The amount of exercise you do, whether you drink alcohol or smoke, how you feel, some medications and of course what (and how) you eat, are all factors that can affect your digestive system. Here are some general guidelines we should all take on board. There are however some exceptions to the 'rules' and you’ll find these and more details on how to manage symptoms and digestive disorders as you read on.
Exercise can help stimulate the activity of your colon, helping push more food waste through your bowels more quickly. Exercise also helps you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Bloating and constipation tend to be more common if you’re overweight. Moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, for 30 minutes a day, on most days of the week, is enough for you to enjoy the health benefits. But if you need to lose weight, you’ll need to step it up a notch. If you haven’t exercised for a while talk to your doctor.
Smoking increases your risk for a number of cancers, can cause indigestion and can increase your risk of certain digestive disorders (see Digestive Disorders ). Air swallowed during smoking can also produce bloating from gas. If you have tried to quit smoking unsuccessfully, try again and enlist professional help. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the local Quit Group on 0800 778 778.
Excessive drinking plays havoc with your bowel movements. Alcohol can also cause reflux and heartburn. Prevention is better than cure – avoid binge drinking or regular heavy drinking. National health guidelines recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol, you should limit yourself to no more than two standard drinks a day to reduce risk from harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.
Learn to stress less
Your emotions have a huge impact on your digestive system. Researchers talk about the brain-gut axis. Many of the nerve-muscle messengers in the gut are similar to those in the brain, and reactions can be triggered by various emotions. When you’re stressed your digestive muscles exert less effort, digestive enzymes are secreted in smaller amounts and the passage of food waste through your digestive tract slows. This can cause bloating and constipation. Stress can also have the opposite effect of speeding the passage of food through your bowels, causing abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Stress and anxiety can also worsen symptoms of digestive disorders. You can stress less by doing things that
will help you relax. These include meditation, gentle yoga, and taking a long walk or a soothing bath.
Use medications wisely. Many medications can affect your digestive system. For example, tablets containing codeine taken for pain relief can cause constipation. High blood pressure drugs can cause constipation or diarrhoea, while some antibiotics can cause diarrhoea. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen – can cause heartburn, nausea, stomach pain, stomach bleeding, ulcers or diarrhoea. If your medication might be causing symptoms, talk to your doctor who may be able to suggest an alternative.
A healthy diet with lots of fibre can go a long way towards keeping your digestive system on the right track. The best pattern is to:
- Eat most – vegetables, fruits, breads and wholegrain cereals, legumes, seeds and nuts. These are important sources of dietary fibre (see How Much Fibre?).
- Eat moderately – lean meat, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs. A diet high in animal fat may increase your risk of bowel cancer.
- Eat least – fatty and salty foods. Excess fat slows your digestion, which can lead to bloating and constipation. A high-fat diet may also worsen certain digestive disorders.
- Drink lots of fluids
For a thorough 10-page digestion handbook outlining symptoms of poor digestion, digestive disorders, self-help for irritable bowel syndrome, and bowel cancer information, pick up the December issue of Good Health, with FREE Neutrogena mini scrub and mini sunscreen.
|| For a thorough 10-page digestion handbook outlining symptoms of poor digestion, digestive disorders, self-help for irritable bowel syndrome, and bowel cancer information, pick up the December issue of Good Health magazine with FREE Neutrogena mini scrub and mini sunscreen. Get a great subscription deal on Good Health magazine at magshop.co.nz.|