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Digestive Health Archive


Adjusting gut bacteria may improve response to cancer treatment

Gut bacteria may play a role in response to cancer treatments that target the immune system.

Facts about fiber

Fiber improves digestion and may help lower a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But according to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most people meet only half their daily fiber needs. The main reason is not following a basic healthy diet with foods high in fiber. Making small changes in dietary habits and adopting new fiber-rich foods can help people reach their quota.

Five lifestyle factors that can help prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease

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?

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

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

Some fermented foods contain probiotics, beneficial microorganisms that can live in your intestines. These microorganisms help you stay healthy, potentially improving your immune function and reducing damaging inflammation. Eating prebiotics—high-fiber foods that are a source of nutrition for these healthful microorganisms—is essential to help these beneficial microorganisms grow and thrive.

Is cheese a healthy source of probiotics?

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.

The good side of bacteria

Probiotics are good bacteria that keep the gut healthy and help fight infections and inflammation. Some research suggests that certain probiotics help relieve symptoms of gut-related conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Fermented foods are the best sources of probiotics, such as yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread.

Gut check: How the microbiome may mediate heart health

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.

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