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The Ultimate Guide to Digestive Health

Your digestive health comprises a diet rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fat, adequate water, regular exercise, stress management, and chewing your food before swallowing.

Everyone experiences digestive complications such as stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, and nausea at one point or the other in their lives. However, when these conditions become frequent, they can be signs of some underlying conditions.

Digestive problems may disrupt your day-to-day activities and cause pain.

Nonetheless, there are good practices you can carry out to achieve a stable and healthy digestive system. These measures are simple, effective with no restriction whatsoever.

Discover how to achieve a healthy digestive system, common digestive issues, their symptoms, and what you can do to minimize their effects in this guide. Besides, you will also learn the best diets for digestive problems, and natural remedies, and supplements you can use. 

What Does It Mean to have Digestive Health?

A healthy digestive system means you eat healthy foods, exercise frequently, and minimize smoking and alcohol consumption activities that could put your digestive system at risk.

A person with good digestive health will have less bloating, flatulence, stomach upset, and indigestion.

A flawed digestive system happens for many reasons, such as underlying medical conditions, certain medications, and general lifestyle. Regardless of the cause, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible before the digestive disorder generates a more extensive infection.

Most Common Digestive Issues

(Image by Katemangostar from Freepik)

1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) disrupts the muscle between your esophagus and stomach. This stomach issue usually happens when the stomach acid flows back into the tube, joining your stomach and mouth.

Acid reflux (GERD) feels like heartburn, and many people experience it occasionally (once or twice a week). About 27.8% of adults in the US have GERD, with more men at risk than women. However, when it becomes frequent, you should pay more attention to it. 

GERD can be controlled and managed at home with over-the-counter medications, but some conditions may require additional tests to see if there is damage to the stomach. 

In some situations, the stomach acid may erode the stomach lining, causing bleeding. This condition can cause extreme chest pain similar to a heart attack. The doctor may have to do surgery to salvage the stomach issue or hospitalize the person for a few days for close monitoring.

The following people are prone to GERD than ordinary people:

  • People with an asthma condition
  • Pregnant women
  • Overweight people
  • People who smoke or frequently gets exposed to smoke

Check the common signs and symptoms of GERD below.

Signs and Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

  • Chest pain
  • Swallowing Difficulty
  • A burning sensation in teh chest after a meal (It may get worse in the night)
  • Feeling there is a lump in your throat
  • Throwing up food
  • Chronic cough
  • Inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis)
  • Inability to sleep
  • Constant belching

Treatment Options for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Generally, a diet change will resolve GERD. However, if you have frequent difficulty in breathing, ensure you see a doctor as soon as possible. Some of the treatment methods for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) are:

  • Antacids: Antacids can help to reduce heartburn and the effect of acid on the stomach and esophagus. Once you take it, you will feel temporary relief. If you have a mild case of GERD, you may feel a permanent relief after using antacids for a few days. If otherwise, it is best to see a doctor.
  • H2 blockers: If your GERD is severe, your doctor may recommend H2 blockers medications such as cimetidine, famotidine, and nizatidine. These drugs hinder acid secretion in the stomach.
  • Prokinetics: Prokinetics drugs assist your stomach in emptying food in your stomach so that no acid is left. They can also help you reduce bloating and nausea. Examples of prokinetics drugs are metoclopramide and domperidone.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These drugs block proteins that produce stomach acid. The drugs are omeprazole, pantoprazole, rabeprazole, dexlansoprazole, esomeprozole.

2. Constipation

Chronic constipation can also cause acid reflux. This condition features less bowel movement and an inability to stool or stool frequently and comfortably. 

Constipation usually happens when your colon (an organ connecting the small intestine at one end and the anus) sucks out the water out of your stool, drying it out.

You can have chronic constipation if you change your diet or you don’t take enough fiber in your meal. Constipation is a prevalent condition among different people, but some people are likely to experience constipation. They are:

  • Older people
  • Pregnant or nursing mother
  • People who don’t take enough fiber foods
  • People taking medications such as antacid, anti-depressants, and opioid pain drugs

Causes of constipation

  • Dehydration
  • Eating foods low in fiber
  • Irregular exercise
  • Consumption of a large number of dairy products
  • Change in routines, such as diet and movement
  • Stress

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Constipation?

  • Your stools are dry
  • You have less bowel movement in weeks
  • Stomach cramps or ache
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Feeling that the bowel is empty after stooling

What You to do If You Have Constipation

  • Drink at least adequate water daily.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages.
  • Incorporate fruits, whole-grain meals, and high-fiber foods into your diet
  • Sit straight with your chest out when you use the toilet.
  • Be active, and exercise regularly.
  • Take medications such as laxative (docusate, bisacodyl, senna, and milk of magnesia) and stool softener.
  • Other prescriptions include prucalopride, linaclotide, lactulose, and plecanatide.
  • Your doctor may recommend if the constipation results from intestinal obstruction, colon cancer, a tear in the anus, or a part of the rectum collapsed into the vagina.

3. Ulcer

A stomach ulcer is a type of peptic ulcer. It is a painful open sore in the stomach lining, which causes a burning sensation and may bleed. 

If you have a stomach ulcer, you will feel pain in the middle part of your stomach, just above the belly and below the chest bone. The pain is burning and pricks intermittently.

People sometimes feel a lack of adequate food causes ulcers, but this may not be true. Research has shown that overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and bacteria in the stomach may cause ulcers.

The pain happens when bacteria or pain reliever drugs destroy the mucus that lines the stomach walls, exposing the stomach to acid. In turn, this acid affects the tissue and causes ulcers.

You can quickly treat a stomach ulcer at the early stage, but it may cause bleeding if left untreated.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Ulcer?

  • Pain in the stomach
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Constant belching
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Not eating because of the pain
  • Anemia
  • Fatigues
  • Bloody or dark stool

What to do If You Have Stomach Ulcer

People treat ulcers at home with medications from their doctors, but the best course of treatment for ulcers may be surgery for some patients.

Regardless, if you notice any burning sensation in your stomach, do not waste time telling your doctor before it results in a severe case.

Below are some of the proven treatment options for ulcer:

  1. Suppose your stomach ulcer arises from a bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, your doctor may prescribe some medications for you. The drugs include antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) (they block the cell that produces acid in the stomach).
  2. You should stop taking NSAIDs.
  3. Surgery involving the total removal of the ulcer, blockage of the bleeding artery, and taking the issue from another part of the stomach to block the open wound.

4. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common condition for many people. Often, it goes away in a day or two. Any additional days to this causes concern.

Diarrhea can happen because of many causes such as food poisoning, overeating, and some diets, celiac diseases, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, fructose (usually found in fruits and honey), or infections.

Diarrhea can disrupt day-to-day activities, and in some cases, lead to hospitalization.

(Image by jcomp from Freepik)

What are the Symptoms of Diarrhea?

  • Watery stools
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloody stool
  • Mucus in the stool
  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Bloating

Treatment Options for Diarrhea

  • You can treat diarrhea with over-the-counter medications such as loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate.
  • Take adequate water.
  • Eat bland foods such as bread, pasta, tender, and lean protein.
  • Avoid eating dried food, sugary food, cheese, spicy and seasoned foods.
  • Use antibiotics for diarrhea.

5. Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are swollen rectal veins around the anus and lower rectum. People who are 45 – 50 years and above are prone to hemorrhoids.

Some of the causes of hemorrhoids include old age, pregnancy, strain during bowel movement, family history, constipation, obesity, sitting for long in the toilet, and diarrhea. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hemorrhoids?

  • Bloody stool
  • Irritation in and around the anus
  • Itching
  • Swelling around the anus
  • Mucus in underwear
  • Fecal leakage

Treatment Options for Hemorrhoids

  • Eat more fruits.
  • Eat foods rich in high fiber.
  • Use over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream and ointments with hydrocortisone.
  • Take a pain reliever.
  • In some critical cases, your doctor may suggest surgery or minimally invasive procedures such as rubber band ligation, injection, and coagulation.

Best Diets for Digestive Problems

1. Whole Grain foods

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Whole-grain foods are rich in high fiber, which enhances digestion. These foods also aid comfortable stooling and help you reduce the risk of constipation. Whole-grain foods include brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, millet, quinoa, wheat, whole wheat bread, and pasta. Ensure you read the content of foods to be sure they are from grain.

2. Yogurt

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Yogurt is from bacterially fermented milk. It contains good probiotic bacteria, which can improve digestion and keep the gut safe. Although probiotics are naturally present in the digestive tract, yogurt may boost its performance to keep the digestive system healthy.

Probiotics can also help to neutralize the effect of bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Ensure you check for the sign live and active cultures on yogurt packs to be sure they contain probiotics.

3. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a source of fiber. They can improve digestion and keep your gut strong. Also, they support smooth digestion, keep the bowel moving, and aid healthy and regular stooling. You can use chia seeds in your salad dressing, smoothies, pastries, bread crumbs, and jam.

4. Papaya

Papaya contains two digestive enzymes called papain and chymopapain, which reduce inflammation and aid the digestive process by breaking down protein fibers. It contains water and high fiber, which makes it easy to ease constipation and bloat.

5. Fruits

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Fruits that are rich in protein and high fiber can also support a healthy digestive system. The presence of vitamin C and potassium in these fruits promotes digestive health. Some of these foods include bananas, oranges, apples, apricots, kiwi, guava, and mangoes.

6. Ginger

People have long used ginger to treat all digestive and stomach disorders. It contains carminative, which helps to decrease and eliminates gas from the esophagus. Ginger can also soothe the intestine to aid regular and easy stooling and reduce bloating and heartburn.

You can use ginger in different ways in your meals. It can serve as a spice in powder form and tea when you grate it.

7. Vegetables

(Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay)

Like fruits, green vegetables are a great source of fiber. When you consume leafy vegetables, they put pressure on stools so that they can move out of the body easily and quickly. Besides, they are rich in magnesium which helps to reduce constipation.

Recent research states that leafy vegetables contain a particular sugar that keeps the gut healthy. Some of these vegetables are spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery, and squash.

Vegetables with skin such as beans, legumes, and potatoes can also promote regular stooling.

8. Beetroot

Beetroots contain betaine, which can enhance digestion by aiding stomach acid levels, reducing constipation, bloating, preventing food intolerances, controlling yeast and bacterial growth.

Besides, beetroots contain enough fiber to add strain on your stool and boost your digestive guts.

9. Tempeh

(Image by Dyah Ahsina Fahriyati from Pixabay

People usually make tempeh from fermented soybeans. Fermentation reduces the effect of sugar through bacteria and yeast. Thanks to its fermented process, tempeh contains adequate probiotics to protect the lining of the stomach wall from bacteria.

There are other products from fermented soybeans which can aid digestion. They are natto, miso, and soy sauce.

10. Kefir

Kefir is a meal from fermented milk. People make kefir by adding grain to milk. Kefir supports the digestion of lactose and protects the stomach from bloating, excessive gas, cramping, and inflammation.

Natural Remedies for Digestive Health

Aside from specific diets that reduce digestive problems’ harmful effects, there are natural and inexpensive remedies you can try to eliminate digestive disorders.

  1. Consume a natural and balanced diet, and avoid processed foods or high in carbs, sugar, and saturated fat.
  2. Incorporate high-fiber diets into your meal plan.
  3. One of the top causes of constipation is less hydration. As such, it is vital to take at least 1.5 – 2 liters of unsweetened or non-caffeinated water per day. This measurement may be more if you stay in a hot area. Fruits like watermelon, cucumber, and strawberries can help you fulfill your daily water intake.
  4. Manage your stress level.
  5. Avoid eating more than necessary. Once you feel full, it is best to stop eating to avoid bloating and constipation.
  6. Chew your food very well for the stomach enzymes to work on them. Chewing helps break down the carbs and fats in your meal before they get to the digestive tract.
  7. Getting involved in exercise or anything that makes your heart beat faster makes the food travel down to the esophagus quickly. The activities you can do include cycling and taking a walk/fast walk. Also, regular exercise can reduce chronic constipation, especially in older people.

Natural Supplements for Digestive Issues

  1. Artichoke: You can use artichoke to treat stomach upset, cramps, and indigestion. If you take it daily, it can reduce nausea, vomiting, and gas.
  2. Probiotics: Probiotics contain good bacteria and one yeast that aid digestion in the gut. You can use them to treat gastrointestinal tract issues and diarrhea and reduce bloating and constipation. Consider adding the raw form to milk or yogurt.
  3. DGL (Licorice): Licorice can help you get rid of heartburn and reflux acid. Ensure you see your doctor before trying it or any other supplements.
  4. Peppermint Oil: This oil can reduce the harmful effects of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as indigestion, inflammation, and bloating.
  5. Chamomile Tea: chamomile provides soothing relief to the digestive system. It helps to calm nausea, upset stomach, and intestinal colic.
  6. Supplements: If you’re looking for a simple solution to restart your digestion, check out Natural Colon by Greek Island Labs. 

Conclusion

Good digestive health means a healthy and balanced diet, meals rich in a high fiber, exercise, and constant dehydration. Being watchful of what goes into your stomach can help you avoid stomach disorders such as indigestion, constipation, nausea, cramps, and vomiting.

The causes of these conditions may include diarrhea, stomach ulcer, hemorrhoids, acid reflux, and constipation. Digestive issues usually have no cause for alarm. You can treat them with medications, natural remedies such as staying hydrated, and natural supplements.

In some rare cases, your doctor may suggest surgery or a minimally invasive procedure.

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