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The abdomen or abdominal region refers to the part of the body between the pelvis and the chest. Within the abdominal cavity the gastrointestinal, liver, spleen, pancreas and kidneys are found.


Acute is a term describing a rapid, sudden or short-lived condition, symptoms, etc. 


An anti-spasmodic is a compound, herb or drug that helps relax muscle spasms. Gastrointestinal anti-spasmodics are often used to help manage pain or cramps associated with IBS.


Antibiotics are a group of medicines use to treat infections caused by bacteria or certain parasites. They are not effective at treating infections caused by viruses, and are often associated with potential side effects. 


Antibodies or immunoglobulins are proteins used by the immune system to help neutralise antigens or foreign/potential dangerous invaders (such as bacteria or viruses). Sometimes the immune system becomes confused, producing antibodies to fight substances that aren't harmful, such as with autoimmune diseases like IBD or with food intolerances


An antigen is any substance the immune system recognises as foreign or potentially dangerous. The presence of an antigen stimulates the production of one or more antibodies that bind to and neutralise the antigen so it can be removed from the body. 


An antimicrobial is an agent which actively kills or inhibits the growth of bacteria, fungas or viruses. Antimicrobials take the form of antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral medication but there are many natural herbal alternatives such as oregano, black walnut and garlic. 


Asana is a body position usually associated with yoga practice. It refers to both the place where the practitioner sits as well as the posture he or she sits in. Yoga practice is made up of many different asanas, with the aim of achieving greater physical and mental wellbeing. 


Bacteria are tiny single-cell microorganisms, usually a few micrometers in length that normally exist together in millions. Bacteria belong to their own specific group and can be found in soil, water, plants, animals, humans and organic materials. Bacteria can be pathogenic and potentially harmful, they can be neutral and also provide a benefit to the host (ie. a probiotic). 


Belching (or burping) refers to releasing gas from the upper digestive system through the mouth. Bloating due to trapped gas is often relieved somewhat by belching. 


Bile is the bitter-tasting, yellow to dark green fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It aids digestion of fats in the small intestine. Some foods can be helpful in stimulating bile production. 


Although many people use the term bloating to mean they feel full, this term describes a swelling of the abdomen or stomach, causing an uncomfortable and sometimes painful experience for the bloating sufferer.  Bloating is often accompanied by gas or flatulence, and sometimes by constipation. For more information, see What causes bloating


Bowel is another term for the human intestines. From the stomach, food passes through a canal of about 25 feet of small intestine where the majority of digestion and absorption occurs, before passing into the large intestine where water is absorbed and microbes salvage certain nutrients from the waste left over from food before it’s excreted through the rectum and anus.


Candida is a genus of yeast in the fungi kingdom. There are many different species of Candida some of which are harmless and found living in the human GIT alongside other microbes. Given the chance to over-populate however, some species particularly Candida albicans, can cause infections (such as oral or vaginal thrush) and/or a range of digestive issues including bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea and problems with nutrient absorption. Headaches, fatigue, muscle weakness and skin conditions can also be associated with systemic Candida overgrowth. 


Carbohydrates or saccharides are sugars. Carbohydrate rich foods are good sources of energy for human metabolism. Glucose is a monosaccharide – it’s made up of just one sugar unit; sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar) are disaccharides containing two sugar units; oiliogosaccharides have two to ten units while polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates) are storage forms (starch) containing many sugar units. Our digestive system has to break apart di, oligo and poly saccharides into individual monosaccharides before we can use them for energy. Bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates in the bowel contributes to bloating, distension, flatulence and cramps.


A carminative is a herb or compound that helps prevent the formation or promote the elimination of gas from within the digestive system. Carminatives help manage bloating, flatulence, belching and indigestion


Charcoal is used in supplemental form as a remedy to help reduce bloating and flatulence. It is available over the counter in pharmacies and natural health stores. It may not be suitable for some people however, such as those taking prescription medication, as it may affect absorbtion. 


Chewing is the initial part of the digestive process before food is passed via the oesphagus to the stomach. Chewing release enzymes from the salivary glands which help to kick start digestion. These enzymes are made up of amylase, proteases and lipase in order to digest carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The mechanism of chewing also releases hormones from the brain to the stomach relating to later digestion and satiety. 


Chronic is a term describing a long-lasting or frequently reoccurring condition, symptom, etc. 

Clostridium difficile

Clostridium Difficile (often abbreviated to C.Diff) is a bacteria which resides in the large intestine. A C.Diff infection can often occur after completing an antibiotic course, which causes severe diarrhoea and/or flu-like symptoms, and should always be taken seriously.

Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease (or US spelling celiac) is a hereditary autoimmune disorder of the small intestine – a gluten allergy. The presence of gliadin found in gluten containing grains, triggers an inflammatory reaction that damages the lining of the intestines where nutrient absorption occurs. Major symptoms include chronic diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal distress and fatigue. 


The colon is located in the last part of the digestive system, the large intestine. The main role of the colon is to extract water and salt from faeces before they leave the body. Fermentation of unabsorbed material by bacteria also takes place in the colon. Constipation can occur when the colon extracts too much water, making stools harder to pass.


Constipation is usually defined as less than 3 bowel movements a week. People suffering from constipation can often find passing stool particularly difficult and can lead to , or be a symptom of, other digestive problems.


These are statements which notify the patient or user of circumstances in which the medicine should not be taken.  For example contraindications on common medications often include; pregnant or breastfeeding women, or individuals with high blood pressure. 

Crohn's disease

Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Generally referred to as an autoimmune condition where chronic inflammation and ulceration affects any part of the gastrointestinal tract causes a range of digestive and systemic symptoms.  


Defecation refers to the final stage of the digestive process where waste material (stools or feces) is expelled from the body via the anus. 


Diarrhoea is particularly loose or watery stool which is accompanied by an increase in bowel movements, upwards from 3 or 4 times daily. Diarrhoea, if left unmanaged and untreated, can cause dehydration and a loss of electrolytes and other important minerals.

Digestive enzymes

Enzymes break down molecules into smaller building blocks to help enable absorption by the body. Digestive enzymes are found in all mammals and are secreted in our saliva, stomach, pancreas and intestines. 


A diuretic increases the excretion of both water and electrolytes from the body as urine. They are available in synthetic form as medication, or naturally in foods such as herbs. 


Diverticulitis is a common digestive disorder in which pockets form on the outside wall of the bowel, particularly the large intestine. Waste, toxins and microbes can become lodged in these pockets contributing to disease. Constipation and a low fibre diet are particularly associated with the development of diverticulitis. 


Domperidone is a prescription medicine often given by GP's to reduce symptoms of bloating. It works as a dopamine antagonist, and affects the stomach muscles, as well as helping to increase peristalsis. It has recently (March 2014) been reviewed by the EU as having serious side effects, and is no longer recommeded as a bloating remedy. 


Dysbiosis is an imbalance of pathogenic and ‘friendly’ bacteria in the body, usually within the digestive system and often triggered by antibiotics.  This imbalance can lead to various digestive problems and symptoms.


Electrolytes, which include sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride, are positively or negatively charged ions within our cells. Our cells use electrolytes to carry electrical impulses across themselves and other cells, and our kidneys work to keep the electrolyte concentrations in our blood constant despite changes in our body.

Elimination Diet

An Elimination Diet involves removing certain foods from the diet in order to determine if they are triggering symptoms such as bloating and digestive discomfort. The foods are then slowly re-introduced and the symptoms recorded. It is regarded by many natural health professionals as the gold standard in determining food intolerances


Fermentation refers to the process of converting complex organic compounds; often sugars, into relatively simpler substances. Within the gastrointestinal tract, microbial fermentation of ingested sugars can contribute to bloating and other gastrointestinal complaints.


Fibre is a food type which is not easily broken down by the digestive system, and which therefore passes through much of the digestive system largely unchanged.  Fibre is essential to the body's healthy digestion, and is absolutely necessary for regular bowel movements.  A high fibre diet has been linked to a reduced risk of bowel cancer, and to fewer digestive health issues like bloating.  Fibre can be found in fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, wholegrain bread and brown rice, amongst others. For more read Does fibre cause bloating?


A normal by-product of the digestive process, flatulence refers to the expulsion of gases (flatus) produced by bacterial activity in the bowel, through the rectum. 


FODMAPS types of short chain carbohydrates known as Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols. These short chain carbohydrates (sugars) cannot be broken down by the body and absorbed by the bowel and are believed to trigger bloating and other digestive symptoms.


Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, causing diarrhoea, bloating, vomiting, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal systems. Viral, bacterial or parasitic infections are common causes of gastroenteritis. 


Gluten is a type of protein (a mixture of gliadin and glutenin) found in some cereal grains – wheat, rye, oats and barley. Gluten gives elasticity and a chewy texture to processed grain products like bread but some people find it particularly hard to digest. 


Short for gastroesophageal reflux disease, GORD refers to chronic irritation or damage to the oesophageal lining, caused by the stomach’s contents leaking back into the oesophagus, most often due to an abnormal relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter or a hiatus hernia.  


The gullet, or oesophagus  is the tube connecting the mouth (or pharynx) to the stomach. The transit of food down the gullet is aided by muscle contractions, or peristalsis.

Gut flora

The terms gut flora or intestinal flora refer to the trillions of microbes which inhabit the human gastrointestinal tract. Problems or imbalances in the gut flora are often associated with bloating and other gastrointestinal complaints.  


Haemorrhoids (also known as piles) are swollen veins within or protruding from the anal canal or rectum. Caused by excessive straining during bowel movements (often due to constipation), symptoms include pain, itching, irritated and blood in the stools. 


Histamine is a naturally occurring compound involved in triggering inflammatory pathways. Histamine is also a neurotransmitter involved in regulating numerous functions. 


Homeostasis refers to the coordination of the body’s many systems to maintain and regulate a stable internal environment (affected by temperature, pH, etc) in which the body can function optimally. 


Hormones are chemical messengers release by cells or glands which alter the metabolism or behaviour of cells in other parts of the body.


Hypoallergenic refers to a limited or decreased tendency to trigger allergic reactions. Many of those with food allergies or intolerances do well on a diet of hypoallergenic foods. 


The immune (or immunological) system refers to the multiple structures and processes the body uses to protect against disease or damage from pathogens


Indigestion (or dyspepsia) generally describes pain or discomfort in the chest or abdomen, that usually develops during or shortly after eating or drinking.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease - IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease; two autoimmune conditions which affect the gastrointestinal tract, causing abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and other digestive symptoms. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome - IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal disorder which tends to present itself as a mixture of digestive health issues including bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, flatulence, abdominal pain and various other symptoms. Often IBS sufferers will experience alternating periods of two these issues, for example alternating between constipation and diarrhoea, which is known as “IBS-A”.  For more on Irritable Bowel Syndrome read this article here


Kefir is a type of fermented drink made from milk (or water). It is popular in Eastern and Northern European countries and is slowly growing in popularity here in the UK for its potential health benefits. The live cultures found in kefir may help to improve digestion and help to reduce bloating. 


Lactobacillus is a type of bacteria belonging to a group known as lactic acid bacteria. This is because they produces lactic acid when converting sugars such as lactose. They make up part of the human gut flora and may be helpful in inhibiting growth of potentially harmful bacteria.  



Lactose is the type of sugar found in milk. It is broken down by the body by the digestive enzyme lactase. 

Large intestine

The large intestine makes up the largest part of the digestive system and is made up of the cecum, appendix, colon, rectum and anal canal. The role of the large intestine is to absorb water from indigestible food matter and pass waste material from the body as faeces. 


A laxative is an agent that helps encourage defecation. Foods, compounds or drugs with a laxative effect can be used to help manage constipation by bulking, softening or lubricating the stool; or stimulating the muscles in the bowel.  

Leaky gut syndrome

The mucus membrane lining the gastrointestinal tract is designed to allow the passage of nutrients from digested food into the blood stream, while preventing the passage of undigested food, toxins, microbes, etc. Leaky gut syndrome or ‘intestinal hyper-permeability’ refers to a loss of normal intestinal barrier function where the tight junctions responsible for holding together the cells lining the intestines fail, allowing substances that would otherwise pass through the GIT to enter the blood stream. In addition to digestive upset, many negative consequences are linked with this unwanted passage into the circulation; particularly inflammatory disorders including allergies, asthma, arthritis, IBD and other autoimmune conditions.

Live cultures

'Live cultures' is the term used to describe microorganisms found in foods such as yogurt that may impart a benefit for human health. The term 'live cultures' is used interchangeabley with the term 'probiotic', and due to recent European Nutrition & Health Claims regulation, the term 'live cultures' may be used to replace 'probiotic' which implies a health claim. 


In biology the lumen refers to the space inside a cylindrical tube - inside the gastrointestinal tract is known as the gastrointestinal lumen. 


Malabsorption refers to an inability to fully absorb the nutrients from food. 


The metabolism refers to the chemical reactions that take place in each and every living cell or organism. The metabolic rate is the amount of energy , as a direct result of the chemical reactions, that is used by the body in a single day.


Microbes are microscopic organisms such as bacteria, fungus and viruses.


Microvilli are microscopic hair-like protrusions on the tips of cells, that in the digestive system play an important role in the secretion of degestive enzymes and absorption of properly digested nutrients. Malabsorption problems can develop when these structures are damaged, like with Coeliac disease. 


Also known as the mucous membrane, the mucosa refers to the moist, mucus secreting, internal lining of the gastrointestinal tract. 


Nausea is an uncomfortable or unsettled sensation in the abdomen, that can be associated with an urge to vomit. This feeling can have a variety of causes including overindulgence, indigestion, infection, motion sickness, even psychological factors.   


Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals involved in transmitting signals across synapses between neurons within the nervous system.


The oesophagus is the passage connecting the mouth and pharynx to the stomach.


Oestrogen is name for a group of dominant female sex hormones (estrone, estradiol and estriol) which plays a significant role in the female menstrual cycle. Oestrogen peaks prior to ovulation which may trigger bloating in some women. 


A pathogen is any agent that causes disease; often a living organism (bacteria, virus, etc). Pathogenic or non-pathogenic refers to the virulence of an agent or its ability to cause disease. E.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a non-pathogenic bacterium while Helicobacter pylori is a pathogenic bacterium.


Pepsin is one of the body's key digestive enzymes, produced and activated by cells in the stomach. Its fundamental role is to help break down proteins into their smaller form, known as peptides. 


Peristalsis refers to the wave-like contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle. In the digestive system these organised contractions propel ingested food through the GIT. This passage through the GIT is very important; poor digestion occurs when food moves too quickly while food moving too slowly allows deposits of undigested food to ferment leading to problems such as bloating. Without sufficient bulk (often due to a low fibre diet), normal peristalsis struggles to move the entire contents of the GIT along.

Phytic acid

All plants contain phytic acid at varying levels to help protect them from predators. Unfortunately this form of self-defence may cause digestive problems in humans. Pulses such as lentils and beans have particularly high levels of phytates which can be reduced by soaking them overnight in water. 


A placebo is an ineffectual treatment for a condition or symptom, generally used in trials as a control to help determine how effective an actual treatment is. Recipients often don't know whether they have recieved a real treatment or placebo.


A prebiotic is a fibrous food source for your body's probiotics.  Prebiotics are indigestible in the body - ie. they cannot be broken down in the stomach, and by nature prebiotics do not feed pathogens in the body (unlike sugars, which pathogens feed on).  Instead, prebiotics selectively stimulate the growth of probiotics (such as acidophilus).  Prebiotics can be found in certain foods like garlic, onion, and Jerusalem artichoke. 


A probiotic is a microorganism deemed beneficial to the human body.  Often known as your 'friendly' or 'good' bacteria, probiotics are natural residents in the body, but can also be found in certain foods such as yoghurt, miso or sauerkraut, or they can be taken as supplements.  Probiotics are similar to, but not the same as, prebiotics


The macronutrient protein is made up of a long chain of building blocks, known as amino acids. Protein performs a vast array of different functions in the human body, and is especially important for growth and repair. Sources of protein include meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, pulses and brown rice. 


Sauerkraut is a type of pickled cabbage, most popular in Eastern European countries. The fermentation process increases the levels of live cultures in the cabbage, which may have a beneficial effect on improving digestion and helping to reduce bloating. 

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth - SIBO

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) refers to the presence of abnormally high numbers of pathogenic bacteria within the small intestine. The majority of bacteria that make up the gut flora are normally found within the large intestine. Symptoms associated with SIBO include bloating, vomiting, indigestion and diarrhoea.  


A starter (or fermentation starter) is a microbiological culture that initiates the fermentation process in the a number of different foods. Kefir, for example, is a fermented milk product which is produced by using kefir "grains" as a starter. 


The stomach is an important organ of the digestive system located between the oesophagus and small intestine and is involved in the second stage of digestion following chewing. The stomach produces digestive enzymes and stomach acid in order to help further digest food. 


Stool is another term for feces or human excrement – the waste material left over from the process of digestion. During defecation, stools are eliminated from the body via the anus.  


Thorax is the Latin and anatomical word describing the chest, or upper part of the body containing all of the vital organs, such the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and the entire digestive system.


Triphala is an Indian Ayuverdic herbal formula which literally translates into English as 'three fruits'.  The formula is made up of three fruit bearing plants; Harada, Amla and Bihara; which when taken together are thought to be beneficial in supporting digestive health - both in acting as a mild laxative and in cleansing the digestive system in cases of issues such as bloating


Trophic is a term for a nutritive or biologically enhancing effect.

Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative Colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), where chronic inflammation and ulceration affects the lining of the rectum and colon, causing a range of digestive and systemic symptoms.


Xenoestogens are compounds found in both natural and synthetic products that mimic oestrogen activity within the body, potentially leading to hormone disruption and imbalance. Synthetic xenoestrogens are found in produts such as cosmetics, plastics, cleaning products and fire retardants. It is worth trying to look for products that do no contain parabens, phthalates and PCBs (polychlorinated bisphenols). 


An ancient discipline dating back to the 5th and 6th Centuries combining physical, mental and spiritual practice. Yoga is comprised of asanas (body postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). Yoga is believed to have significant benefits for physical health, as well as for relaxation and method of meditation. 


Zonulin is a protein molecule that modulates the opening and closing of tight junctions between cells of the wall of the digestive tract, allowing nutrients to pass in and out of the intestines.  It was discovered in 2000 by Alessio Fasano and his team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. When too much zonulin is produced, the tight junctions between the cells of the gut lining open up too much, creating a situation known as leaky gut.    Two triggers for the release of zonulin are the consumption of gliadin and gluten (found in certain grains).