You know which television commercials always bug me? The ones that show a person having digestive problems from eating a certain food and then resolving their troubles by taking an antacid. What about simply not eating that food in the first place?
The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that approximately 95 million Americans currently suffer from some form of digestive distress. In 2004 the National Institutes of Health reported that digestive disorders were responsible for 13.5 million hospitalizations and 236,164 deaths, at a total cost of $141.8 billion. These statistics are from eight years ago, and with the national median age continuing to rise, current estimates are undoubtedly much higher.
Under the assumption that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I’ll present a few simple suggestions for improving digestion and potentially reducing the risk of more serious gastrointestinal disorders.
1. Drink more water.
One of the primary causes of constipation is insufficient water intake. The issue with constipation is that it fosters an imbalance of bacteria, causing inflammation of the lining of the intestines.
2. Consume more fiber.
Fiber is important for making solid stools and helping food move through the digestive tract; as such, it is a key factor in helping to prevent many digestive disorders. Certain types of fiber, such as psyllium, are often used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is characterized by cramping, bloating, diarrhea and/or abdominal pain. It is estimated that IBS currently affects one in five Americans.
3. Keep a food diary.
This should go without saying, but it’s wise to keep a diary of what you eat and how those foods are affecting your digestive health. Some people may find they can eat yogurt without any problems, but not milk. Some people find that eating their salad at the end of a meal helps prevent constipation. In the 1970s a popular Alka-Seltzer commercial featured the slogan “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” If you find that “eating the whole thing” causes indigestion, then don’t do it again.
4. Test yourself for gluten sensitivity.
Gluten is a protein found in most grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. Those who are sensitive to gluten can experience an inflammatory response that can lead to gastric distress – it’s been estimated that as many as 60 percent of those with IBS symptoms have gluten intolerance. To test for gluten intolerance the low-budget way, cut out all sources of gluten for six weeks and then reintroduce it into your diet and watch for reactions.
5. Take a probiotic.
Probiotics are tiny, “good” bacteria that naturally occur in the gastrointestinal tract and destroy harmful bacteria, improve bowel movements and aid digestion. Some rich sources of probiotics are dairy products such as yogurt; for those who have an intolerance to dairy products, probiotic supplements are available.
Although advertisements often use humor to promote products such as antacids, digestive disorders are no laughing matter. Take a proactive approach in ensuring healthy digestion by following these five simple steps.