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

Concern about recurring hiccups

Hiccups are often caused by many everyday situations, including distention of the stomach (which can be the result of overeating), swallowing air, or drinking carbonated beverages. They usually go away on their own, but episodes that last longer than 48 hours could be a sign of certain medical problems.  (Locked) More »

Coming to terms with constipation

Constipation is rarely the symptom of a serious illness but can be triggered by medications or disruptions to one’s daily routine. Increased dietary fiber, regular exercise, and osmotic laxatives that bulk up stools can help alleviate constipation. (Locked) More »

Constipation: A connection to heart disease?

Chronic constipation has been linked to a slightly higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. One possible explanation: infrequent bowel movements lead to straining, which can raise blood pressure, stressing the heart and blood vessels. Many medications (especially painkillers) can promote constipation. Eating more fiber, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting regular exercise can help.  (Locked) More »

Should you keep taking that heartburn medication?

Everyone gets a little heartburn now and then. But if it happens more than three times a week, it’s time to do something about it. One way to treat heartburn is with proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), which help reduce stomach acid. They’re generally considered safe in the short term. When taken long-term, PPIs are associated with an increased risk of hip fractures, pneumonia, dementia, heart attack, and chronic kidney disease. People taking PPIs should talk to their doctors about whether they really need to continue taking them. (Locked) More »

9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication

Acid reflux can often be controlled by eating slowly, avoiding “trigger” foods and carbonated beverages, staying upright and avoiding vigorous exercise after meals, losing weight, sleeping on an incline, stopping smoking, and changing medications. (Locked) More »

Easy ways to stay regular

As people get older, the muscles around the colon become a little less responsive to contractions, so it’s not uncommon to become constipated. Managing fluid and fiber intake can help people stay regular. Treating underlying conditions, such as stress or a slow metabolism, and adjusting medications may also help. Many experts recommend regular exercise as one way of increasing regularity. The minimum recommendation for general health is 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. Some doctors think that the extra fluids people drink when they exercise may be more important for regularity than the exercise itself.  (Locked) More »

Is your heartburn pill working for you?

Combine lifestyle change and medication to control heartburn. Which should you rely on to relieve persistent heartburn-lifestyle change or medication? The honest answer is "both." (Locked) More »