Have you ever considered trying a parasite cleanse or fast to get rid of digestive upset? Or maybe you think cutting gluten or going grain-free could eliminate your stomach pain after eating. Perhaps, you’re considering healing your gut. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the potential causes of irregular bowels.
Why Do I Have Stomach Pain After Eating?
Do you wonder if something is “off” with your gut? Do you experience stomach pain after eating, cramps, or other awkward symptoms?
In this post, we’ll cover the difference between IBS and IBD, symptoms of stomach pain after eating, and the following potential causes:
- Food allergies
- Leaky gut
- Stress and Tired Adrenals
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional gastrointestinal disorder seen by doctors. Studies show that worldwide rates range from 9–23% and U.S rates generally in the area of 10–15%.
There are between 2.4 and 3.5 million annual physician visits for IBS in the United States alone. However, a much smaller percent of the adult population has actually been diagnosed with the condition (about 5-7%). IBS is more common in women than it is in men.
IBS is a functional disorder of the GI tract that covers a broad scope of symptoms. IBS is often what doctors diagnose when they don’t know what else to call someone’s irregular bowel habits that don’t involve a structural component.
If you have inconsistencies with your daily bowel movements along with gut pain or discomfort, especially stomach pain after eating, you may have come to the conclusion on your own that you have IBS, or that something is clearly not working right.
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But what’s regular? With the list below you can pinpoint common irregular bowel habits that people with IBS, colitis, Crohn’s tend to have. It also includes symptoms related to dysfunction of the small intestines and large intestines.
Note: Crohn’s Disease and colitis are both classified as intestinal bowel disease, not “irritable bowel syndrome/IBS,” but in the end, if nutrition is going to help heal your gut, it’s all just semantics. I (Katie) just thought you should understand that difference if you’re talking to a doctor or looking up issues online.
Common Irregular Bowel Habits & Symptoms
First, let me explain what I mean by irregular bowels. I’m referring to not only how the bowel movements come out but also symptoms in the gut that go along with the bowel movements.
Irregular bowels could be demonstrated by the frequency or infrequency, the shape, size, color, smell, whether you strain or whether you have to run to the toilet, or maybe wipe a lot once you are done eliminating. It could be that you go once per day every day then one week you skip every other day or go numerous times a day – in other words you have no set normal pattern, it’s always changing.
See if you recognize any of these symptoms as your own:
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
- Stools hard or difficult to pass
- Less than one bowel movement per day
- Stools have corners or edges, are flat or ribbon-shaped
- Stools are not well-formed but loose instead
- Mucus in the stool
- Blood in the stool
- Food allergies
- Abdominal bloating 1 to 2 hours after eating
- Specific foods make you tired or bloated
- Pulse speeds after eating
- Anus itches
- Coated tongue
- Fungus or yeast infections
- Yeast symptoms increase with sugar, starch or alcohol
- History of parasites
- Excessive foul-smelling lower bowel gas
- Cramping in lower abdominal region
- Bad breath or strong body odors
How are all these symptoms of irregular gut function possibly related?
There are five core reasons for gut pain and irregularity, and they can be discovered when you know your current biochemistry (remember, bio-individuality is the key to health).
I find the majority of people with gut discomfort are suffering due to functional reasons (how something works) vs. structural issues (how the pieces are put together or may be broken). These functional reasons, found through avenues such as elimination diets, rotation diets, blood tests, and hair analysis, can be corrected through a game plan unique to the individual.
If you’ve had a long-term issue with irritable bowel, it may be wise to check with a gastroenterologist to ensure there are no structural problems. I struggled with constipation and horrible colon spasms for many years before I was finally diagnosed with a rectal prolapse. I had tried various medications and diets without relief. No amount of dietary changes could have fixed it. A structural problem requires surgery.
So if you don’t find any relief with dietary changes be sure to look into structural abnormalities of your digestive system. I found relief of my major symptoms after surgery. Then I could turn to diet to fix the rest.
5 Reasons You May Have Irregular Bowels and Stomach Pain
Many people need numerous areas of their health addressed in order to have regular, consistent, normal bowels on a daily basis, as well as no complaints related to the gut itself. There are five core reasons to troubleshoot why you may have irregular bowels.
1. Food Allergies May be a Cause of Pain After a Meal
“It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of us have food sensitivities. Food sensitivity reactions, also called delayed hypersensitivity reactions and in the past called “serum sickness”, occur when IgA, IgG and IgM antibodies are triggered in response to foods, chemicals, and bacterial toxins. The most common antibody reactions are IgG to mold and foods; exposure to molds and foods is quite high compared to pollens. These IgA, IgM and IgG responses are called “delayed” sensitivity reactions because the symptoms they cause can take from several hours to several days to appear, which makes it very difficult to track down the offending food or substance.” (from Digestive Wellness; by Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., CCN, CHN)
Allergies and intolerances are directly associated with the health of the small intestine. Most everyone alive today has several food sensitivities they are not aware of that could be hampering their health. Mineral imbalances and high heavy metal levels could be the cause of your food sensitivities. Correcting the imbalances through diet and supplements will improve your tolerance to foods.
If you have a child struggling with stomach pain, irregular bowels, food allergies and picky eating you can learn how to tailor his diet to get on the road to healing. Find out how in my book Why Won’t My Child Eat?!. You can also get more information on my site Just Take A Bite. We’ve dealt with so many allergies. Here are my top ten tips for helping to reduce and even remove allergies.
2. Leaky Gut May Make the Stomach Hurt After Eating
Anything that can overstimulate the pores in the lining of the small intestine and keep them open too long is said to cause leaky gut.
According to Mind, Body, Green:
When your gut is leaky, things like toxins, microbes, undigested food particles, and more can escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream. Your immune system marks these “foreign invaders” as pathogens and attacks them.
Examples of the overstimulaters may include food allergies, alcoholism, Celiac Disease, certain drugs, Giardia and other parasites, intensive illnesses, malnutrition, pancreatitis and many more. This, in turn, leads to symptoms related to IBS, Crohn’s, or colitis.
3. Systemic Candida Can Cause Abdominal Pain Too
Did you know that 1/3 of the world’s population is affected by candidiasis?
Candida is a fungal infection and is a type of fungi in the yeast family which is why it is commonly called a yeast infection. Candida is found in most everyone and in small amounts should still allow a person to be in good health. It is a yeast found in our guts and in the vagina as well. Normally, it is controlled by good microbes and causes no complications.
However, candida can grow and get out of hand if one creates the right environment, like after a round of antibiotics or while on the birth control pill. Yeast and fungus slow down a person’s oxidation rate or metabolic rate. Candida thrives in an alkaline medium. Slow oxidizers run alkaline and are more susceptible to candida. In order to resolve candida, you must correct the biochemistry.
A key underlying cause of candida is a copper imbalance. Copper is one of the body’s main ways to kill yeast. When copper is unavailable to the body for use, the body can’t get rid of the yeasts properly.
If someone has low zinc or a copper imbalance they can do all the candida diets or cleanses under the sun, but never truly correct the core underlying imbalance with candida in their body. Balancing the body’s biochemistry can correct chronic issues with candida without the need for a specific anti-candida remedy or cleanse. This is a much gentler approach and a better long-term solution.
Note from Katie: Here’s my story of discovering and battling candida. 2016 update to my story. You’ll want some quality probiotics, for starters – for any gut issue, really:
Some Quality Probiotics
Some of these I’ve used, some I’m planning to use, and some have been recommended by friends and professionals alike. It’s good to remember a few things about probiotics: 1. People should get different colonies of probiotics, so switching brands/strains every so often (6 weeks?) is good practice. 2. What works great for one person’s needs doesn’t always work for another.
I’ve personally tried:
- Just Thrive Probiotics – this one can be taken during antibiotics and not be rendered ineffective, which almost all other probiotics are! It’s the top recommended probiotic overall by Paleo Mom Sarah Ballantyne. 😮
- RightBioticsRX – the top recommended probiotic of all soil-based options by an expert I’ve been working with. Read more here. Use Subscribe and Save to save more!
- Note: If you’re struggling with digestion, especially constipation, or you feel like you really need to populate your gut with healthy probiotics, I would recommend Saccharomyces Boulardii in addition to any other you choose (except the 2 above which include this strain). Saccharomyces Boulardii is research-proven to get through the digestive tract without being killed, which is rare.
- Seed Daily Synbiotic – the new player in the field but recommended by superstars like Chris Kresser for its unique probiotic/prebiotic synergy. Here’s my full review including a number of surprises for my thinking and a 15% off code!
- Balance One probiotics with a unique time-release formula (use the code KITCHENS15 at either Balance One’s site or even Amazon to save 15% either place! Wow! Use the code at checkout on Amazon btw.)
For Little Ones (we use all of these):
- Mary Ruth’s liquid probiotic is a soil-based, liquid probiotic that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and tastes like…nothing! It’s my new favorite for administering to kids!
- WellBelly by WellFuture (9 strains of probiotics in apple and banana carrier – it’s a powder)
- Buddies in my Belly probiotic powder (2 strains of probiotics + potato starch carrier and prebiotics) or chewable tablets
Recommended by experts I trust:
- Biokult – highly recommended by many, including the GAPS diet
- Klaire Labs Pro-biotic complex V-caps or Ther-Biotic Complete (25 billion CFU)
- Probiophage DF (7 dairy-free strains)
- Transformation Enzymes (5 billion CFUs that may get through digestive tract…)
- Primal Blueprint (6 strains, 10 billion CFUs)
- Pharmax high potency (4 strains + FOS) or long-term HLC maintenance (2 strains)
- Pro-Bio from Enzymedica (8 strains)
- Syntol from Arthur Andrew Medical (13.6 billion CFUs with prebiotic, spore germinating blend, yeast cleanse)
4. Parasites Can “Bug” Your Gut – and They Like Eating Too!
Parasites are very persistent and can linger for a long time, they can also hide quite well and learn to become resistant to antibiotic treatment. Their presence can further contribute to ill health.
The symptoms of parasites can present like any other digestive problem, such as chronic diarrhea, pain, constipation, bloating, gas, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, abdominal cramping, bloody stools, irritable bowel syndrome and more. They may play a role in some cases of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
If you have a child that seems to eat non-stop and never get full, parasites could be the culprit. They like to eat whatever you’re eating, which is why kicking off a parasite cleanse with a fast is a great idea, but also why your stomach might hurt after you eat. You just fed the little buggers!
The symptoms tend to come and go cyclically due to the life cycle of whatever parasite may be involved. If you see a cyclical pattern of digestive complaints you can suspect parasites. Take heart, a parasite ‘cleanse’ can rid you of these pesky buggers if you are persistent enough. Note from Katie: We’ve got info here on parasites, too.
5. Stress & Tired Adrenals Impact Digestive Health
Chronic stress raises the adrenal hormone, cortisol, which degrades the gut lining and contributes to leaky gut.
The stress response, also known as ‘fight or flight’, is meant to be short-lived. However, people in modern-day society do not get a chance to recover from stress or rebuild their tired adrenals. Yes, it has happened to me too! I shared all about how my body was slowing down while life kept moving. Excess stimulation of the adrenal glands from stress causes blood flow to the digestive tract to decrease. Which means your body can’t properly digest food.
Stress causes one to be in sympathetic mode vs. parasympathetic mode — the state the body needs to be in to actually digest food. When was the last time you ate in a relaxed state? When was the last time you did not have stress, anxiety, or worries in your life? The majority of us are suffering from poor digestive health ailments due to this one issue alone.
Even drinking too much water can impact your metabolism and adrenal health. Taking steps to improve your metabolic health will improve your digestive health. Also, getting adequate sleep will improve your adrenal health.
For females, imbalanced reproductive hormones, as well as cortisol, can impact digestion. It is all related via the HPA (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal) Axis.
Want to learn more? We have an interview about adrenal health with Lydia Shatney NTP, our former contributing writer Bethany, and myself (Katie). Don’t miss it!!
Stomach pain after eating is so common in our culture. But it doesn’t have to be! Figure out which of these five reasons for irregular bowels is your culprit (or maybe it’s more than one!) and take steps to fix it. Taking a functional approach will keep you free of medications and lead to a happier, healthier life.
4 Action Items to Help You Reduce Stomach Pain Today
Getting rid of stomach pain, and finding the root cause, can take some time. So what can you do today to start feeling better? I have a few ideas for you.
1. Eat Real Food
Stick to simple whole foods in order to give the body a rest from food additives, excess sugar, and processed foods. This will oftentimes help you figure out what foods are problematic for you, so keep a food journal as well and document how you feel after each meal.
2. Cut out Dairy to Reduce Stomach Upset
So many people needlessly suffer from digestive complaints caused by dairy products! It can take about 2 weeks to start seeing a long-term reduction of symptoms, but many people find that their digestive complaints lessen dramatically within a couple of days!
Of course, speak with your health care practitioner before any major dietary changes to make sure you’re still getting the nutrients your body needs.
3. Use Herbal Teas for Digestion
Many herbs are well known for their use in soothing digestive complaints. Drinking them after a meal may assist in digestion and preventing problematic symptoms.
- Peppermint tea is a go-to for many people as the soothing effect of the menthol tends to calm an upset stomach.1
- Ginger tea may be helpful in calming irritation in the digestive system.
- Dandelion tea is useful for bloating and is also known to stimulate the liver to produce bile (which helps with constipation).
- Chamomile tea is soothing not only for the digestive system but is also well known for it’s calming properties to help reduce the feelings of stress.
- Lemon Balm tea is known to be used by herbalists to assist in the thoroughness of digestion as well as reducing gas. As an added benefit, it is also calming to the body.2
4. Give Digestive Enzymes a Try
Our bodies should normally have all of the digestive enzymes we need, but due to illness, diet, or modern lifestyle, this isn’t always the case. These proteins break down larger molecules like fats, proteins, and carbs so that they are easier to absorb by the small intestine. Without these enzymes, we can’t properly digest our foods! Used temporarily, while you do some digging to find out the root cause of your stomach problems, these digestive enzymes may help reduce digestive irritation.
Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider to find an enzyme that will work best for you.
Please note that I am not a licensed medical professional. I do not diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness or health issue. The information or advice provided here should not be construed as medical advice. If you choose to use any of the natural remedies or advice discussed here, you will be taking responsibility for your own health and wellness.
- 9 herbal teas for relieving constipation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322624#nine-herbal-teas-for-constipation
- Ogden Publications, Inc. (n.d.). 30 Digestive Herbs – Heal – Herb Companion. Retrieved May 8, 2020, from https://www.motherearthliving.com/health-and-wellness/digestive-herbs-zm0z12amzdeb