Digestive Disorders

Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you?

Marcelo Campos, MD
Marcelo Campos, MD, Contributor

Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the intestinal tract develops cracks or holes, setting the stage for tissue damage that leads to inflammation. It’s believed that this may be the cause of a number of common chronic diseases.

Can probiotics help treat depression and anxiety?

Athos Bousvaros, MD
Athos Bousvaros, MD, Contributor

Research is exploring the connection between the brain and intestine and how they affect each other, and whether the use of probiotics can help treat depression or anxiety.

H. pylori, a true stomach “bug”: Who should doctors test and treat?

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

A stomach infection of H. pylori bacteria can cause ulcers, but not everyone with the infection shows symptoms and the treatment process can be challenging, so only people with certain conditions need to be tested for it.

When a nasty stomach virus strikes…

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

When one person in your household catches a stomach bug, it seems the rest of the household becomes sick almost instantly. This winter has been particularly difficult, which makes it all the more useful to know more: Why does this bug spread so quickly? And how do I prevent it?

Don’t tolerate food intolerance

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Food intolerances become more common with age, and such problems are not necessarily linked to an allergy or disease. There are ways to pinpoint what is disturbing your digestive system and there are simple steps you can take to ease digestive distress and even continue to enjoy many of the foods you love.

Colon cancer screening: Is there an easier, effective way?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

The preparations necessary for a colonoscopy can be as unpleasant as the test itself, if not more so. A new test can be completed at home and requires no special prep, but the test is more likely to return a false positive, requiring further testing. In addition, some of the research supporting this test was done by the company or co-inventors, so more research is needed.

When treating stomach bugs, the best solution may be the simplest one

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

When your child has a stomach bug, it’s tempting to reach for over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions. After all, doctors have recommended them in the past. But a new study has revealed that most children don’t need them. In fact, juice diluted with water may be all your child needs.

Can a heartburn drug cause cognitive problems?

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Many older adults take PPIs to treat heartburn, GERD, or stomach ulcers. Recently, a new study identified a link between chronic PPI use and an increased risk for dementia. If you take a PPI, check in with your doctor — you may be able to take it only when you have symptoms, not continuously (and this kind of usage was not associated with a dramatically increased dementia risk in the study).

Probiotics may ease constipation

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and other cultured foods, have long been touted for their ability to ease digestive woes. The strongest evidence for probiotics is in treating diarrhea caused by a viral infection or from taking antibiotics. Do probiotics also work for the opposite problem — constipation? A report from King’s College in London showed that taking probiotics can help soften stools, making them easier to pass, and can increase the number of weekly bowel movements. What we don’t know is which probiotic species and strains are most effective, how much to take, and for how long.

Study says aggressive treatment for diverticulitis is often overused

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Diverticulitis, an unpleasant condition that occurs when tiny pouches inside the large intestine become inflamed, can cause intense lower abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, a fever, and sometimes a good deal of rectal bleeding. Following a liquid diet for a while can help treat it, but antibiotics, and sometimes even surgery, may be needed. A new study in JAMA suggests that these treatments may be overused.
University of Michigan researchers reviewed the results of 80 studies of diverticulitis and its treatment. While the team agreed that antibiotic use and surgery are sometimes necessary, it concluded that there should be a lesser role for aggressive antibiotic or surgical intervention for chronic or recurrent diverticulitis than was previously thought necessary. Some studies suggest that exercising, controlling weight, and eating a high-fiber diet can prevent diverticular disease. It can also bring relief from constipation, better cholesterol control, and make for more filling meals. Adults should get 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber every day. It’s best to get it from high-fiber foods, such as beans, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Some people need a fiber supplement.