Most Common Causes of Poor Digestion

Causes of poor digestion

Poor digestion can be a frustrating and uncomfortable issue that affects many aspects of our daily lives. Digestion is a complex process involving the breakdown and absorption of nutrients from the food we consume, but when it is compromised, it can lead to a range of symptoms such as bloating, gas, indigestion, constipation, or diarrhea. Several factors can contribute to poor digestion, including diet, lifestyle choices, stress, and underlying health conditions. In this blog, we’ll uncover the most common causes of poor digestion and how to fix them.

What is Poor Digestion?

Poor digestion, also known as digestive dysfunction or impaired digestion, refers to a condition in which the digestive system does not function optimally, leading to difficulties in breaking down and absorbing food properly. It can affect various stages of the digestive process, including ingestion, digestion, absorption, and elimination.

Occasional gas and bloating may not necessarily be indicative of poor digestion. It is a physical experience that occurs almost daily affecting quality of life. For instance, chronic bloating and distention will make it difficult to wear form fitting clothing. Furthermore, poor quality of life caused by impaired digestion will affect mental health, leading to further health problems.

Most Common Causes of Poor Digestion

Digestive system

The most common causes of poor digestion can vary from person to person, but some frequently encountered factors include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Medications
  • Food intolerances
  • Inadequate water intake
  • Gastrointestinal disorders

For each common cause, we’ll discuss how they affect digestion and simple changes that will correct the problem. In some instances, professional assistance is the best form of treatment.

1) Stress and anxiety are common causes of poor digestion

Stress can have a significant impact on the entire body, including the digestive system. It is a common cause of poor digestion with an easy fix. It’s important to pay attention to stress levels and digestion because of its link to secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA).

Secretory immunoglobulin A is an antibody that plays a crucial role in the immune defense of the mucous membranes, including those in the digestive tract. It helps to protect the body from pathogens and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.

Common cause of poor digestion is stress

Chronic or prolonged stress and anxiety can suppress the production and effectiveness of sIgA. When the body is under stress, the immune system’s response can become disregulated, leading to decreased sIgA levels. This can compromise the integrity and functioning of the digestive system, making individuals more susceptible to digestive issues.

Reduced sIgA levels can contribute to various gastrointestinal problems, such as increased permeability of the gut lining (leaky gut syndrome), inflammation, and an altered gut microbiota. These disruptions can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and food intolerances.

There are several ways to decrease stress and anxiety. The first is to acknowledge that it’s present. Second, strategize on how to reduce the most stressful situation in your life. If it’s something you cannot change, the only alternative is to reset your mind and how you think about the situation. Exercise, meditation, reading, seeking therapy, and acupuncture treatment are great options to reduce stress and anxiety.

2) Medications are a common cause of poor digestion

Medications can contribute to poor digestion through various mechanisms. Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can irritate the stomach lining, leading to inflammation and the development of gastric ulcers. Always take NSAIDs with food to protect the lining of the stomach and avoid taking them too frequently.


In addition to destroying the lining of the gut, some medications can affect the motility of the gastrointestinal tract, either by slowing it down or speeding it up, which can result in symptoms like constipation or diarrhea. For instance, pain killers, like opioids, bind to certain receptors in the bowel. The slowdown of transit in the colon caused by painkillers leads to increased water reabsorption in this part of the digestive system. As a result, the stool becomes hardened and difficult to pass.

Opioids can also affect the muscles responsible for propelling stool through the intestines. They can weaken the contractions of the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, including the colon, which further contributes to constipation. If you’re taking constipation inducing pain killers, it important to drink more water than usual and eat extra fiber. If you’re already doing so, double the amount you’re consuming of each to see if that makes a difference.

It’s worth noting that not all painkillers cause constipation to the same extent. Opioids, such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, are more likely to cause constipation compared to non-opioid pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen.

3) Food intolerances are causes of poor digestion

Another common cause of poor digestion is food intolerances. Food intolerances can disrupt the normal digestive process, leading to poor digestion and related symptoms. One way this happens is through enzyme deficiencies. When a person has a food intolerance, their body lacks the necessary enzymes to break down certain components of the food they consume. For example, lactose intolerance occurs when the body lacks the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. Without enough of the required enzymes, the body struggles to fully break down the food, resulting in digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

Common cause of poor digestion is food intolerance

Additionally, food intolerances can trigger an immune response in the body. This immune response can cause inflammation in the digestive system, leading to irritation and damage to the intestinal lining. In turn, this inflammation can disrupt the absorption of nutrients and interfere with the normal digestive process. Symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea can arise as a result.

The balance of gut microbiota, the microorganisms present in the digestive system, also plays a role in digestion. Food intolerances can disrupt this balance, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or a decrease in beneficial bacteria. This imbalance can negatively impact digestion and cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

Overall, food intolerances can disrupt the normal digestive process through enzyme deficiencies, inflammatory responses, altered gut microbiota, increased water retention, and reduced motility. Understanding and managing food intolerances is essential for individuals experiencing poor digestion. If you think you have food intolerances, it’s important to maintain a food journal. This will help you keep track of what you’re eating and the effects it has on your digestive tract.

4) Inadequate water intake is a common cause of poor digestion

Inadequate water intake can have a negative impact on digestion, leading to poor gastrointestinal function and related symptoms. Water is essential for various aspects of digestion and plays a crucial role in maintaining the overall health of the digestive system. When water intake is insufficient, several problems can arise.

Low water intake common cause of poor digestion

Firstly, water helps in the process of breaking down food. It aids in the mechanical and chemical digestion of food, allowing it to be effectively broken down and processed by the digestive system. Insufficient water intake can hinder this process, making it harder for the body to properly break down food into smaller particles that can be absorbed and utilized.

Water is essential for the proper functioning of the intestines. It helps to soften and bulk the stool, facilitating smooth movement through the gastrointestinal tract. Without adequate water, the stool can become dry and hard, leading to constipation and difficulties in passing stool. This can cause discomfort, bloating, and a feeling of incomplete evacuation.

Water also plays a vital role in the absorption of nutrients. It helps transport nutrients from the digestive system into the bloodstream, allowing them to be distributed throughout the body for various functions. Insufficient water intake can impede this process, potentially leading to inadequate absorption of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. This can result in nutrient deficiencies and related health issues.

Dehydration, which occurs when the body lacks sufficient water, can also lead to a decrease in saliva production. Saliva contains enzymes that aid in the initial digestion of carbohydrates. Reduced saliva production can hamper the breakdown of food particles in the mouth, making it harder for the digestive system to process food effectively.

To maintain optimal digestion, it is important to consume an adequate amount of water throughout the day. The recommended daily intake varies depending on factors such as age, sex, climate, and physical activity level. Staying adequately hydrated supports the overall function of the digestive system, promotes regular bowel movements, and aids in the absorption of nutrients from food.

5) Gastrointestinal disorders are causes of poor digestion

Gastrointestinal disorders can significantly impair the process of digestion, leading to poor digestion and a wide range of related symptoms. These disorders can affect various components of the digestive system, disrupting the normal functioning and compromising the efficient breakdown and absorption of food.

One common way gastrointestinal disorders cause poor digestion is through inflammation of the digestive tract. Conditions like inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can cause chronic inflammation in the intestines. This inflammation can damage the intestinal lining and interfere with the absorption of nutrients, leading to malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies. Additionally, inflammation can disrupt the contractions and movements of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in slowed digestion, constipation, or diarrhea.

Gastrointestinal disorders can also impact the production and secretion of digestive enzymes and gastric acids. For instance, conditions like chronic pancreatitis can affect the pancreas’ ability to produce sufficient enzymes needed for proper digestion, particularly for fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. This enzyme deficiency hinders the breakdown of food into absorbable components, leading to digestive discomfort, malabsorption, and nutritional deficiencies.

Certain gastrointestinal disorders can disrupt the balance of gut microbiota. The gut microbiota plays a crucial role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall gut health. Imbalances in the microbiota, as seen in conditions like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or dysbiosis, can result in impaired digestion and absorption, leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and nutrient deficiencies.

Gastrointestinal disorders can cause poor digestion through various mechanisms, including inflammation, enzyme deficiencies, structural abnormalities, motility disorders, and disruptions in gut microbiota. These conditions often result in a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, malabsorption, and nutrient deficiencies. There are no “quick fixes” for such disorders, but natural herbs and supplements can help. It’s important to seek guidance from a medical professional if you have a gastrointestinal disorder.

Most Common Symptoms of Poor Digestion

There are three primary symptoms experienced with poor digestion and they are: constipation, bloating, and gas. Constipation is having infrequent bowel movements. When stool is not passed through the colon and eliminated daily, it hardens. This happens because water in the colon is constantly being reabsorbed back into the body. If stool is hard, it becomes difficult to pass. In this stage, most people can only eliminate small pellets when they have a bowel movement.

Bloating and distention can occur when stool accumulates in the colon. This can lead to an uncomfortable sensation in the midsection, characterized by a feeling of heaviness and distention. Some individuals may find it necessary to wear looser clothing due to an abdomen that appears swollen or protruding. It is important to note that experiencing mild bloating after consuming a substantial meal is considered a normal occurrence.


Gas is a natural byproduct that is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, however, excessive, foul smelling gas is concerning. Gas can be caused by inadequate digestion resulting in undigested particles reaching the large intestine, where they are fermented by bacteria, producing gas. Factors contributing to poor digestion include insufficient production of digestive enzymes or low stomach acid levels.

Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lactose intolerance, and celiac disease can cause excessive gas production. These conditions often result in difficulty digesting certain substances or an imbalance in the gut microbiota, leading to increased gas production.


Understanding the most common causes of poor digestion empowers individuals to take proactive steps towards improving their digestive health. By implementing appropriate dietary modifications, lifestyle changes, and seeking medical guidance when necessary, it is possible to address these causes and promote optimal digestion for enhanced overall well-being.

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