What your digestive problems say about you?

Foul-smelling wind, feeling bloated and uncomfortable, constipation, undigested food in your stools and heartburn. DR.VEGAN‘s Dora Walsh Registered Nutritionist talks about what your digestive problems may say about you…

We shy away from talking about it, and although it’s embarrassing to admit, you may have quietly become accustomed to emitting foul-smelling wind, and feeling so bloated and uncomfortable that your skinny jeans no longer fit so you opt for yoga pants instead. You may have learned to put up or suffer the constipation, or the burning in your chest from your heartburn – all without realising what your digestive problems may say about you.

You pass your digestive problems off as normal and all part of the workings of your body. A little wind, or hard to pass stools couldn’t do any harm could they?

Your body gives you signs and symptoms for a reason

Your body gives you signs and symptoms for a reason. If your digestive system isn’t as healthy as it should be, you may find your digestive symptoms can interfere with your daily life which can lead to feeling tired, unwell or lacking in energy. 

So, it’s worthwhile to discover what your digestive problems may say about you, and what you can do about it. 

Some of the above digestive symptoms could be a warning sign of something bigger like celiac disease or ovarian cancer, and if you suffer chronic symptoms, you should always speak to your GP.

Foul smelling wind

In many cases foul smelling wind can be attributed to eating fibre-rich plant foods and is no cause for alarm. Farting is normal. 

Food sensitivities and reactions to foods could lead to foul smelling wind. The major culprits being lactose (milk sugar) and gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats) intolerance. Some are sensitive to (and pass foul smelling wind from) other sugars, including sucrose (table sugar) and fructose (in fresh fruit, corn syrup and some processed foods).

Those with lactose intolerance are unable to digest the carbohydrate lactose which is fermented by gut bacteria to produce foul smelling wind.

Gluten intolerance and the more severe form Celiac disease can lead to inflammation and injury to the intestine and malabsorption which can also lead to foul smelling wind.

You can talk to your doctor to get tests and determine if you have any food allergies or sensitivities that may contributing to foul smelling wind.

Feeling bloated and uncomfortable

A little bit of bloating can be expected, but if it gets to the point where you feel uncomfortably bloated then you may need to think about what might be happening.

In most circumstances bloating is caused by gas produced from the colon. Inefficient digestion can lead to poorly digested food making its way to the colon to be fermented by the gut bacteria and causing gas and bloating.

Poor chewing can lead to bloating because the food misses out on the first chain of digestion beginning in the mouth which can compromise the next steps in the digestive process.

Your stomach doesn’t have teeth. You need to help it along by chewing food to a pulp at least 38 times, and mix it well with your enzyme rich saliva before it even hits your stomach. 

Adding bitter foods to your diet including; rocket, dill, dandelion greens, artichokes, mint, and kale can stimulate your body’s digestion by helping increase the level of digestive secretions in your stomach to help break down food more quickly and effectively.


If you are not passing faeces regularly and the faeces you do pass are hard or pellet-like, it is likely that you are experiencing constipation. So before reaching out for habit forming laxatives like a band aid, it’s worthwhile digging a little deeper to understand and address the possible causes of your constipation.

Irregular mealtimes, reduced fluids and a lack of physical activity can all worsen symptoms because the digestive system needs food to move, lubrication, and a good blood supply to aid its movement.

Being upset or depressed can slow down your bowel or speed it up due to the gut brain connection where your feelings impact the workings of your gut. 

Some women develop pelvic floor weakness in which the bowel bulges abnormally during a bowel movement (“rectocele”), further interfering with the emptying mechanism. This can be especially common in women who’ve had children. Pelvic floor strengthening exercises are useful, and in some cases, there may be a need for corrective surgery.

Undigested food in the stools

You might not have failed to notice the undigested food in your stool and wonder if you are getting any nutrition from your food.

There are some every day causes of undigested food in the stools i.e., the body can’t fully digest foods high in fibre, a type of carbohydrate that passes through your digestive tract undigested.

You may be eating too quickly which means the food isn’t being completely digested. And, in this case the key is to slow down, and eat in peace so you digest and absorb your food.

Problems in the digestive tract and other health conditions can lead to undigested food in the stool including inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease which causes inflammation in the digestive track, abdominal pain and malnutrition, as well as pancreatic insufficiency characterised by a lack of digestive enzymes from the pancreas which leads to the inability to break down food.

See your doctor if you experience undigested food in the stools alongside changes in bowel habits like chronic diarrhoea, unexplained weight loss, tiredness, persistent abdominal bloating or gas, abdominal pain or cramping, or loss of bowel control.


Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. But heartburn that is more frequent or interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires medical care.

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (oesophagus).

Normally a band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower oesophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then the muscle tightens again. If the lower oesophageal sphincter relaxes too much or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus (acid reflux) and cause heartburn. The acid backup may be worse when you’re bent over or lying down.

Heartburn may also mean you are overdoing certain trigger foods and drinks in your diet including: coffee, tomatoes, citrus, onions, alcohol, peppermint, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods which can all contribute to the problem. Cutting down on them can make a huge difference to your heartburn.

Smoking, stress, anxiety and some anti-inflammatory painkillers (like ibuprofen) can also contribute to the problem, so It’s also important to find effective ways to address the stress and anxiety in your life, and try to cut down on smoking and non-essential pain killers.

Last but not least speak to your doctor if you are in any doubt about what your digestive problems say about you, as the above symptoms could be a warning sign of something bigger.

Thank you for reading and if you would like to learn more head to drvegan.com

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