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Digestive Health Archive


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.

Are inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome the same?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are different, though they can have similar symptoms. IBS symptoms seem to arise from hypersensitive nerves and abnormal muscle contractions in the digestive tract, while IBD results from a problem with the immune system causing inflammation.

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.

Is cheese a healthy source of probiotics?

Some types of cheese, including Swiss and Gouda, are a good source of probiotics, but eat cheese in moderation.

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.

What is a hiatal hernia?

A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach slides through a natural hole in the diaphragm, which can lead to acid reflux.

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