Digestive Dysfunction: The Long-Term Impact (2023)

Digestive Dysfunction: The Long-Term Impact (1)

Many people struggle with digestive dysfunction today and the long-term impact of digestive dysfunction can show up in all kinds of places you would never associate with digestion. Remember, digestion is a major nutritional foundation for optimal health and when it's not working, things can get weird.

Symptoms like heartburn, indigestion, gas, and bloating are so common that we actually think they are normal. These symptoms are not normal and are your body's way of alerting you that something is not working correctly.

It's critically important for us to pay attention to these signals and make corrections. We really are what we can absorb and if you are not digesting food correctly and absorbing nutrients for an extended period of time, dysfunction will start to show up in other bodily systems including the Endocrine, Immune, Cardiovascular, and Detoxification systems.

Endocrine System Disruption

If you're experiencing symptoms of hormone imbalance, you may be dealing with the downstream effects of the long-term impact of digestive dysfunction.

Often times, a major source of digestive dysfunction is a lack of stomach acid. Hypochlorhydria is the medical term for a low level of stomach acid. People with hypochlorhydria may experience digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies, and gastrointestinal infections.

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Yup, even if you're dealing with heartburn, you may actually be short on stomach acid. If there isn't enough stomach acid available digestion is decreased and food can begin to ferment and cause bloating and start pushing through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This phenomenon is called Transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation (TLESR) and is the main mechanism of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). (1)

Without enough stomach acid, it's difficult to break down your food completely. If you aren't able to break down your food and cleve the peptides of the proteins you ingest into their individual amino acids you can’t make amine or peptide/protein hormones which include (2):

  • Adrenaline
  • Histamine
  • Aldosterone
  • Melatonin
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Insulin
  • Glucagon
  • Seratonin
  • Cholecystokinin
  • Gastrin
  • Anti-Diuretic Hormones
  • Oxytocin

These hormones are involved in digestion (cholecystokinin, gastrin), stress response (adrenaline). blood sugar regulation (insulin, glucagon), mood and sleep (oxytocin, histamine, serotonin, melatonin), and the list goes on.

If you are suffering from inflammation and are having a tough time tracking down the source, this could also be due to prolonged digestive dysfunction.

The liver and gallbladder are major players in the role of digestion. They are both required to break down fats into fatty acids, which are required to create eicosanoid hormones for proper management of inflammation. (2)

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Not only are you at risk for not having the building blocks available for producing steroid hormones, but all of the above are stressors on the body and too much stress can cascade into an imbalance of steroid hormones as well as dysfunction in other areas including additional digestive distress, inflammation, and immune function. (3)

Digestive Dysfunction: The Long-Term Impact (2)

Immune System Disruption

I'm sure you've heard that at least 70% of our immune system is located in our gut. This seems to be common knowledge as we continue to learn more about the immune system and the role the gut plays in immunity.

So you can imagine, how critical proper digestion is for immune health. Some of the same concepts we discussed concerning the endocrine system apply here.

Inability to break down food correctly as well as liver and gallbladder health can negatively impact the immune system in several ways, all of which, add additional stress to the body (4):

  • Adequate protein assimilation is required for healthy immune function.
  • Micronutrient co-factor deficiencies can lead to suppressed immunity.
  • Healthy liver and gallbladder functions are critical for optimal complement protein production, energy production, and elimination of immune products (such as antigen-antibody complexes).

The biggest contributors to immune system dysfunction are dysbiosis and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). (4)

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  • Inadequate hydrochloric acid and pepsin production leave partially digested or undigested food particles that can set the body up for food reactions or allow harmful microbes to survive and reproduce.
  • Bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine can damage the mucosal lining allowing material from inside the gut to leak out into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response.
  • Bacterial overgrowth in the large intestine can crowd out good bacteria leaving an imbalance or dysbiosis.

Read about the Effects of Sugar on The Immune System

Cardiovascular System Disruption

Cardiovascular dysfunction is another area that prolonged digestive dysfunction can effect. When it comes to heart health and nutrition, you may still think that fat is bad for the heart, but that's actually never been true and recent literature is slowly setting the story straight on fat. (5)

Proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients are critical to cardiovascular function for the following reasons (5, 6):

  • Fatty acids are the preferred fuel source for the heart.
  • The heart utilizes amino acids like taurine and carnitine.
  • Vitamins and minerals like calcium and B vitamins are required for healthy heart function. Calcium is responsible for muscle contractions and the heart is just one big muscle!
  • Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins D and K2 are necessary for proper absorption and utilization of calcium.
  • Proper bowel flora is needed to produce vitamins B1, B2, B12, and K2.

If any of these are compromised, additional stress is put on the body contributing to the stress cascade as well as directly affecting the cardiovascular system.

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Detoxification System Disruption

Detoxification is yet another area that prolonged digestive dysfunction can impact and in today's environment, proper detoxification is critical to good health!

We live in a very toxic world. Our body has to deal with environmental toxins, pesticides, chemicals, plastics, and contaminants in water, food, personal care and cleaning products. Everyday existance means a constact assault on our detoxification systems.

Proper breakdown and assimilation of food is critical, especially fat and protein.

Specific amino acids play imperative roles in the proper functioning of detoxification pathways in the liver. Specifically, methionine is necessary to run the sulfation pathway, one of the six detoxification pathways that are necessary to break down and remove toxins from the body. If this process is compromised, we may be unable to eliminate toxins, putting additional stress on the body. (8)

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Our lymphatic system is a major player in detoxification and it's also where fatty acids are transported. Poor fat digestion clogs the lymphatic system, and therefore the liver. (8)

The liver is the primary organ responsible for many detoxification processes. Proper bile flow is also critical as bile is a river by which toxins are removed from the body via the intestinal tract. (8)

So, maybe that heartburn, bloating, or gas is not so normal after-all. Ignoring digestive dysfunction can really cost you in the long-run. Make the space to listen to your body and correct issues before they lead to bigger problems.


  1. Kim, H. I., Hong, S. J., Han, J. P., Seo, J. Y., Hwang, K. H., Maeng, H. J., Lee, T. H., & Lee, J. S. (2013). Specific movement of esophagus during transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation in gastroesophageal reflux disease.Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility,19(3), 332–337. https://doi.org/10.5056/jnm.2013.19.3.332
  2. Schwartz TB. Henry Harrower and the turbulent beginnings of endocrinology.Ann Intern Med. 1999;131(9):702-706. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-131-9-199911020-00012
  3. Gottfried, S., & Northrup, C. (2014a). Perimenopause: your own personal global warming crisis, hypervigilance, and tighter jeans. In The Hormone Cure: Reclaim Balance, Sleep and Sex Drive; Lose Weight; Feel Focused, Vital, and Energized Naturally with the Gottfried Protocol (Reprint ed., pp. 62–63).
  4. Kau, A., Ahern, P., Griffin, N., Goodman, A., & Gordon, J. (2011). Human nutri*on, the gut microbiome and the immune system. PubMed, 327-36.
  5. Astrup, A., Magkos, F., Bier, D. M., Brenna, J. T., Otto, M. C., Hill, J. O., . . . Krauss, R. M. (2020). Saturated Fats and Health: AReassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 76(7), 844-857. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2020.05.077
  6. Boundless. (n.d.). Boundless Anatomy and Physiology. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-ap/chapter/cardiac-muscle-tissue/
  7. Astrup, A., Magkos, F., Bier, D. M., Brenna, J. T., Otto, M. C., Hill, J. O., . . . Krauss, R. M. (2020). Saturated Fats and Health: AReassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 76(7), 844-857. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2020.05.077
  8. Cline JC. Nutritional aspects of detoxification in clinical practice.Altern Ther Health Med. 2015;21(3):54-62.


How does long term stress affect the digestive system? ›

Stress can also make pain, bloating, or discomfort felt more easily in the bowels. It can affect how quickly food moves through the body, which can cause either diarrhea or constipation. Furthermore, stress can induce muscle spasms in the bowel, which can be painful.

What could be the result of the digestive system was dysfunctional? ›

Some of the most common ailments that most frequently are caused by gastrointestinal dysfunction include skin problems, fibromyalgia, migratory joint issues, fatigue, anxiety, asthma, and autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

What is digestive dysfunction? ›

Functional digestive disorders, or dyspepsia

Functional digestive disorders are caused by improper functioning of the digestive system. Most of them develop in your stomach (e.g. loss of appetite, nausea, burning, hiccups and bloating) or as intestinal disorders (e.g. bloating and intestinal gas).

What are signs and symptoms of digestive dysfunction? ›

The most common symptoms of digestive disorders include bleeding, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, pain, nausea and vomiting. Accurately diagnosing digestive disorders involves collecting a thorough medical history and conducting a physical examination.

Can stress and anxiety cause digestive issues? ›

When we're stressed, hormones and neurotransmitters are released in the body. This can negatively impact gut motility, or the way our intestines and stomach squeeze and move waste through the body. Also, stress can affect the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut, causing GI discomfort.

Can anxiety cause digestive problems? ›

That's because anxiety and worry can upset the delicate balance of digestion. In some people, stress slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain and constipation, while in others it speeds it up, causing diarrhoea and frequent trips to the loo. Some people lose their appetite completely.

How do you fix digestive problems? ›

Diet and lifestyle changes can make a big difference:
  1. Cut back on fatty foods.
  2. Avoid fizzy drinks.
  3. Eat and drink slowly.
  4. Quit smoking.
  5. Don't chew gum.
  6. Exercise more.
  7. Avoid foods that cause gas.
  8. Avoid sweeteners that cause gas such as fructose and sorbitol.
14 Feb 2021

How is digestive disorder treated? ›

Treating a GI Disorder
  1. Resting and drinking plenty of fluids.
  2. Following the BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce and toast – all of which are easy on the stomach and beneficial in their own way. ...
  3. Taking over-the-counter medications to ease symptoms (for example, laxatives for constipation).

How can you avoid digestive disorders? ›

To help prevent digestive diseases, doctors recommend the following:
  1. Chew food thoroughly, and don't overeat.
  2. Get plenty of fluids. ...
  3. Eat a variety of foods that contain dietary fiber. ...
  4. Limit your intake of fats and alcohol.
  5. Avoid raw shellfish if you're not sure the source is a safe one.
  6. Exercise daily.

What are common problems in the digestive system? ›

9 Common Digestive Conditions From Top to Bottom
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) ...
  • Gallstones. ...
  • Celiac Disease. ...
  • Crohn's Disease. ...
  • Ulcerative Colitis. ...
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome. ...
  • Hemorrhoids. ...
  • Diverticulitis.
17 Jun 2020

What are the most common digestive issues and their causes? ›

Common causes include:
  1. Gastroenteritis (stomach flu) ...
  2. Gas. ...
  3. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) ...
  4. Acid reflux. ...
  5. Vomiting. ...
  6. Gastritis. ...
  7. Food intolerances. ...
  8. Constipation.

What is the most common digestive disease? ›

1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

What are 3 diseases that affect the stomach? ›

Diseases of the Stomach & Duodenum
  • Gastritis. Gastritis is when the stomach lining becomes inflamed or swollen. ...
  • Gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of both the stomach and small bowel. ...
  • Gastroparesis. ...
  • Non-Ulcer Dyspepsia. ...
  • Peptic Ulcers. ...
  • Stomach (Gastric) Cancer.

Why does the digestive system slow down when a person is stressed? ›

This enteric nervous system is made up of millions of nerves that control digestion. When you introduce stress into your system, you activate the “fight or flight” response. This response tells your central nervous system to shut down blood flow; which can shut down or slow digestion.

How much can stress affect your stomach? ›

Stress can cause a number of physical health issues, including constipation. Your brain and the gut are connected, so when you feel stressed out, your… Digestive problems like bloating, cramping, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation can be challenging. Here are the 19 best foods to improve…

Can stress cause inflamed intestines? ›

Chronic stress can cause excessive growth of pro-inflammatory bacteria and thus induce increased susceptibility to colitis in subjects after fecal microbiota transplant. Stress is known to cause low-grade intestinal inflammation via increased bacterial translocation and the production of poisons (87).

How do I know if my stomach pain is from stress? ›

Symptoms of Gut Stress

Because gut stress affects your whole body, stay on the lookout for these symptoms: Upset stomach after eating. Diarrhea or constipation. Cramping and/or bloating.


1. Effects of Stress on Digestion
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2. Long-term nutritional consequences of bariatric surgery
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3. How anorexia affects the digestive system
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4. How stress affects your body - Sharon Horesh Bergquist
5. 10 Ways to Improve Digestive System - Get INSTANT Boost Naturally
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6. Effects of Long-Term Fasting on the Gut Microbiome | Robin Mesnage
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