Digestive Health

Your digestive system breaks down foods and liquids into their chemical components—carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and the like—that the body can absorb as nutrients and use for energy or to build or repair cells.

Food's journey through the digestive system begins in the mouth. It passes down the esophagus and into the stomach, where digestion begins. Next stop: the small intestine, which in the average person is more than 20 feet long. The small intestine further breaks down food, absorbs nutrients, and sends them into the bloodstream.

The remaining watery food residue moves into your large intestine, a muscular tube about 4 feet long. As undigested food passes through it, bacteria feed off the remnants. The wall of the large intestine soaks up most of the remaining water. Any undigested food that remains is expelled by a highly efficient disposal system.

Like all complicated machinery, the digestive tract doesn't always run smoothly. In some people, the problem is genetic. In others, the immune system mistakenly attacks the digestive system, causing various digestive woes. What we eat, and how we eat, can also throw off digestive health.

Common ailments of the digestive system include:

  • heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • peptic ulcer
  • diverticular disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • gallstones
  • celiac disease
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

Keeping your digestive system healthy

There are several ways to keep your digestive system healthy:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Keep your weight in the healthy range.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Exercise several times a week, if not every day.
  • Learn different ways to reduce stress.

Digestive Health Articles

Aspirin advice: Coated vs. plain

Designed to dissolve in the intestines, enteric-coated aspirin may be less likely to cause stomach irritation. But it is just as likely to cause gastrointestinal bleeding as regular aspirin, and some people might not fully absorb enteric-coated aspirin. (Locked) More »

The lowdown on constipation

About one-third of adults ages 60 and older report at least occasional constipation, which can leave them feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish. However, constipation is often easy to treat and manage with diet modifications, like adding more fiber and drinking enough water, and adopting regular exercise. (Locked) More »

Don’t tolerate food intolerance

Food intolerances occur more often as men age since their digestion naturally slows and the body produces less of the enzymes needed to break down food. Using a food diary can help men identify problem foods and portion sizes that cause digestive problems so they can make the necessary dietary adjustments. (Locked) More »

Fighting inflammation at the meal table

Gut bacteria, which are influenced by an individual’s diet, play a role in inflammation. An eating plan based on unprocessed plant-based foods—fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains—is linked to lower levels of inflammation. More »

What to eat when you have chronic heartburn

Some foods and ingredients may intensify or trigger heartburn, such as spicy, fatty, or fried foods; citrus; tomato sauces; vinegar; chocolate; caffeine; onions; peppermint; carbonated drinks; and alcohol. People who have heartburn can still enjoy lean meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains. The trick is making them flavorful. Suggestions include using only small amounts of spices, or using fresh herbs; roasting food to bring out natural flavors; and using low-fat sauces, such as pesto and low-fat yogurt-based sauces. More »

Can gut bacteria improve your health?

About 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad, live inside your digestive system. This population is known collectively as the gut microbiota. Emerging research suggests certain species and strains of gut bacteria can help prevent or treat diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and heart disease, as well as help improve mood by lowering levels of stress and anxiety. A balanced, healthy diet that includes high-fiber and fermented foods can help your gut bacteria system thrive. (Locked) More »