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

Answers to the top questions about cannabis extract

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-intoxicating plant chemical that comes from hemp or marijuana. It is used to help reduce symptoms of many conditions, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, arthritis, diabetes, a muscle disorder called dystonia, seizures, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and insomnia. CBD is considered generally safe and well tolerated, though it’s not clear yet how much CBD is safe and for how long, or if it is safe specifically for older adults. CBD has some known side effects and drug interactions. (Locked) More »

Feeling the burn? Antacids can provide some relief

Over-the-counter antacids may be effective at managing occasional bouts of heartburn. But persistent heartburn should be checked out by a doctor, who may want to prescribe medication or look for underlying medical causes. (Locked) More »

Soothing solutions for irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is most common in people in their 30s and 40s; however, it can occur at any age. The exact cause of IBS has yet to be discovered and it is impossible to prevent. The goal is to focus on managing the condition, which can be done by identifying specific triggers for IBS symptoms and then adopting strategies to make your symptoms less severe and less frequent. The most common treatment approaches are diet, stress management, and medication. (Locked) More »

Avoid complications by treating chronic constipation early

Aggressive and early treatment of constipation can prevent painful complications from the condition, including hemorrhoids, anal fissures, ulcerations of the colon, bowel obstruction, and rectal prolapse. Start with lifestyle changes—such as adding more fiber to the diet, drinking enough water, and regular exercise. Used wisely, medications also can be very helpful. (Locked) More »

Putting a stop to leaky gut

Leaky gut occurs when holes in the gut lining allow toxins and bacteria to enter the body, and may contribute to symptoms like bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, fatigue, and headaches. While leaky gut remains a mysterious ailment and is often tough to diagnose, investing in overall digestive health, including eating a diet with unprocessed foods and adequate fiber intake, and adopting regular exercise can help keep the digestive system healthy. More »

What’s causing that belly bloat?

Increasing evidence suggests that most people with bloating have an abnormal response to a normal amount of gas. This problem is called visceral hypersensitivity. However, bloating can also result from an underlying condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome or a condition called gastroparesis; from a reaction to diet; or possibly from an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. To treat bloating, doctors first eliminate underlying conditions and diet issues. If that doesn’t resolve bloat, doctors may consider sensory issues as a cause of bloating. (Locked) More »

Heartburn vs. heart attack

Heartburn, a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, causes a painful sensation in the middle of the chest that is often mistaken for a heart attack. Drugs to treat these common problems are often taken together intentionally. The widely used heartburn drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors may help reduce gastrointestinal bleeding—a possible side effect of aspirin, which is sometimes taken to prevent heart attacks. More »