Digestive Health Archive


Can everyday spices make you healthier?

Turmeric, coriander, and cumin may boost your health and breathe new life into tired dishes.

The health benefits of foods such as berries, broccoli, and salmon are well known. But your kitchen's spice rack may also hold some secret weapons against conditions such as inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and more. "Spices are underused, but it would be very easy to take advantage of them and improve health," says Dr. Lipi Roy, an internal medicine physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

There are few large randomized trials that demonstrate spices' health effects. But many studies in animals suggest that several spices offer benefits. So instead of flavoring your food with salt and butter, which can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease, consider using the following spices.

Heartburn medications and the heart

Image: ThinkStock

Ask the doctor

Q. I've read news reports that the heartburn drug I take may cause heart attacks. Should I worry about this?

A. Several studies have reported an association between proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) and heart attacks. PPIs are medications for heartburn, such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix). Overall, however, the evidence suggests these medications are not risky for your heart.

7 ways to get heartburn relief


Functional dyspepsia is no fun. Maybe you've just eaten or finished a meal an hour or so ago — and now your stomach just doesn't "feel right." You feel bloated and uncomfortable. Or maybe it's more of a burning sensation. Maybe you feel queasy, or even throw up. You might say you have an "upset stomach" or indigestion. If there is no known medical cause for your symptoms, your doctor would call it "dyspepsia" or "bad digestion."

Functional dyspepsia

Indigestion is real. The medical term for persistent upper abdominal pain or discomfort without an identifiable medical cause is functional dyspepsia. The symptoms can come and go at any time, but often eating is the trigger. Sometimes the discomfort begins during the meal; other times, about half an hour later.

If you suffer from functional dyspepsia, you're not alone. Roughly 25% of the population is affected, and it hits men and women equally. It's responsible for a significant percentage of visits to primary care doctors, in part because many people worry they might have an ulcer. While it's frustrating that the cause of functional dyspepsia is unknown, it's even more frustrating that there is no surefire cure.

Heartburn and indigestion relief

The good news is that there are simple things you can try to help relieve your functional dyspepsia symptoms:

  1. Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms.
  2. Eat small portions and don't overeat; try eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, and be sure to chew food slowly and completely.
  3. Avoid activities that result in swallowing excess air, such as smoking, eating quickly, chewing gum, and drinking carbonated beverages.
  4. Reduce your stress. Try relaxation therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy, or exercise. An aerobic workout 3-5 times per week can help, but don't exercise right after eating.
  5. Get enough rest.
  6. Don't lie down within two hours of eating.
  7. Keep your weight under control.

For more on diagnosing and treating indigestion, read The Sensitive Gut, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Ask the doctor: Do I need gallbladder surgery?


Q. I've been having abdominal pain that may be due to gallstones. Is surgery the best solution, or are there other things I can try first?

A. The first thing to determine is whether your abdominal pain is in fact due to gallstones. They typically cause pain on the upper right side or in the center of the abdomen just below the breastbone that radiates to the back or right shoulder. The pain is often brought on by eating—especially fatty foods—or may occur at night. Sometimes gallstone pain is accompanied by sweating, bloating, nausea, or vomiting.

Is your heartburn pill working for you?

Image: iStock

For optimal results, you need to take your medication regularly and time it correctly to your meals.

Have you tried to cool the burning discomfort of heartburn with medication and failed to get full relief? If so, a few simple adjustments to optimize your treatment may be all you need.

Easy ways to stay regular

Increasing fluids may help improve regularity. In general, healthy older adults should consume about 3 to 6 cups of fluid per day.
Images: Thinkstock

Improve digestive health by addressing underlying causes of irregularity, as well as fluids, diet, and exercise.

Heartburn and your heart

Image: Bigstock

Proton-pump inhibitors offer welcome relief for people with chronic heartburn. Here's what you need to know to use them wisely.

Heartburn didn't get its name by accident. Although the problem stems from excess stomach acid rather than heart-related issues, it provokes searing pain focused directly behind the breastbone. Of the over eight million emergency room visits for chest pain each year, severe heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), accounts for over half the cases in which actual heart problems are ruled out.

Putting the kibosh on belching

Constant burping can be annoying — and embarrassing! But there are some simple steps that can help you squelch belching. The key is to reduce the amount of air you swallow.

Start by looking at some simple habits. Two of the biggest culprits behind swallowing too much air are chewing gum and smoking. Drop these habits and you'll be gulping less air — and quitting smoking has even more important health benefits! If you wear dentures, make sure they fit snugly. And avoid "high-air" foods and beverages like carbonated beverages and whipped desserts. After eating, consider taking a stroll rather than plunking down in front of the TV. Staying upright and moving helps your stomach empty and relieves bloated feelings. When it's time to go to bed, try sleeping on your stomach or right side to aid in the escape of gas and alleviate fullness.

Gain more weight, get more GERD

Maintaining a healthy weight is the best way to rein in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or chronic heartburn, according to a study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Researchers found that GERD symptoms increased for every incremental rise in body mass index (BMI), which measures the ratio of weight to height.

In GERD, the acidic contents of the stomach back up into the lower esophagus, causing burning pain. The most effective treatment for GERD is taking an acid-reducing proton-pump inhibitor medication, such as omeprazole (Prilosec). People who are overweight are much more likely to develop GERD.

How you can make colonoscopy prep easier

Colonoscopy saves lives, and adequate prep is essential for a successful colonoscopy. New laxative preps are making the process easier to tolerate.

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