properly. Women should try to ingest 25 grams a day, and men should shoot for 38 grams.

Fiber intake is critical during weight loss. When you are losing weight and burning fat and increasing your metabolism, you are also liberating things like stored up toxins from your fat cells that need to be detoxed out of your body. As you are working to lose weight, you are also likely trying to manage your appetite. Fiber is very satiating, so you don’t feel hungry as much. Bonus!

Kirsten: So how do you recommend your patients to get started focusing on fiber?

Valerie: I always recommend incorporating high-fiber foods and moving to functional fiber if you’re not getting enough. Starting off with high power fiber might cause bloating and indigestion, which is the opposite of what we want, so start slowly, and if you have symptoms, back off more. If problems continue, change your fiber to soluble OR insoluble.

We can look at other ways of balancing your hydration and fiber as well such as introducing magnesium if necessary, which is great for constipation and can “get things moving” in other ways.

If you’re adding fiber to your diet, you MUST make sure you’re hydrated as fiber pulls water into the digestive system. Hydration so important on so many levels but when it comes to fiber, they really go hand-in-hand.

 Kirsten: How much water do we need?

Valerie: Everybody is different and every body is different. Listen to your body and it will tell you. If you have headaches, fatigue and dark-colored urine (not associated with vitamin supplements), you need to be drinking more. If you feel refreshed, alert, are going to the bathroom regularly and have light-colored urine, your body is likely getting what it needs.

In general, to get your best hydration, which means getting water to your cells where you need it, you want to try to sip water throughout the day instead of slamming a bunch at a certain time. When you drink water too quickly, you sometimes end up urinating it out and not absorbing it. It should never be uncomfortable to pass urine, and when you do go to the bathroom it shouldn’t be just a trickle. Essentially, you should be drinking enough to give your body the amount of water it needs to safely excrete the stuff it doesn’t need.

With the warmer weather, or when people are working out and are not properly hydrated, they become prone to muscle cramping and sore muscles due to dehydration so watch for those signs as well. You won’t be able to work out to your full potential without adequate hydration, so I recommend drinking at least 8 ounces of water within an hour prior, during and after workouts or outdoor activities.

At Rejuv Medical, we have an infrared sauna that is great for detoxifying as well. Bring your water with you into the sauna and let the detoxing begin! But watch your timing. If you are detoxing in a major way, even 30 minutes will be way too much. Start with 10-15 minutes and work your way up from there. Infrared can be tolerated longer than wood and steam saunas, but the infrared detoxification can influence how you feel especially if you are highly toxic.

 Kirsten: Is dehydration a big problem that you see?

Valerie:  About 25% of my patients who I see are what I would call toxic. Typically, it’s from processed foods, environmental exposure, not digesting and eliminating correctly or even inability to metabolize hormones correctly. Hydration is one of the key tools that helps with that. Combined with fiber and we’re talking real, natural solutions.

 Kirsten: Is there a difference between alkaline water versus tap water?

Valerie: If you find you’re drinking water but not feeling hydrated, alkaline or ionized water can be a good solution as it hydrates better than basic water. When water is ionized, the water clusters are reduced in size by half, which make them more absorbent, so hydration is faster. It is smoother and has a lighter texture which some people prefer. The higher alkalinity combats acidity in our bodies and helps bring them back into balance.