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

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 »

3 surprising risks of poor posture

Poor posture is associated with many problems, such as back pain, poor balance, headaches, and breathing difficulties. Poor posture can also promote incontinence, constipation, and heartburn. Physical therapists can help improve poor posture by customizing a program of exercises and stretches to improve a person’s core muscle strength and flexibility. The goal is a neutral, upright spine position—not flexed too far forward or backward. To attain the neutral spine position, one should put the shoulders down and back, pull the head back, and engage the core muscles. More »

Cracking the cough code

Coughs can indicate different types of underlying conditions. Wet coughs that produce sputum are associated with postnasal drip, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchiectasis, and nontuberculous mycobacteria infection. A dry cough (no sputum) is typically a reaction to something irritating the throat, such as a pollutant in the air, or certain conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease. A cough that sounds like a seal’s bark may be caused by infection or a disease. A cough marked by a whooping sound signals pertussis. (Locked) More »

The best ways to manage heartburn

Over-the-counter antacids often can help control occasional heartburn, but for recurring episodes, people may benefit from stronger medication like H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors. More »

Healthy gut, healthy heart?

The gut microbiome refers to the genes that govern the trillions of microbes in the human intestinal tract. These bacteria and other microbes make an array of substances that influence the body’s vascular, nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. These substances play a role in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar and the formation of artery-clogging plaque (atherosclerosis). Dietary habits that are helpful for preventing heart disease—such as avoiding red meat, keeping salt intake low, and eating lots of fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains—also have favorable effects on the gut microbiome. More »

How can I treat stubborn hiccups?

Hiccups that don’t respond to simple home remedies may respond to prescription medications, and may possibly respond to marijuana, acupuncture, or hypnosis. (Locked) More »

What is a leaky gut?

In recent years, scientists have discovered that the inner lining of the intestine can become leaky, and allow toxins from microbes (and, sometimes, the microbes themselves) to get into the bloodstream. This can cause inflammation. (Locked) More »