Helpers And Hinderers For Your Digestive System

Published: 29 May 2017

Dr Anton Bungay, Consultant Gastroenterologist provides some useful advice for IBD sufferers on World Digestive Health Day - May 29th 2017

World Digestive Health Day, was founded by the World Gastroenterology Organisation as a day to raise awareness of digestive health and the work of gastroenterologists across the globe. Many people suffer in silence with digestive disorders when there are often simple solutions such as a change in diet. Also, the sooner a digestive disorder is diagnosed, the easier it is for treatment. Here are some helpers and hinderers for your digestive system.

Each year, the organisers, World Gastroenterology Organisation, focus on a specific digestive disorder. For 2017 it is Inflammatory Bowel Disease, IBD.

“YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT”

This is a common phrase, used for a reason, as while many factors apply to your overall health, what you eat is a contributing factor.

This doesn’t mean that indulging in your favourite take-away, or enjoying a few glasses of wine on the weekend, will result in digestive disorders.

However, a prolonged attitude to eating food that nourishes your body, certainly can help towards healthy digestion.

On the other hand, there are things to avoid so as not to hinder the health of your digestive system.

(1) PREVENT CONSTIPATION WITH A FIBRE-RICH DIET

Constipation is a common digestive disorder that if left unmanaged is not only painful but can also lead to wider health issues. Infrequent bowel movements, on a regular basis, can also be sign of gastroenterological conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so it is important to seek advice and treatment, if symptoms persist.

Fibre is essential in the diet to aid digestion, keep your bowel movements frequent and avoid getting constipated.

Fibre can be found in a variety of foods, including brown rice, beans, oats, fruit and vegetables and wholemeal bread, to name a few.

Some people have a genuine intolerance to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye, a condition known as Coeliacs disease. Cutting out gluten from your diet can result in a reduction in the amount of fibre you intake, so care needs to be taken to ensure fibre is being introduced from other sources.

(2) “WATER IS THE SOURCE OF ALL LIFE”

This is another saying, used to demonstrate the importance of regular fluid intake.

Drinking water throughout the day not only helps keep your cells hydrated, it also assists the digestive system by helping to soften your poo.

Fluids in your body are absorbed by fibre to help break it down, so your body needs a regular top-up of liquids to properly digest the fibre, as well as other food groups.

Fluids in general do contribute, however, pure water is the best choice, as well as herbal teas.

Carbonated drinks can bloat your tummy so it is best to avoid fizzy drinks.

Caffeinated drinks can cause heartburn due to an increase in stomach acid, so it is best to limit drinks like coffee to a few cups a day, preferably away from mealtimes.

(3) KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR FAT INTAKE

A regular diet of fatty and processed foods put pressure on your digestive system, making it work harder than it needs to.

Over time this can cause symptoms such as stomach pain, heartburn and inconsistencies in your bowel movements.

Not only this, but it can leave you feeling sluggish and low on energy, because your body is basically working overtime.

Keep an eye on your fat levels and opt for leaner foods, cooked appropriately to minimise the fat content.

(4) NOTE FOR FOOD INTOLERANCES AND GUT TRIGGERS

It may be that you notice not feeling well after eating certain foods.

Common culprits include:

 acidic food can often cause heartburn and acid reflux
dairy foods may result in excess wind or diarrhoea
spicy food can cause diarrhoea, heartburn or stomach pain

Symptoms such as these mentioned above could be the cause of a food intolerance.

Alternatively, it could be a sign of another digestive condition, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Coeliacs disease.

One way to get clues about your tolerance or intolerance to certain foods, is to keep a diary of everything you eat. Note the foods that make you feel energised and the foods that make you feel sluggish, or unwell.

If symptoms persist, or are causing frequent discomfort or pain, speak with a gastroenterologist who can properly test you for a number of different conditions, whilst offering any treatment advice at the same time.

It could simply be that something in your diet needs changing, but it could be that your symptoms are related to a wider health issue.

WORLD DIGESTIVE HEALTH DAY 2017

World Digestive Health Day has been in operation since 1958, so this year marks the 45th anniversary.

Founded in USA, the 29 May was the last day of the first ever World Congress of Gastroenterology.

Globally, gastroenterologists unite around the world to a drive towards better digestive health for everyone.

Read more about IBD and its symptoms here.

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