The digestive system is essential to helping your body break down food so that it can adequately retrieve nutrients and vitamins, while also getting rid of waste. It’s composed of the following organs:
- small and large intestines
- anus and rectum
When something is disturbed within the digestive system, you may experience uncomfortable symptoms. Some problems are serious enough to warrant a visit to a gastroenterologist, a specialist that works with digestive issues. Others are simply related to lifestyle habits.
The most common digestive problems include:
- heartburn (acid reflux)
- nausea and vomiting
- intestinal cramps
Keep reading to learn about some of the most effective ways you can help prevent common digestion problems, and how to know when to call the doctor.
Many weight loss proponents advocate eating smaller, more frequent meals to help boost metabolism and keep you from overeating. This rule of thumb can also help prevent digestion problems.
When you eat a big meal, your digestive system is overloaded and it may not be able to handle food as well as it should. This can cause heartburn from acids going back from the stomach into the esophagus. Such stomach overload may even induce gas, nausea, or vomiting.
Aiming to consume five to six mini-meals a day can help promote overall good digestive health. Make sure you eat a mix of carbs, protein, and heart-healthy fat at each meal. Examples include peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers, a tuna sandwich, or yogurt with fruit.
You should also avoid lying down after eating. This increases the risk of heartburn and nausea.
You may have heard a lot about fiber for weight loss and heart health. When it comes to digestive health, fiber is also a key component. Fiber is the bulk in plant foods that can’t be digested. Soluble fiber creates a gel in the digestive tract to keep you full, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools.
The Mayo Clinic recommends a total daily fiber intake of 38 grams for men under 50, and 25 grams for women in the same age group. Adults over 50 need slightly less fiber, with 30 grams a day for men and 21 grams for women.
Getting enough fiber helps prevent digestion problems by regulating the system. If you’re not sure if you get enough fiber, all you have to do is look in your kitchen. Fiber is naturally available in:
- whole grains
Water aids your digestive health by helping to cleanse the entire system. It’s particularly helpful in preventing constipation because water helps soften your stools. Furthermore, water may help your digestive system absorb nutrients more effectively by assisting the body to break down food.
Aim to drink eight glasses of water a day, and skip the sugary drinks. Added sugars can make digestion problems worse.
When to See a Doctor
When digestion problems fail to resolve with tweaks to your lifestyle, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist. Chronic (ongoing) problems could indicate health issues that may need medical attention. These may include:
- acid reflux
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- severe viral or parasitic infections
These issues can’t be resolved without medical attention. You should see a doctor right away if you experience severe abdominal pain, bloody stools, or unintentional weight loss.
Digestion problems are often an embarrassment, and many people understandably try to hide their issues. It’s important to know, however, that you are certainly not alone. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that digestive disease complaints comprise about 51 million emergency room visits annually.
Changing your diet and exercise habits are often the first recommended steps to better digestive health. If you still continue to experience digestion problems, it’s time to see a doctor.