Digestion and the Body

Heartburn and GERD

Everyone occasionally has heartburn. This occurs when stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus, the food pipe that carries food to the stomach. People usually experience heartburn after meals as a burning sensation or pain behind the breast bone. Often, regurgitation of food and bitter-tasting stomach acid accompanies heartburn. Antacids or milk temporarily relieves heartburn for most people. Why Does Heartburn Occur? To understand heartburn, let us look at the body’s anatomy. The esophagus carries food and liquid to the stomach. A sphincter, or muscular valve, is located at the end of the esophagus at the border between the esophagus and stomach. Known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) this muscle contracts much the same as the anus does. The sphincter should maintain a certain pressure to keep the end of the esophagus closed so that stomach juices are not admitted. The LES muscle should only open when food is passed into the stomach. However, the LES muscle does not always work perfectly. It is felt that the problem is with inappropriate, transient relaxations of this sphincter valve that result in reflux. Sphincter function can be easily overcome by a number of factors, the most common being eating a large meal. Along with swallowed air, a large meal causes an upward pressure in the stomach to rise, thereby overpowering the LES muscle. Other factors that reduce the LES pressure and allow reflux are: Nicotine (cigarettes) Fried or fatty foods Chocolate Coffee Citrus fruits and juices Peppermint Pregnancy Lying flat Hiatus hernia Certain prescription medications   Heartburn is common, but is it serious? Heartburn and reflux are extremely common, with 10 percent of the population experiencing them daily. Twenty-five percent of pregnant women have heartburn. Even though heartburn is common, it is rarely life threatening. Severe cases, however, can result in […]

Exercise and Digestion

Our bodies need enough stored energy to go for a jog, but no one wants spaghetti sloshing around in their stomach when they’re bouncing on the pavement. Jogging, though, is a high-impact exercise that jostles the stomach. While you don’t want to exercise on a full stomach, you do want to exercise to help stave off digestive problems stemming from food. Food, exercise, and digestion are closely related. The digestive system is made up of organs that help the body change food into smaller molecules of nutrients before they’re absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body. When the system malfunctions, it can result in a gastrointestinal problem. An example is constipation, which more than 4 million Americans have, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).1Constipation is having bowel movement less than 3 times per week, and it is most commonly caused by a lack of fiber in the diet and a lack of physical activity. Thus preventing constipation can be as simple as dietary and lifestyle changes. Professionals suggest: Eating 20-35 grams of fiber per day, in the form of beans, fresh fruits, whole grain breads and cereals, and vegetables, like asparagus and carrots. Conversely, it is optimum to limit foods with little fiber, like ice cream, cheese, and meat. Exercising lightly an hour after a meal. Accelerating your breathing and heart rate helps your intestinal muscles contract, which assists in quick, fluid, and efficient bowel movements. Another problem related to the digestive system is heartburn, the primary symptom of gastroesophageal disease (GERD), which over 60 million Americans experience, according to the National Heartburn Alliance.2 The remedies here are different than for constipation. Three exercises that can reduce heartburn […]

Stress and Digestion

We often think of digestion in terms of the food we eat. And while the quality of our food is an important aspect of digestive health, the effect of stress on digestion should not be underestimated. All the raw foods, enzymes and herbal bitters in the world can’t help you if your digestive difficulties are caused by stress. How Stress Impacts Digestion The typical stress response involves the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands. The hormones trigger reactions like an accelerated pulse. They also cause changes in the digestive system, like sudden lack of appetite, heartburn, nausea and stomach pains. Stress also causes inflammation throughout the digestive system, which leads to aggravation of the digestive tract and affects the assimilation of nutrients. Over the long term, stress can actually cause chronic digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers. What You Can Do Relaxation exercises. These simple routines help you learn to let go of physical tension by methodically relaxing all parts of the body. A simple exercise might include lying in a quiet place and slowly releasing the tension in your body, starting with the face and neck, then moving on to relax the shoulders, back, chest, arms, hands, stomach, legs and feet. Practicing breathing exercises that emphasize the importance of deep, slow breathing can also be very helpful. Relax before you eat. When you sit down for a meal, instead of digging right in, perform a little relaxation ritual to start your digestion off right. Before you even pick up your fork, take a slow, deep breath and try to release any tension in your muscles. Eat slowly and enjoy your food, chewing it thoroughly and focusing on the nutrients […]

Digestive Early Warning Signals

The digestive system is the root of all health. It’s where you get nutrition for every cell in your body, including support for your immune system. If it is irritated, inflamed or constipated, it cannot do its job, and your health will steadily decline as a result.   Poor absorption of nutrients, which affects overall natural body function and health. In many cases your weight may increase at the same time you are starving your body of the nutrition it needs.   Compromised immune function, chronic infection and triggering of autoimmune diseases.     Food sensitivities or food allergies.   Progressive deterioration of the intestinal wall, leading to such problems as leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, and others that together affect millions of Americans.     Systemic inflammation, which contributes to heart disease, arthritis, joint pain and muscle stiffness,  skin disorders such as dry skin, adult acne, rosacea and psoriasis, and more.     The underlying cause is poor nutrition, which leads in time to imbalances in the intestinal flora of the gut. Most of us don’t realize that the friendly bacteria that reside in our digestive tract are effectively an organ of the body. And a big one — each of us has over three pounds of bacteria in our small intestine! The conventional high-carb American diet, heavy on sugars and processed foods, is really a formula for dysbiosis.

Acid Blocking Drugs Could Pose a Problem

At least 10 percent of Americans have episodes of heartburn every day, and 44 percent have symptoms at least once a month. Overall, reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as heartburn) affects a whopping 25 to 35 percent of the US population! (i) As a result, acid-blocking medications are the third top-selling type of drug in America today. Two other drugs to treat reflux, Nexium and Prevacid, are among the world’s best-selling drugs and account for $5.1 and $3.4 billion in sales annually. Things have certainly changed since I was in medical school. In those days, GERD wasn’t even considered a serious disease. Instead, people had heartburn or ulcers, but that was pretty much it. When acid-blocking drugs first came on the market, even the pharmaceutical representatives warned us how powerful these drugs were. They told us not to prescribe them any longer than six weeks and only for patients with documented ulcers. In reality, acid-blocking drugs are a double-edged sword. Let’s look at some of the recent research on the dangers of these drugs. Acid blocking drugs obviously block acid that can cause symptoms of heartburn and reflux. But your body actually needs stomach acid to stay healthy. Stomach acid is necessary to digest protein and food, activate digestive enzymes in your small intestine, keep the bacteria from growing in your small intestine, and help you absorb important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12. There’s evidence that taking these medications can prevent you from properly digesting food, cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and lead to problems like irritable bowel syndrome, depression, hip fractures, and more. For example, studies show that people who take acid-blocking medications for the long term can become deficient in vitamin B12, […]

Digestion Problems and Symptoms

The digestive tract begins at the mouth and continues through the throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestine, rectum and anus. Additionally, the digestive system includes the pancreas, liver and gallbladder, which are not a part of the digestive tract. A condition affecting any of these areas may affect digestion and lead to symptoms. It may be difficult to determine the cause of the symptom, so it is important to talk to a healthcare professional. The easiest and most notable symptoms of digestive disorders are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Nausea and Vomiting Nausea and vomiting can have many causes, even something as simple as food poisoning or an allergy, but unexplained nausea may be a sign of something more serious like an infection in the stomach, colon or appendix. Other explanations may be an ulcer, hernia or gallstones. If nausea and vomiting are long lasting, the symptoms can mean something more harmful like an obstruction or stomach cancer. Diarrhea Diarrhea is a common symptom of food poisoning or another digestive tract infection where the stools are almost entirely liquid. Many types of viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause diarrhea and may need to be treated. Other conditions with diarrhea as a symptom are: food intolerances, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis. Diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration if not treated, so it is important to seek medical care if diarrhea persists. Constipation Constipation occurs when it may be difficult or painful to pass a stool or the stool is more dry than normal. Constipation may be a sign of colon disorders like polyps, cancers or tumors. It can be due to a bowel obstruction or inflammation. Constipation is commonly seen in people who have Crohn’s disease […]

Foods to Avoid

Here is a list of foods to avoid when suffering from digestive problems:   Bread Products You would think that bread would be one of the easiest foods to digest. After all, it’s so soft and good. However, when you chew bread and swallow it, it turns into a hard ball. The big problem with bread is that it has no digestive enzymes like many other foods do. For instance, raw vegetables have natural enzymes built into them. And if you have gluten intolerance, bread can really become the enemy of your digestive system. So try staying away from bread for a while and see if your stomach feels better as a result.   Milk Products Milk, ice cream, and especially cheese can be very difficult on the digestive system. Cheese is the worst. It takes the average healthy person approximately five hours to digest cheese. The problem with all milk products is that it has “lactose” and most people are lactose intolerant. Lactose is a milk sugar that exists in all natural milk products. As you grow older (past your teems), you have a much more probability of being lactose intolerant. That’s a terrible thing if you are like me and love your ice cream. I try to stay away from ice cream, but I don’t always succeed. And when I do eat it, I pay for the next morning in the bathroom.   Fatty Meat Products Meat is fairly hard to digest in the first place, but if you ad fat, it becomes extremely hard to digest. So if you are going to eat meat, go for the leaner cuts.

Ice Water and Digestion

Some people may have heard that you should not drink ice water with a meal. If they have heard this, many are unsure of the reasoning behind this information. Many other people have never even heard that drinking ice water, or other cold drinks, with their meal can be detrimental to their digestion. In this article, we will explain the reasons behind why your digestion could suffer from your intake of cold beverages. The Chinese were the first to know and understand that drinking ice water with a meal could harm your digestion. They have, for many years, chosen to instead drink warm or hot beverages, such as water and tea, with their meals. Not being able to properly digest your food can be harmful to you in many different ways. Your body must turn the food you consume into energy in order for your organs to function properly and give you the energy you need to perform your daily tasks. Also, your body retrieves essential vitamins and minerals from the food you eat. If your body cannot work properly to retrieve these elements, it will suffer. Your immune system, which works to fight off colds and other illnesses, can also suffer from poor digestion because it does not have the energy it needs to function correctly. Ice water can be harmful because it damages your body’s ability to properly digest food and drink. Drinking cold beverages with a meal can slow down your body’s proper digestive actions. You can think of it as almost freezing your insides temporarily so that they cannot do what they need to do at that moment. So, instead, food goes by improperly digested, and your body’s unable to retrieve the nutrients […]

Eat Standing Up to Improve Digestion?

The debate over whether to stand or sit while eating is more than one of comfort and etiquette. Although sitting while eating may help to prevent acid reflux and other digestive difficulties, standing is not without its benefits. In fact, increasing knowledge on the effects of standing while performing a variety of tasks indicates that standing while eating may be better for you than sitting. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a condition that involves dysfunction of the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus. Similar to acid reflux, this condition results in stomach acid moving upward into your esophagus, potentially causing inflammation and chest pains. Otherwise known as heartburn, these symptoms may be avoided by sitting up straight while eating and remaining either seated or standing for 30 to 45 minutes afterward. Commonly known as a head rush, orthostatic hypotension involves a drop in blood pressure when you stand up or stretch. With a number of conditions potentially underlying or worsening the incidence of orthostatic hypotension, you’re eating behaviors play numerous potential roles in preventing severe head rushes. As digesting large meals can lower your blood pressure, standing up after a seated meal may cause potentially dangerous head rushes. To avoid this either do not stand up too soon after eating or eat your meals while standing upright. Published in the July 2008 issue of “Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports,” a literature review by Hamilton and a different group of collaborators links sitting to increased fasting blood glucose levels and poor glucose metabolism. As these are potential risk factors for diabetes, standing while eating may help you to control your blood glucose levels and reduce your diabetes risk. In addition, as noted in a June 2008 interview […]

Exercise to Improve Digestion

While there are countless ways to improve digestion, one of the most important but often neglected ones is exercise. Not only that, but exercise has many indirect effects on digestion because it influences our eating habits and can change our lifestyles as well. Our food and digestion are far more closely linked to exercise than many of us realise but in that same light, exercise can also have some negative effects on digestion. This means that you need to learn more about your body before racing outside to go for a run, with the thought that your digestive system will quickly benefit. Eating for Exercise Because our bodies require sufficient energy for sustained movement and a full stomach feels less than pleasant if you’re going to be moving quite a bit, exercise can encourage good food choices. In turn, this encourages healthy digestion. Eating a smaller snack an hour or two before exercising can provide the necessary fuel you need for your exercise. Often, when people begin an exercise programme, they do a new evaluation of their eating habits. You might use this time to choose healthier foods that improve digestion. Constipation and Exercise Constipation is a chronic problem for many Britons and others around the world. Surprisingly, handling constipation can be as simple as lifestyle changes such as adding in exercise to your daily routine. Doctors routinely cite a lack of physical activity as a barrier to good digestion. By going for a walk or performing some other relatively light exercise an hour after a meal, you improve breathing and heart rate, encouraging contraction of the intestinal tract and giving you improved bowel movements. Heartburn and Exercise Heartburn is a painful symptom of gastroesophageal disease (GERD) but there are ways to use […]