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 linked to fewer digestive tract cancers

Scientists continue to explore the health benefits vs. risks of aspirin therapy. One new analysis suggests that regularly taking aspirin may protect against several types of digestive tract cancers, such as bowel, stomach, gallbladder, esophageal, pancreatic, and liver cancers. More »

Tips to avoid constipation

There are many ways one can try to avoid constipation. For example, lifestyle remedies may help—such as increasing dietary fiber, getting regular exercise, and drinking three to six cups of water per day. If those approaches don’t work, doctors recommend using fiber supplements, such as psyllium husk (Metamucil), methylcellulose (Citrucel), or wheat dextrin (Benefiber). Another supplement that might help is magnesium. When all strategies fail, it may be time to try over-the-counter medication. One option is an osmotic laxative such as polyethylene glycol (Miralax). (Locked) More »

Heartburn medication update

Concerns about health risks tied to heartburn medications can make it tough to choose the right treatment. Doctors say it’s generally best to try pill-free strategies first, such as losing weight and avoiding foods or drinks that trigger heartburn. If those measures don’t work, the next step is to use antacids. If antacids are ineffective, one can try a medication called an H2 blocker. If that doesn’t help after a few weeks, one can move on to a proton-pump inhibitor. If there’s still no relief after a few weeks, it’s time to speak with a doctor. More »

Gastritis

Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining. The lining of the stomach often looks red, irritated and swollen, and it may have raw areas that can bleed.   Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria — In addition to causing gastritis, H. pylori infections have been linked to the development peptic ulcer disease, open sores inside the stomach or part of the small intestine. However, many people have H. pylori in their stomach and have no symptoms.Many different illnesses and irritants — acting either alone or in combination — can trigger the inflammation of gastritis. Some of the most common triggers include: (Locked) More »

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is commonly called heartburn. This digestive disorder most often causes a burning and sometimes squeezing sensation in the mid-chest. In GERD, acid and digestive enzymes from the stomach flow backwards into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. This backward flow of stomach juices is called "reflux". These caustic stomach juices inflame the lining of the esophagus. If GERD is not treated, it can permanently damage the esophagus. A muscular ring seals the esophagus from the stomach. This ring is called the esophageal sphincter. Normally, the sphincter opens when you swallow, allowing food into your stomach. The rest of the time, it squeezes tight to prevent food and acid in the stomach from backing up into the esophagus. (Locked) More »

Bowel Obstruction

In a bowel obstruction (intestinal obstruction), a blockage prevents the contents of the intestines from passing normally through the digestive tract. The problem causing the blockage can be inside or outside the intestine. Inside the intestine, a tumor or swelling can fill and block the inside passageway of the intestine. Outside the intestine, it is possible for an adjacent organ or area of tissue to pinch, compress or twist a segment of bowel. A bowel obstruction can occur in the small bowel (small intestine) or large bowel (large intestine or colon). Also, a bowel obstruction can be total or partial, depending on whether any intestinal contents can pass through the obstructed area. In the small intestine, the most common causes of bowel obstruction are: (Locked) More »

Gastroenteritis In Adults

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the intestines that causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, and other symptoms of digestive upset. In adults, the two most common causes of gastroenteritis are viral and bacterial infections: Each year in the United States, millions of people develop gastroenteritis by eating contaminated food, while millions more suffer from mild bouts of viral gastroenteritis. In otherwise healthy adults, both forms of gastroenteritis tend to be mild and brief, and many episodes are never reported to a doctor. However, in the elderly and people with weakened immune defenses, gastroenteritis sometimes can produce dehydration and other dangerous complications. Even in robust adults, certain types of aggressive bacteria occasionally cause more serious forms of food poisoning that can cause high fever and severe gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea. In adults, symptoms of gastroenteritis typically include mild diarrhea (fewer than 10 watery stools daily), abdominal pain and cramps, low-grade fever (below 101° Fahrenheit), headache, nausea and sometimes vomiting. In some cases, there can be bloody diarrhea. (Locked) More »

Hiatal Hernia

A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ or body part protrudes through an opening into an area where it shouldn't. A hiatal hernia is named for the hiatus, an opening in the diaphragm between your chest and your stomach. Normally, the esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach) goes through this opening. In a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach and/or the section where the stomach joins the esophagus (called the gastroesophageal junction) slips through the hiatus into the chest. There are two types of hiatal hernias: Sliding hiatal hernias may not cause any symptoms, or they may cause heartburn that is worse when you lean forward, strain or lie down. There may be chronic belching and, sometimes, regurgitation (backflow of stomach contents into the throat). (Locked) More »

Breaking up with your favorite foods

Eating certain foods sometimes triggers indigestion or heartburn symptoms, particularly as people age. For example, consuming foods with certain natural sugars such as lactose may lead to cramping, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. Eating peppers, tomato sauces, and many other foods can worsen heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When one must remove trigger foods from the diet, there are alternatives that can also be satisfying, such as lactose-free dairy products. When removing a food isn’t possible, some tricks—such as adding a dollop of sour cream—can help reduce the heat in spicy dishes. (Locked) More »

Keep your digestion moving

Over time, everyone’s digestive system works less efficiently and people can develop food intolerance or begin taking medications that can affect digestion. These changes can create problems like gas, bloating, cramps, and constipation. By identifying the reasons for the digestive issues, managing them becomes easier and can help keep the entire system running smoothly. (Locked) More »