How to avoid over-straining your digestive system

The body's gastrointestinal system does far more than just digest our food.

Guts do indeed, represent more than sheer ninja bravery or your intuitive feelings. The gut's digestive system, sometimes dubbed "the second brain", is a network of more than 100 million neurons that runs the length of your gastrointestinal tract (that is a whopping 5 metres or more!).

Your gut health is extremely crucial to your overall wellbeing, as it is your guts or digestive system that ensures your body is appropriately nourished.

It converts food into energy, absorbs essential nutrients and vitamins, and even does 'guard' duty by fighting off bacteria to keep you healthy and strong.

When the process works as it should, you're happily oblivious.

However, should your gut fail to work properly, many other things in your life can follow suit. For instance:

● A negative impact on one's quality of life (ranging from a restraint on work and activity, and increased financial burden),

● Increased chances of getting cancer, and

● Subsequent increased risk of mortality.

Hello, friendly bacteria!

Your gut is also home to trillions of bacteria known as gut microflora.

It is also home to 70-80 per cent of your body's immune system, so reseeding your gut with healthy (or friendly) bacteria such as Lactobacillus spp. is important for the prevention of virtually all sorts of disease, from normal coughs and colds to cancer.

The "friendly or good" bacteria support your health in several ways:

● Help digest food and absorb nutrients.

● Produce folic acid and vitamin B12 for healthy blood cells.

● Stimulate production of immune cells on the intestinal walls.

● Activate white blood cells that kill bad bacteria.

Caring for your gut

In order to build a healthy digestive system and to be healthy for life, you need to start giving your digestive health the special attention it deserves.

Here are some ways to ensure that your digestive health isn't over-strained:

● Stay hydrated

Make sure you get enough water every day; there is nothing better you can do for your body than to drink sufficient water.

Having sufficient water ensures that your body can eliminate waste efficiently, and also helps prevent constipation.

Fluids found in drinks like water and juices, and also those found in foods, will contribute towards your daily water intake.

● Eat right

Be sure to eat a healthy and nutritious diet.

One of the things you need to take note of is consuming more fibre.

You should also make sure that you take the time to eat properly.

If you frequently suffer from indigestion, bloating, heartburn, and other digestive health issues, consider eating smaller and more frequent meals.

This prevents your digestive system from being overburdened and helps shrink your stomach capacity, making you less likely to overeat.

● Stay physically active

Exercise may help with many minor digestive problems, ranging from bloating to constipation. Just getting your body to be physically active assists your body's digestive system to function more efficiently.

Exercise also induces endorphins, which are great to combat stress, and more importantly, keep you happy!

● Eat probiotic-rich foods

Probiotics are living microorganisms that are often added to yoghurt or yoghurt drinks. Research has proven their efficacy in helping with diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

In fact, probiotics are so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to "a newly recognised organ".

Here are some things you should avoid:

● Smoking

Each time you light up, you are sowing the seeds of chaos in your digestive system in many ways.

The valves at the end of your oesophagus can be weakened, leading to acid reflux and heartburn.

It also increases your risk of developing various gastrointestinal cancers.

On top of that, smokers also face the threat of developing peptic ulcers and Crohn's disease.

● Drinking alcohol

Avoid alcohol, especially if you have digestive problems. This is because alcohol will interfere with your stomach's overall functions, like its acid secretion, muscles, and nutrient absorption properties.

Drinking too much alcohol will aggravate your heartburn or diarrhoea, and it may even cause liver problems and oesophageal cancer.

● Eating quickly or gulping food

Keep air out of your stomach by not swallowing it in the first place.

Take your time and eat slowly, being careful not to gulp your food or drinks. Chew each bite thoroughly.

Avoid gum and hard candy if they cause you to swallow air.

● Eating fatty foods in excess

High-fat foods take longer to digest, and since they "sit" in your stomach longer, they also cause your stomach to produce more acid. This, in turn, may irritate your digestive system.

Fatty and greasy foods also lead to a lazy, relaxed lower oesophageal sphincter, which means that you will not only have to deal with a bloated stomach, but there is also a high possibility that the contents will make their way back up your throat.

Avoid complications

The consequences of a malfunctioning digestive system can be extensive and severe, as a weakened immune system means vulnerability to infections and diseases.

This highlights the importance of taking proactive steps to ensure your digestive system receives the care it merits.

In order to avoid these potential health problems, make sure you start caring for your digestive health.

Just start by following the tips outlined above for better health in the long run.

Don't put it off, start caring for your digestive health today.

Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan is a consultant gastroenterologist of Digestive Health Advisory Board. The author is not associated with and does not endorse any brands or products. For a free digestive health info guide or more information, please contact 03-56211408. For more information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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