Prevention and Health Tips

Your digestive system plays a critical role in the health of your entire body. The keys to keeping your gastrointestinal tract in good condition are the well-known basic steps to a healthier, longer life. Here are some reasons why these steps are so important.

1. Don’t smoke

Tobacco exposure, even second hand smoke, has been linked to many digestive conditions including indigestion, heartburn (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD), and cancer of the esophagus, pancreas and colon.

2. Eat a balanced, high fiber diet

A poor diet can lead to and aggravate indigestion, acid reflux (GERD), inflammatory bowel diseases, colon polyps and ultimately cancer. Poor eating habits such as skipping meals or overeating can also play a role.

A healthy diet should include the daily recommendation of 20-35 total grams of fiber, a target few of us come close to consuming. Fiber not only helps the digestive tract, but most fiber-containing foods are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

A balanced diet follows the 80/20 rule—80% fruit and vegetables and 20% of either protein OR grains. Limit processed foods, fast foods, and foods high in salt, sugar and fat. Also, filling your stomach to only 80% full or eating small meals on a regular schedule throughout the day makes digestion easier.

3. Indulge on a limited basis

Avoid or moderate your consumption of alcohol, caffeinated drinks, chocolate, spicy foods, acidic foods, onions, peppermint and spearmint. All of these can increase production of stomach acid and inflame parts of the digestive tract.

4. Drink plenty of water

Water helps dissolve fats and soluble fiber, allowing these substances to pass through your digestive system more easily.

5. Exercise

Try to include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine. Exercise helps move food and gas through your digestive tract and prevents bloating, constipation and intestinal issues.

6. Maintain a healthy weight

Carrying extra weight puts pressure on the stomach that can cause acid reflux. Obesity is linked to a number of digestive tract problems such as GERD, hemorrhoids and even esophageal cancer.

7. Reduce stress

Digestion slows during periods of stress, which can cause or exacerbate digestive issues. Since stressful situations are not always avoidable, learn how to use positive outlets to cope. Exercise and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, can help.

8. Protect yourself with routine screenings

Colon cancer is one of the most detectable, preventable and treatable cancers. A colonoscopy is the most effective way to protect yourself from colon cancer. If you are age 50 or older, age 45 for African Americans, or have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, get screened!

9. Don’t let chronic or severe acid reflux go untreated

When not treated properly, chronic or severe heartburn can lead to more serious conditions such as Barrett’s esophagus and cancer. What you are experiencing may not even be heartburn, but the symptom of another issue. It’s important to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.