3 Tips for Digestive Problems

Each week, holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy tells us about a common health problem she’s seen in her practice and how she came to a solution.

This week’s client: Josh, a 34-year-old cafe owner and social networking butterfly.

The Problem: Josh had never been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disorder, but he was convinced something was wrong as he was often on a cycle of one week constipation and the next week diarrhea.

Not surprisingly, he was at his wit’s end having tried everything (or so he thought) from over-the-counter meds to colon cleanses, but nothing seemed to improve his very delicate digestive state. In his own words, “I’m OK for a few days and then BAM, just like that, I’m sitting on the toilet for an hour.” Apologies for the graphic.

Josh’s concerns are not uncommon. Digestive problems are the main reason clients come to see me and the issues are widespread and universal (constipation accounts for about two million doctor visits per year in the United States). Pharmaceutical companies are getting rich from our digestive disturbances and make more profit from stomach remedies than any other drugs, according to according to Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, and author of Digestive Wellness. The problem with these drugs is they merely suppress the symptoms, but do not address the root cause. So while you may have stopped your diarrhea for a week, you haven’t got to the health issue to blame for the digestive upset in the first place.


At my first meeting with Josh I had him complete an extensive questionnaire and I evaluated his dietary habits. He was eating a lot of plain, bland (processed) foods for fear that anything remotely spicy or different would trigger a problem. He appeared to be sensitive to gluten, had been on and off antibiotics for years (since he was a teen) and he was very susceptible to food poisoning. In fact, he tried to avoid chicken, fish and meat at restaurants because he was so afraid of getting food poisoning as it happened a few times per year.

Antibiotics do a really wonderful job at wiping out your bad bacteria, but the problem is they also kill your good bacteria, too. Your gut is home to more than one hundred trillion bacteria, but food poisoning, antibiotics and stress can very easily upset the delicate balance. When I see clients who often get food poisoning, it’s a very clear indication of low bacteria.

Here’s what I suggested to Josh:

1. Take a daily supplement of the two most important good bacteria: lactobacilli (the primary bacteria in your small intestine, important for the absorption of nutrients and manufacture of B and K vitamins) and bifidobacteria (found primarily in the colon). My favorite probiotic supplement is HMF Forte by Seroyal as it contains 12 billion active live bacteria cultures.

2. Eliminate all gluten-containing foods for two weeks. Despite the fact he did not have celiac disease, I was confident from his food journal, that he most definitely had a sensitivity to gluten. Gluten-containing foods are wheat, rye, barley, kamut, spelt and oats (if not clearly marked as “gluten-free”). Gluten sensitivity can manifest in many different ways, digestive problems such as constipation, pain, gas, bloating, skin problems such as eczema and so on.

3. Lower stress. This was a really tough one for Josh. He had his own business and was an extremely social guy who had difficulty sitting still for more than five minutes. I suggested he practice these three breathing techniques by Dr. Weil. Breathing really works to calm your nervous system immediately and your stomach is your “second brain.” Have you ever noticed how when you are nervous (butterflies) or stressed (digestive problems ranging from heartburn, to diarrhea to constipation) you immediately feel it in your gut? This is due to the fact that your stomach contains nerve cells that have an intimate relationship and connectivity with your brain (ie. your second brain). So staying relaxed and breathing is just as critical for good digestion.

There are no quick fixes with digestive problems, but with a little patience and dedication they can be overcome. After two weeks of following my suggestions, Josh had a very significant improvement. He was absolutely elated and set himself a goal of Indian food after six to eight weeks of following this plan. Along with these suggestions, I put a very specific meal plan in place for him and after just seven weeks he was able to eat spicier foods with no problems.

About Author:

Joy McCarthy, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Health Coach of Joyous Health, loves to inspire others to eat well and live well. Joy is the resident holistic nutritionist at 889 Yonge, a Yoga & Holistic Lifestyle Spa in Toronto. Joy welcomes your questions or comments.

Editor’s Review:

One Point here: Bleeding may arise anywhere the length of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. Blood may be noticeable in vomit. When blood is vomited, it may be light red if bleeding is brisk and ongoing. vomited blood may have the look of coffee grounds if bleeding has slow or stopped, due to the part digestion of the blood by acid in the stomach.

Please note: This advice is not meant to treat or diagnose, please consult a certified practitioner or your family doctor for any serious health issues.