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Digestive Health Archive


Five lifestyle factors that can help prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease

Updated May 12, 2021
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a common condition that affects approximately one out of every five people in the western world. Despite the effectiveness of medications, there are concerns about the long-term effects of some of these drugs. A recent study identified five lifestyle factors that can affect the chance of developing GERD.

Is IBD an underrecognized health problem in minority groups?

Updated May 7, 2021

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a treatable condition once considered a disease that largely affects people who are white, although in recent years it has been diagnosed more often in other racial and ethnic groups, in the US and around the world. Recognizing this condition early can make a difference in care and quality of life.

Harvard researchers: Pill-free approaches help control heartburn

Updated April 1, 2021

News briefs

Living a healthy lifestyle may be one of the best things you can do to tame the heartburn of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), suggests a research letter published online Jan. 4, 2021, by JAMA Internal Medicine. Harvard researchers analyzed the self-reported health information of about 43,000 middle-aged women who were followed for 10 years. Women who adhered to five healthy lifestyle factors, regardless of whether they took heartburn medication, appeared to prevent nearly 40% of their GERD symptoms each week. The pill-free approaches included maintaining a healthy body weight (a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9); not smoking; getting 30 minutes daily of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity; limiting coffee, tea, or soda to no more than 2 cups per day; and eating a healthy diet. "Each one of these factors may prevent the inappropriate relaxation of the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the esophagus, helping to keep acid from refluxing up and causing heartburn. For example, carrying extra weight around the waist can push on the stomach, forcing stomach acid up into the esophagus," says Dr. Raaj S. Mehta, lead author of the study and a gastroenterology fellow at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Image: © kate_sept2004/Getty Images

Feed your gut

Updated April 1, 2021

Nourish the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract with a mix of probiotics and prebiotics.

If you want a healthy gut, you have to feed it well. This nourishment should include both probiotics and prebiotics — two dietary components that are increasingly being recognized as essential to your intestinal and overall health, says Teresa Fung, adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

There's been a lot of buzz recently about the need to eat probiotics — -living microorganisms found in foods such as yogurt and fermented vegetables. Probiotics add to your gut microbiota, the collection of 100 trillion or so bacteria and other critters living in your gut. Having a healthy microbiota may help foster a healthy immune system and reduce damaging inflammation in the body. Eating probiotics regularly may also help to prevent the intestinal environment from being overrun by unhealthy bacteria, which have been linked to everything from mood disorders and obesity to diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.

The good side of bacteria

Updated February 1, 2021

Probiotics may help maintain a healthy and happy gut — but make sure you choose the right sources.

There are many things in life that can be categorized as coming in both good and bad versions. The same applies to bacteria.

Bad bacteria like salmonella and E. coli can make you sick. Good bacteria like the kind in probiotics play an important role in keeping us healthy.

Is cheese a healthy source of probiotics?

Updated February 1, 2021

Ask the doctors

Q. I'm trying to add more probiotics into my diet. Is cheese a good source?

A. Probiotics, good bacteria that can contribute to gut and overall health, can be found in some types of cheese as well as in dietary supplements, fermented foods, and yogurt. Typically, probiotics are in cheeses that have been aged but not heated afterward. This includes both soft and hard cheeses, including Swiss, provolone, Gouda, cheddar, Edam, Gruyère, and cottage cheese.

Gut check: How the microbiome may mediate heart health

Updated January 1, 2021

Your cholesterol and other factors linked to cardiovascular health may be influenced by the bacteria in your belly.

The roughly 38 trillion bacteria that dwell deep within your intestines perform many important tasks. Collectively known as the gut microbiota, these microbes help digest food, metabolize medications, and protect you from infectious organisms.

In many ways, your gut microbiota — which weighs about half a pound in total — functions somewhat like a distinct organ in your body. Just as you have a unique genome, you also have a unique gut microbiome, consisting of some eight million genes that control your microbiota. Scientists are still learning how the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome influence the health of the cardiovascular system.

What is a hiatal hernia?

Updated January 1, 2021

Ask the doctors

Q. My partner just got diagnosed with a hiatal hernia. What is it, and is it dangerous?

A. Hiatal hernias are very common. They occur when part of the stomach pokes through a natural gap (called a hiatus) in the diaphragm, which is a muscle separating your chest from your abdomen. Normally the esophagus connects with the stomach through this hole, but in some cases, the upper part of the stomach slides upward through the hiatus. The most common cause is weakened musculature that surrounds the hiatus, which can be aggravated by straining during bowel movements, intense coughing, pregnancy, or heavy exertion.

Don’t get upset about indigestion

Updated October 1, 2020

The recurrent discomfort of indigestion can be puzzling. But there are ways to manage flare-ups without medication.

Everyone experiences occasional indigestion. You enjoy a favorite meal, only you eat at bit too much or too fast. The next thing you know, you feel problems bubbling inside, like an uncomfortable sense of fullness, stomach pain, bloating, or heartburn.

Most of the time, these episodes are harmless. But over time, it's common for indigestion to become more frequent and severe, a condition called chronic dyspepsia or recurring indigestion. The main cause? An aging digestive system.

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