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When everything flows smoothly, life is good. And we’re not just talking about waking up with beautiful hair or flawless presentation at work. Your digestive system counts too. But when it’s out of control, it could even affect your weight. Read on to learn about some of the digestive problems that may be making you fat, and you had no clue about it.

Gastrointestinal and digestive problems can have a huge effect on the way we eat and how our bodies absorb and digest food, causing us to gain or lose weight. Most digestive problems tend to cause weight loss due to poor absorption of food, but there are some situations in which our intestinal health can contribute to weight gain.

Digestive problems that may be making you fat

If you’re gaining weight and you’re really not sure why, one of these six common digestive problems could be the culprit.

Acid reflux disease

Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), this causes a painful burning sensation, or heartburn, in the lower chest when stomach acid rises back up into the esophagus. And for people who suffer from it, the term “comfortable food” takes on a new meaning because the act of eating can actually help reduce pain.

Eating provides temporary relief, as both the food you are eating and the saliva when you chew actually neutralize the acid. The only problem? Once food has been digested, all symptoms – bloating, nausea, and hiccups that don’t go away – tend to return, and are usually more aggressive due to rebound acid production. But because people want help, it’s easy to get sucked into a dangerous cycle of overeating, leading to weight gain.

These uncomfortable ulcers, also known as duodenal ulcers, generally develop on the lining of the stomach or small intestine, and are usually due to excess acid production. And as with GERD, eating food can improve painful symptoms – including constant bloating and nausea – because it temporarily covers the ulcer with a protective coating and neutralizes stomach acid. And, to re-state the obvious, if you’re eating more frequently, excess calories can lead to weight gain. It is advised not to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAID pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, as they could cause internal bleeding and endanger the lives of people with ulcers.

Constipation

When you’re standing still, that heavy feeling you have can be weight gain. But there is good news: your body is not really absorbing more calories, so what happens to you is not so much a true weight gain but an extra retention of stool, which is what could be making you fat, not to mention that constipation could even be to blame for not giving you the motivation to go to the gym. Rather, this condition is more likely making you feel sluggish and heavy. Stick to a daily balanced diet of whole foods that have at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber, stay well hydrated (try to drink one to two liters of water a day), and exercise regularly.

Bacteria overgrowth

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This is not as rough as it sounds. Basically, your gut contains both good and bad bacteria, and research shows that good bacteria play a crucial role in overall health by reducing inflammation and keeping weight in check. The problem occurs when the number of bacteria increases, or also when it decreases. When that happens, what’s known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can occur, and it can be making you fat in two ways?

First, the bacteria could produce methane gas, which slows down the overall function of the small intestine, allowing the intestinal villi – small finger-like projections on the lining of the intestine – to absorb more calories per bite. In other words, the exact opposite of what you want to happen.

Second, SIBO can slow down your metabolism and affect your insulin and leptin resistance, which help regulate hunger and satiety. As a result, you likely crave carbohydrates and probably won’t feel full after eating, even if it’s a totally satisfying meal.

To avoid SIBO, it is suggested, among other things, to avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary (as the name suggests, these drugs kill bacteria, of all kinds, but commonly wipe out the good ones). If bacterial overgrowth is already occurring, your doctor may suggest a digestive herbal supplement like Atrantil to help you get back on track.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

The term IBS shakes up a lot these days, as it is the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition, and it often overlaps with other digestive problems such as food sensitivities, a leaky gut, and an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. And constipation (a symptom of IBS), can cause bloating and chronic inflammation, which, once again, could be making you fat, if you have it.

For people who are diagnosed with IBS, it’s about getting to the root of the problem. Your doctor can work with you to build the good bacteria you need with probiotics, and add digestive enzymes to help break down food so it doesn’t sit there and cause inflammation. It might be helpful to try a gluten-free diet or low-gas food as it can help reduce bloating and keep any unnecessary weight gain under control.

Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

While poor appetite and excessive weight loss are common symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (both incurable chronic inflammatory conditions), the exact opposite can happen as soon as someone is put on a treatment that involves steroids, which is usually the first step in trying to find a drug that works for it.

Steroids tend to increase carbohydrate cravings and make you feel the need for more water and thus bring on bloating. An oral steroid like Prednisone can also cause body fat to redistribute, so instead of being on the stomach or buttocks, it could be making your face or neck plump.

Fortunately, it is generally not too difficult to lose the weight once you are off steroids. This usually happens as soon as an outbreak – or the reappearance of symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding, and fever – go away and symptoms are better under control.

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