Gut Dysfunctions Outside of the Gut by Functional Nutritionist Andrea Nicholson

Gut Dysfunctions Outside of the Gut

Today we are talking more about digestion and some of the dysfunctions that can occur outside of the digestive system that cause digestive symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, heartburn, and upset stomach.  
As we go about our daily lives, it is easy to overlook the impact that our various bodily systems can have on each other. One area where this is especially true is in the gut. Often, we experience a symptom and immediately blame the system where that symptom seems to be coming from.  Many people are unaware that gut dysfunctions can occur due to systems other than the gut itself. So today, we will explore some of the possible culprits for gut dysfunctions and how they can affect your health.

Liver Dysfunctions

The liver is a crucial organ that performs a wide range of functions in the body. Most of us think of it as a detoxification organ…and that’s true, but that’s only one of the many roles of the liver.  For instance, the liver is also responsible for: 
  1. Metabolism – converting food into energy. 
  2. Bile production: The liver produces bile, a greenish-yellow fluid that helps to break down fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine.
  3. Storage: The liver stores various nutrients and vitamins, including vitamins A, D, and B12, iron, and copper. It also stores glycogen, a form of glucose that the body can use for energy when needed.
  4. Blood clotting: The liver produces clotting factors that help to stop bleeding when there is an injury.
  5. Immune function: by producing immune cells and removing bacteria and other harmful substances from the blood.
  6. Hormone regulation: by metabolizing and removing excess hormones.
  7. Nutrient synthesis: The liver synthesizes various nutrients, including cholesterol, which is used to produce hormones and build cell membranes.
When it is not functioning properly, it can lead to a variety of health problems, including gut dysfunctions. Liver dysfunctions can occur due to fat build up in the liver, toxin accumulation, dehydration, metabolic disorders, and more.  One of the most common liver dysfunctions is fatty liver.  There are two types of fatty liver disease – alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, both of which are characterized by the buildup of fat in the liver which can impede the normal liver functions. 

Gallbladder Issues

The gallbladder is a small organ located beneath the liver that is responsible for storing and releasing bile, a fluid that aids in the digestion of fats. When the gallbladder is not functioning properly, it can lead to gut dysfunctions such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. Gallstones, which are hardened deposits of bile, can also cause gut dysfunctions.  Bile is made up of various substances, including cholesterol, bile salts, and bilirubin. When the balance of these substances in bile is disrupted, it can lead to the formation of gallstones.

Factors that can contribute to the formation of gallstones include:
  1. Too much cholesterol in the bile.
  2. Imbalance of bile salts: Bile salts are compounds that help to break down fats in the small intestine. 
  3. Bilirubin imbalances: Bilirubin is a waste product that is produced when red blood cells are broken down. When there is too much bilirubin in the bile, it can lead to the formation of gallstones.
  4. Slow gallbladder emptying: When the gallbladder does not empty completely or regularly, it can lead to the formation of sludge, which can eventually turn into gallstones.  This situation can occur if a person is eating a low fat diet.  Fat is what stimulates the gallbladder to release bile.  If that signal isn’t received often enough, the bile sits and becomes sludgier.  
  5. Genetics: Some people are more prone to developing gallstones due to genetic factors.
  6. Rapid weight loss: When people lose weight rapidly, it can lead to an increased risk of developing gallstones.
  7. Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing gallstones.

Thyroid Imbalances

The thyroid is a gland located in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism. When the thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism), it can impact gut health. Hypothyroidism can slow down digestion, leading to constipation and other gut dysfunctions, while hyperthyroidism can speed up digestion, leading to diarrhea and other gut dysfunctions.

Thyroid function is easily affected by chronic stress, poor adrenal health, lack of quality sleep, inadequate nutrition, too much or too little exercise, digestive dysfunctions that prevent absorption of key nutrients, and exposure to various toxins.  


Dehydration is a common problem that can impact gut health. Dehydration can contribute to constipation and other gut dysfunctions.  The gut relies on a delicate balance of fluids and electrolytes to function properly. Water is a primary component of the digestive juices necessary for proper breakdown of your foods and elimination of wastes.  Without adequate water intake, your production of these juices may be decreased. 

One of the most common digestive symptoms associated with dehydration is constipation. When the body is dehydrated, it can cause the stool to become hard and difficult to pass, which can lead to constipation. Dehydration can also slow down the movement of food through the digestive tract, which can further contribute to constipation.

Pancreas Issues

The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces digestive enzymes that are necessary to properly break down foods. When the pancreas is not functioning properly, it can lead to gut dysfunctions such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. This can also lead to nutrient deficiencies when food is unable to be properly broken down.  Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, can also cause gut dysfunctions.  

Brain Issues

The brain-gut connection is a complex and fascinating area of research. When the brain is under stress or experiencing anxiety or depression, it can impact gut health. This is because the gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve, which sends signals between the two. Stress and anxiety can lead to gut dysfunctions such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.  Newer research is showing the issues like IBS are actually caused by the disruptions between the brain and the gut.  Resetting the gut-brain connection is key to healing digestive issues.  

Eating Habits

Finally, eating habits can also impact gut health. Consuming a diet that is high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats (like industrially produced vegetable oils) can lead to gut dysfunctions such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. Eating too fast, not chewing thoroughly, eating while distracted, eating too late, eating too much in one sitting, and eating in a stressed state all contribute to poor digestive function.  


In conclusion, gut dysfunctions can occur due to a variety of systems throughout the body or lifestyle factors. If you are experiencing gut dysfunctions such as fatigue, stubborn weight, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, depression/anxiety, or hormone imbalances, it is important to consider these potential culprits and seek the advice of a healthcare professional. With the right treatment and lifestyle changes, it is possible to improve gut health and enjoy a healthier, happier life.


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