16 Lesser Known Causes of Digestive Problems


Indigestible and poorly digested carbohydrates, like oligosaccharides in beans, galactans, fructans, resistant starch, lactose, fructose and sugar alcohols are the most common causes of bloating, intestinal pain and excessive gas.

Most people suffering from  digestive problems usually see a quick improvement by limiting sources of these substances in their diet, such as: lactose in dairy products, gassy vegetables like these, high gluten foods and fruits that cause gas.

Beyond this, poor digestion, where food either isn’t chewed up properly, protein isn’t broken down with enough stomach acid or digestive enzymes in the small intestine are insufficient, is also often a cause of intestinal upsets.

If you’ve limited malabsorbed carbohydrates in your diet and taken steps to improve your digestion, yet you’re still experiencing ongoing digestive problems, it’s time to consider other possible causes.

16 Less Common Causes of Digestive Problems and Gastrointestinal Irritation

Here are 16 potential causes of digestive tract problems to consider when symptoms, like bloating and abdominal cramps, aren’t improving.

Consider, as you read through this list, how many of these potential digestion destroyers could be affecting you personally and how you could minimize them in your life.

Also keep in mind that serious gastrointestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and leaky gut syndrome, require proper medical diagnosis and treatment.

1. Drinking Too Much Liquid While Eating

Large amounts of liquid with your meals will often impair the process of digestion. This is especially true of acidic sodas and fruit juices.

The best time to drink beverages is just before a meal. A big glass of water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is an excellent choice for better digestion.

Anti bloating fennel tea and digestion soothing ginger tea can also help to prevent intestinal discomfort when eating a potentially challenging meal.

2. Large Protein Meals

Too much protein, particularly from low-quality sources like processed meats, can overload your stomach’s ability to produce digestive pepsin, as well as your pancreatic enzyme capacity in the small intestine. This is especially true if you don’t chew up concentrated protein like meat properly.

It’s far healthier to have smaller amounts of high-quality protein, like organic eggs, grass fed meats and wild caught seafood, than overload on ‘meat’ made of offcuts and you don’t want to know what else.

Digestive enzymes can help if taken with a big protein meal, but overall it’s best to eat a bit less and choose better protein sources.

Causes of Gastrointestinal Distress

3. Fried and High-Fat Meals

Chemically processed fats, like vegetable oils and unhealthy margarine, are destructive to both your digestion and long-term health.

A fatty fried meal will tend to sit in your stomach for hours and increase the chance of acid reflux and intestinal discomfort.

High-fat meals also put extra strain on your gallbladder, which has to produce a lot of bile to digest them.

If you experience gastrointestinal problems soon after eating any kind of fatty meal, it would be important to see a doctor to check on your gallbladder function.

4. Spicy Foods

Some people react badly to spicy foods and feel the effects soon after. This is one of the more obvious causes of digestive problems and if you’re sensitive to chili and other spicy ingredients you’ll usually know it as the effects can be dramatic.

Spicy foods can irritate your stomach, gallbladder and lower intestine in large enough amounts and should be skipped for a while if you’re experiencing ongoing gastrointestinal issues.

5. Too Much Salt

Foods high in manufactured sodium chloride increase water retention and bloating and are well worth avoiding.

On the other hand, natural salts like Himalayan crystal salt provide a variety of minerals, like the chloride needed for hydrochloric acid production in the stomach.

Switch to a natural salt high in trace minerals and you won’t have to worry about using it in reasonable moderation.

6. Exercising After Eating

It’s important to allow at least two hours after eating before doing heavy exercise.

It’s not just all the moving around that can impair digestion. Exercise diverts blood flow away from your digestive system and into muscles.

This slows down digestion and delays the time it takes for your food to be broken down, increasing the chances of it becoming a feast for bad bacteria.

A gentle walk after a meal though is beneficial for digestion and very popular in Asian countries like Japan. This is a good habit to get into after dinner, instead of slumping down into a couch.

7. Menstrual Bloating

During women’s menstrual cycle there is often an increase in bloating due to the rise in hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These hormones increase fluid retention, which can result in a swollen belly and uncomfortable abdominal pressure.

While menstrual bloating has different causes to most other types of bloating, any gassy meals eaten during this time will only compound the problem. It’s also beneficial to avoid foods high in sodium chloride that increase water retention.

8. Stress and Tension

Stress and anxiety can certainly damage your digestive function. Stressed-out people tend to rush through their meals, often swallowing air and gulping down food before it is properly chewed.

Nervous tension also increases levels of the hormone cortisol in your body, which negatively impacts on your digestion.

It’s very important for so many different aspects of your health and well-being to get stress and cortisol levels under control.

A simple first step would be just slowing down during the day and taking the time to enjoy a proper breakfast, a calm lunch and a relaxed dinner.

Rushing down food is hugely detrimental to your digestive health. Take a few extra minutes with each meal to really chew and taste your food for enhanced nutrient absorption and less gastrointestinal issues.

Unusual Digestive Symptom Causes

9. Coffee

Many people have coffee with a meal, but this probably isn’t a good idea if you’re suffering from digestive problems.

Acids in the coffee are known to cause gastric emptying, reduce nutrient absorption and have a surprisingly negative effect on digestion.

10. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol with a heavy meal has been observed to significantly slow down digestion time and potentially increase acid reflux.

In broader terms, too much alcohol can harm your stomach, pancreas and particularly your liver, all of which are vital parts of your digestive system.

An occasional drink shouldn’t cause too many problems, but watch out for heavy drinking as a cause of gastrointestinal distress (and a lot of other damage to your body).

11. Swallowing Air

Another cause of bloating, and to a lesser extent flatulence, that is often overlooked is the air we swallow when we eat foods, drink beverages and particularly when we’re stressed and anxious.

This article covers how to stop swallowing too much air and eliminate this lesser known cause of belly bloating.

12. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is a bit of a catchall term for ongoing and serious digestive problems that are difficult to treat.

Symptoms include heavy bloating, regular abdominal cramps, intestinal pain, lots of flatulence and alternating diarrhea or constipation.

Unlike the occasional gassy effects of eating a big plate of beans, irritable bowel syndrome affects sufferers constantly and can lead to a serious deterioration in their health as they struggle to absorb nutrition from the foods they eat.

Irritable bowel syndrome requires treatment from a specialist who understands the seriousness of the disease and how to address it. There’s more details on the causes and possible solutions to IBS here.

13. Candida Overgrowth

Lack of good bacteria doesn’t just increase bad bacteria in your intestinal environment. If allowed, the usually benign candida yeast can expand rapidly into a pathogenic fungus with very damaging effects on many parts of your body.

Candida yeast loves to feed on sugar, so the more sweetened foods and drinks you have in your diet, the more at risk you are of candida overgrowth.

This page has a rundown of the common symptoms of candida overgrowth and how to deal with the disease.

14. Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms are a far more common problem than most people realize, even in Western countries like the USA, and regularly cause a variety of digestive issues.

You can read about some of the harmful effects of these intestinal invaders here.

15. Leaky Gut Syndrome

This is a serious condition with the potential to cause all sorts of damaging autoimmune problems throughout your body.

This page has a good explanation of how the leaky gut syndrome is caused and some of the potential solutions.

16. Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the lining of the intestines and severe digestive disorders. It is a painful and debilitating inflammatory bowel disorder that can even be life-threatening.

This site has a description of the most common symptoms and anyone suspecting that they may be suffering from Crohn’s disease should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Other Diseases that Can be Responsible for Digestive Problems

There are several other diseases that can cause ongoing digestive problems, even when you are avoiding gas causing foods and taking steps to improve your digestion.

Gastritis, stomach ulcers, pancreatitis, gallstones, gallbladder inflammation, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disorder, liver disease and diabetes can all seriously impact on your ability to digest food and the condition of your entire gastrointestinal system.

If you’ve worked on your diet and digestion and still aren’t seeing improvements then it’s very important to find a digestive health specialist.

Once you do, discuss your symptoms and get tested for possible diseases so you can eliminate them as a potential cause or start treating them properly.

Action Steps

Consider if any of the lesser known dietary or lifestyle causes of digestive problems here apply to you. If they could then think about ways to minimize them in your life.

Some effective gas and bloating remedies on this site, like activated charcoal, peppermint oil and fennel seeds can often provide quick temporary relief while you do.

However, if your gastrointestinal issues continue to deteriorate, despite removing gas causing foods from your diet and taking steps to improve your digestion, then visit your doctor for a checkup.

This page also has a helpful list of recommended hospitals for gastroenterology and it’s often worth visiting a specialist for best results.


Photo credit: Hey Paul Studios

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