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

9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication

Acid reflux can often be controlled by eating slowly, avoiding “trigger” foods and carbonated beverages, staying upright and avoiding vigorous exercise after meals, losing weight, sleeping on an incline, stopping smoking, and changing medications. (Locked) More »

Easy ways to stay regular

As people get older, the muscles around the colon become a little less responsive to contractions, so it’s not uncommon to become constipated. Managing fluid and fiber intake can help people stay regular. Treating underlying conditions, such as stress or a slow metabolism, and adjusting medications may also help. Many experts recommend regular exercise as one way of increasing regularity. The minimum recommendation for general health is 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. Some doctors think that the extra fluids people drink when they exercise may be more important for regularity than the exercise itself.  (Locked) More »

Is your heartburn pill working for you?

Combine lifestyle change and medication to control heartburn. Which should you rely on to relieve persistent heartburn-lifestyle change or medication? The honest answer is "both." (Locked) More »

Heartburn and your heart

Symptoms of GERD can mimic the pain of a heart attack or angina. Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) offer welcome relief for people with chronic heartburn, but as with other powerful drugs, it's important to use them wisely. More »

Gain more weight, get more GERD

A study in Norway found that weight gain was directly tied to experiencing new chronic heartburn symptoms. Losing weight is the long-term solution to heartburn, though acid-reducing medication soothes symptoms in the short run. More »

How you can make colonoscopy prep easier

Colonoscopy saves lives, and adequate prep is essential for a successful colonoscopy. New split dosing schedules and low-volume laxatives make preparing for colonoscopy easier to tolerate. (Locked) More »

What is GERD or Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Most people know gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by its most common symptom: heartburn. GERD occurs when the muscle that connects the esophagus to the stomach fails to do its job. This muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter. Normally, it opens to allow food to pass into the stomach, then closes to keep food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus. When the sphincter relaxes too much, irritating stomach fluids surge up into the esophagus, sometimes causing inflammation and the painful burning sensation behind the breastbone known as heartburn. More »