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What is gastroparesis?

Understanding your condition

Gastroparesis is a condition of delayed gastric emptying, where food remains in the stomach triggers nausea and vomiting. Gastroparesis, which literally means ‘stomach paralysis’, can occur with other health conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, following surgery or infection, or may be of unknown origin. This diagnosis is usually made after ruling out physical obstruction as a cause.

middle aged woman with food sensitivity sitting on couch arms wrapped around painful stomach
middle aged man sitting in bright room smiling

Gastroparesis natural treatment

While the precise causes are not all clear, the good news is that there is safe, natural treatment for gastroparesis, available from our gastroparesis specialists in Australia. Our functional medicine practitioners regularly help people with a range of digestive health concerns like gastroparesis, restoring their digestive health and sense of wellbeing.

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Gastroparesis symptoms

Symptoms can vary from person to person, with some people unable to eat or drink anything when symptoms are severe, and others only taking small amounts of food. Specific symptoms and severity may change over time and may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting undigested food
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Feeling full, quickly/ after eating very little
  • Poor appetite
  • Reflux, or heartburn
  • Diarrhoea, usually at night
  • Weight loss

These symptoms overlap with a variety of other health conditions, particularly functional dyspepsia, so it’s important to seek help from a digestive health or gastroparesis specialist to identify and treat it correctly.

Left untreated or poorly managed, gastroparesis symptoms may result in dehydration and malnutrition. Food remaining in the stomach can contribute to bacterial overgrowth such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), LIBO (large intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and dysbiosis of the gut microbiome which can contribute to worsening symptoms. Dehydration can cause:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Reduced urine output
  • Weakened immune health/inhibited wound healing
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increase in heart beat
  • Shallow/rapid breathing

Constipation can be a complication of gastroparesis, which can lead to formation of bezoars, which are hardened food masses which obstruct the digestive tract requiring surgical intervention. Bezoars can cause nausea, vomiting and pain and left untreated can be life-threatening.

Managing blood glucose levels for diabetic patients can become harder with gastroparesis.

Alternative treatment for gastroparesis from a gastroparesis specialist will include holistic care that can treat, manage and/or prevent these complications.

Gastroparesis causes

Gastroparesis is still being researched, however the cause is understood to be related to disrupted nerve signals to the stomach. The vagus nerve is responsible for stimulation of muscles in the stomach wall which contract to push food into the small intestines. It also stimulates gastric secretions required for digestion and absorption of nutrients. When this signal is disrupted, food moves too slowly out from the stomach, resulting in symptoms like nausea, bloating and vomiting. Other problems such as being too sensitive to these signals are also thought to play a part in this condition.

The main causes of gastroparesis are:

  • Idiopathic - (unknown origin) around 30% of cases fall into this category
  • Post viral infection
  • Chronic disease related - most commonly Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, or autoimmune diseases, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, lupus, hypothyroidism, or cerebral palsy
  • Post surgical - such as a vagotomy for peptic ulcers, gallbladder surgery, bariatric surgery or gastric sleeve gastrectomy
  • Drug induced - medications that alter smooth muscle function can contribute to gastroparesis e.g. diabetes medications, proton pump inhibitors (common medications used to treat reflux) and organ transplant anti-rejection drugs, narcotics and pain medications

Medications, stress and nutrient deficiencies contribute to other aspects of poor digestive function, including poor nutrient absorption, microbiome disruption, constipation and diarrhoea, compounding symptoms.

Fluctuating hormones in both men and women affect gastric emptying. In particular women during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle generally experience slower gastric emptying. Hormones that affect gastric emptying are:

  • Progesterone and oestrogen in women
  • Ghrelin - which stimulates appetite
  • Motilin - which stimulates contractions of the digestive system

What causes eczema?

There isn’t one single cause of eczema but a range of potential contributing factors that are unique to each person. These include:

Genetics

Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.

These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.

Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected. 

Food allergy and sensitivity

Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10-30% of cases, and 90% of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat.

Compromised gut health

The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.

Nutritional deficiencies

Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).

Weather and environment

Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.

Hormones

Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.

Mould exposure

Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.

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Testing for gastroparesis

Testing for gastroparesis is usually assessed via:

  • Blood tests and/or urine tests to check for malnutrition, dehydration, inflammation or infection
  • Clinical examination by your doctor with consideration given to your medical history
  • Other investigations such as an endoscopy, ultrasound to explore/rule out structural issues that may be causing symptoms

Newer technologies such as the Smart Pill, an electronic device that is swallowed, can assess how fast food travels through the digestive tract. A breath test may also be used to assess gastric emptying rate.

Treatment of gastroparesis - the conventional approach

Your GP will  monitor symptoms regularly and refer you to a dietician to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Depending on the severity of symptoms, your GP or dietician may recommend dietary changes such as:

  • Eating smaller, more regular meals and drinks
  • Ensure you are eating sufficient protein and calories
  • Cook foods until soft and easy to chew, and chew food well
  • Avoid high fibre foods that may make you feel full, and slow gastric emptying
  • Avoid high fat foods that slow gastric emptying, except full cream dairy and yoghurt
  • Avoid fluids within 30 minutes before or after meals
  • Avoid lying down for at least 1 hour after eating
  • Avoid carbonated drinks
  • Meal preparation changes e.g. puree/blending meals or liquid foods
  • Prepared protein or energy supplements such as Sustagen

Medications in intravenous, pill, liquid or nasal spray forms may be prescribed to:

  • Stimulate muscle contraction (prokinetics) such as metoclopramide (Reglan), domperidone (Motilin) and erythromycin (EES)
  • Antiemetics to help reduce nausea and vomiting such as ondansetron (Zofran), promethazine (Phenergan) and prochlorperazine (Compazine)
  • People who experience sensory abnormalities may be prescribed tricyclic antidepressants
  • Pain medications - can be more challenging as they can make gastroparesis symptoms worse on their own, and when interacting with other medications. Opiate pain medications slow digestive function, and tend to not be suitable for gastrointestinal pain, or may lead to addiction or dependency and inadvertent overdose

All of these medications can cause side effects, and your GP will determine if the benefits outweigh the risks of taking them, particularly in the long term.

Where symptoms are severe, and patients are unable to maintain adequate nutrition, a feeding tube may be required:

  • Jejunostomy tube - inserted through the abdomen into the upper part of the small intestine or jejunum
  • Gastric drainage tube -  inserted into the stomach via the abdomen to drain stomach contents
  • Parental support may be required where nutrients are intravenously injected into a vein, however this very expensive treatment may have short and long term complications

Other treatments may include:

  • Botox injections into pyloric muscles (around the sphincter below the stomach) for relaxation, with varying results
  • Surgery to widen the pyloric valve
  • Gastric electrical stimulation - similar to a pacemaker for the gastric muscles, inserted beneath the skin of the abdomen and is programmable. It is expensive and does not work for all patients
  • In some cases, referral to a psychologist may be made to help manage pain symptoms

However, these measures all manage symptoms without addressing the underlying cause of vagus nerve dysfunction, and complications can develop from long term medication use. This is why many people in Australia with gastroparesis would like to ensure optimal health with natural support and treatments.

A functional medicine gastroparesis specialist can help you find relief from symptoms and improve overall digestive function to help you achieve optimal health.

Natural treatment for gastroparesis - the functional medicine approach

Our functional medicine gastroparesis specialists will identify the underlying root cause and contributing factors of your symptoms. As dysfunction of the gut-brain axis (the communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve) is underlying this condition, our healthcare team uses effective, well developed strategies for improving vagal tone to restore proper function to the digestive system.

An initial 4-hour consultation with one of our functional medicine gastroparesis specialists will involve investigating:

  • Your symptom picture
  • Your family and genetic history
  • Your medical history
  • Other health conditions
  • Medications and supplements
  • Environmental exposures
  • Diet and lifestyle
  • Any recent tests, blood tests, scans or X-rays
  • Heart rate variability score - to check vagus nerve function

Functional testing by state of the art pathology labs may include:

  • GI Map or, GI 360 for microbiome testing, identifying pathogens or parasites
  • At home gastric transit time test
  • Food allergy / intolerances
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Gut dysbiosis / IBS / SIBO / coeliac disease testing
  • Other testing as required

Healing gastroparesis naturally will involve a range of treatments that vary according to the underlying causes and contributing factors, though may include:

  • Vagal nerve stimulation techniques, to improve the gut-brain axis
  • Lifestyle medicine such as stress resilience techniques - meditation, mindfulness, Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong
  • Supplements to restore nutrient deficiencies; improve gastric muscle tone, peristalsis and transit time; reduce nausea and vomiting; specific fibre supplementation to improve gastric emptying; and for mucosal repair e.g. zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, magnesium
  • Digestive herbal stimulants to improve gastric emptying (used with caution) - such as gentian & ginger and globe artichoke
  • Anti-pathogenic herbs such as pomegranate husk, garlic, turmeric, berberine if pathogens are implicated
  • Herbs for anxiety, detoxification, bile production and tone/repair of gastric lining, increase smooth muscle health, as required
  • Precision probiotics to facilitate a diverse, and healthy microbiome which may contribute to the overall condition of the stomach
  • Fibre supplementation (prebiotics) to maintain a healthy microbiome, and enhance digestive emptying

Gastroparesis diet (H4)

Dietary recommendations such as a personalised gastroparesis diet would be a cornerstone of treatment, and will be tailored to reflect individual circumstances. A gastroparesis diet may include recommendations like:

  • Chewing food slowly and mindfully
  • Specific foods for nutrient density
  • Avoiding excess animal protein, gluten or dairy or specific food triggers
  • Eating at least 3 hours prior to bedtime
  • Other specific dietary changes or preparation methods

Because making changes to your diet and lifestyle can be hard, we give you all the support you need to heal gastroparesis naturally. In our unique six month program, you’ll get ongoing support from your practitioner to guide your treatment, along with the support of your health coach who is there to inspire, educate, empower and guide you back to health. This approach is why our program is so successful in helping people make the changes they need to feel great again.

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FAQs

Why does my stomach hurt after I eat?

Stomach pain can be a result of a number of conditions, such as reflux/heartburn, gastritis, or gastroparesis. Literally translated as ‘stomach paralysis’ gastroparesis is a condition where the muscles of the stomach wall do not receive the proper signal from the nervous system due to damage or dysfunction and do not contract to move food through the stomach to the digestive system.

Symptoms of gastroparesis may include:

  • Nausea after eating
  • Vomiting undigested food
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Feeling full, quickly
  • Poor appetite
  • Reflux, or heartburn
  • Diarrhoea, usually at night
  • Weight loss

Seeing a digestive health specialist can help determine the cause of your symptoms through symptom assessment and testing.

What foods help heal gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a condition where the muscles of the stomach do not function properly and food can sit in the stomach for too long, so eating small amounts of easily digested foods can help.

Soft, pureed foods, slow cooked meats, soups, stews and mashed fruit can all be better tolerated in gastroparesis. Bananas are usually well tolerated, unless there is a specific allergy.

Maintaining healthy nutrition can be difficult in gastroparesis, so it’s essential to seek the help of specialists who understand the latest scientific research in nutrition, digestion and microbiome health, such as the functional medicine gastroparesis specialists at Melbourne Functional Medicine. Healing gastroparesis naturally is something we’re proud to help Australians with.

Can anorexia cause gastroparesis?

The medical term ‘anorexia’ means unable to eat or loss of appetite, which is a common symptom of gastroparesis. Anorexia nervosa (in particular), bulimia nervosa, and pica are complex eating disorders that include behaviours of restriction of food, bingeing and eating of foreign (not food) substances.

These behaviours can result in alterations to the digestive system such as weakening of gastric muscles, obstruction, tearing and damage to the oesophagus and stomach, and alterations to gastric hormones, all of which may contribute to the development of gastroparesis.

Seek medical help to ensure these complications are avoided.

Why do I feel sick after eating?

There are numerous reasons you might feel nausea after eating. Food intolerances or allergies, food or waterborne pathogens such as Giardia lamblia, or salmonella, a viral infection, an underlying health condition, pregnancy, eating too much, poor nutrition, or a digestive condition such as SIBO, IBS, coeliac disease, gastritis, or gastroparesis are some of them.

If you have had nausea after eating only occasionally, it may be simply that you’re eating too much. If you’ve been experiencing nausea after eating for some time, see your GP to rule out other health conditions, or seek the holistic help of one of our digestive health specialists to get a more comprehensive assessment and alternative medicine for gastroparesis.

Do laxatives help gastroparesis?

Some laxatives can speed up the transit of food through the digestive system, however are generally prescribed where constipation develops as a consequence of gastritis. Long term laxative use can lead to complications and should be avoided.

Effective, natural treatment for gastroparesis to manage all symptoms to improve digestion and avoid complications such as constipation, nutrient deficiencies and other more serious health conditions is available from a specialist gastroparesis functional medicine practitioner.

Is there a gastroparesis specialist near me?

Yes, healing gastroparesis in Australia naturally is something our gastroparesis specialists at Melbourne Functional Medicine can help you with. Our beautiful South Melbourne clinic is central to most of Melbourne, with easy access by public transport, or if you are further away we can provide telehealth consultations.

Call today to find out more about our unique 6 month program, and how you can have a gastroparesis specialist and a health coach on your team to help you feel well in your body again.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.

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