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

Cholecystectomy

Cholecystectomy is the surgical removal of the gallbladder, the small saclike organ located near the liver in the upper right side of the abdomen. It is attached to the main duct that carries bile from the liver into the intestine. Bile helps your body to break down and absorb fats. The gallbladder temporarily stores bile from the liver. When you eat, the gallbladder contracts, and squeezes extra bile into the intestine to aid digestion. There are two ways to remove the gallbladder: Over 90% of the time, laparoscopic surgery is used because it requires a shorter hospital stay, is less painful, and has a shorter recovery time compared to traditional surgery. Traditional surgery is usually used because the person has significant abdominal scarring from prior surgery, severe inflammation, unusual anatomy, or other factors that make surgery with a laparoscope very difficult and riskier. (Locked) More »

Endoscopy

Endoscopy describes many procedures that look inside the body using some type of endoscope, a flexible tube with a small TV camera and a light on one end and an eyepiece on the other. The endoscope allows doctors to examine the inside of certain tube-like structures in the body. Many endoscopes transmit the doctor's view to a video screen. Most endoscopes have attachments that permit doctors to take fluid or tissue samples for laboratory testing. Upper endoscopy allows a doctor to see inside the esophagus, stomach and top parts of the small intestine. Bronchoscopy examines the large airways inside the lungs (bronchi). Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy examine different parts of the lower digestive tract. Each type of endoscopy uses a slightly different endoscope with a different name — an upper endoscope for upper endoscopy, a bronchoscope for bronchoscopy, a sigmoidoscope for sigmoidoscopy and a colonoscope for colonoscopy. Other endoscopes allow doctors to see inside the abdomen and inside joints through small incisions. (Locked) More »

Preventing seasonal maladies

Older adults are especially susceptible to winter illnesses. This is partly because of a weakened immune system. Common winter illnesses include the common cold, sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, influenza, and stomach bugs. To ward off winter illness, one should get the proper vaccines, wash hands before eating or touching the face, carry hand sanitizer, avoid close contact with people who’re under the weather, and stay away from shared food like potlucks and buffets. More »

New thinking on peripheral neuropathy

Doctors are learning that neuropathy can cause many more problems than just numbness and tingling in the feet and hands. Neuropathy of the autonomic nerves to the heart or blood vessels can cause low blood pressure, perceived as chronic fatigue and faintness or dizziness. Damage to nerve fibers serving the gastrointestinal tract may cause bloating, nausea, digestion problems, constipation, or diarrhea. These are often labeled irritable bowel syndrome. Autonomic neuropathy less often affects the bladder and sexual function. (Locked) More »

The state of gas

The average person produces between ½ and 1 liter of gas per day, and passes gas about 10 to 20 times during the day. However, what a person eats—or more specifically how the body digests these foods—can increase gas production. The more common gas-producing foods contain short-chain carbohydrates called FODMAPs. Working with a nutritionist to identify specific problem foods and adjusting their amounts can help control excess gas. (Locked) More »

The risk of inactive ingredients in everyday drugs

Inactive ingredients serve many purposes in medications. For example, artificial sweeteners mask a bitter taste, fatty acids help promote the absorption of some drugs, and lactose and other sugars bind ingredients together. But inactive ingredients may also cause adverse reactions, such as an allergic response or gastrointestinal symptoms. It’s best to carefully read a medication’s ingredient list before taking the pill, and consult a doctor if there are any ingredients that are a concern. (Locked) More »

How to deal with food sensitivity

Many people confuse food sensitivity with food intolerance or allergy. Food sensitivity, the most common of the three conditions, is often related to tiny leaks that develop in our intestine as we age. Adopting an elimination diet prescribed by a nutritionist or dietitian can help identify problem foods and determine if a person should stop eating those foods or simply manage portions better. (Locked) More »

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 »