Helpful Tips for Common Digestive Problems
Help for common digestive problems, from lactose intolerance to irritable bowel syndrome.
While a handful of healthful eating habits will help digestive health overall, there's not really a one-size-fits-all "cure" that works for all gastrointestinal issues. Here's additional help for some specific digestive conditions.
If your stool is difficult to pass, hard or infrequent (i.e., you have fewer than three bowel movements per week), you may be constipated. Helpful hints: Boost your intake of fiber, which adds bulk to stool, making it easier to pass. Drinking plenty of liquids and exercising also help. If you have a hard time getting enough fiber in your diet, consider a fiber supplement.
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Symptoms include abdominal pain, erratic bowel activity (frequent constipation or diarrhea), bloating, nausea and cramping. The cause of IBS isn't known. You'll want to avoid trigger foods-dairy foods* and alcohol are two common ones. It may also help to take a fiber supplement or other therapy to treat diarrhea.
*Note: Talk with your healthcare provider about other possible causes for your discomfort (e.g., lactose intolerance) before eliminating dairy products-which are good sources of calcium and protein-from your diet.
These swollen blood vessels in the lower rectum (internal hemorrhoids) or at the anus (external hemorrhoids) are caused by pressure from straining during a bowel movement or persistent diarrhea. Symptoms of internal hemorrhoids include bright red rectal bleeding. Symptoms of external hemorrhoids include pain and itching when irritated by constipation or diarrhea. To prevent or manage hemorrhoids, eat more fiber and drink more fluids.
Most people have experienced heartburn, a burning feeling in the chest or throat, at some point. This common problem-also called "gastroesophageal reflux disease" (GERD) when it occurs on a regular basis-is caused by regurgitation or reflux of gastric acid into the esophagus, which connects the mouth and the stomach.
What triggers heartburn varies from one person to the next but common causes include fatty foods, caffeine, chocolate and peppermint. Overeating or eating just before bed also can bring on heartburn. Eliminating these foods (or behaviors) one at a time can help you pinpoint-and then avoid-your individual triggers.
Thirty to 50 million Americans produce insufficient amounts of the enzyme, called lactase, needed to digest lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk and milk products. Rather than being broken down and absorbed for energy, lactose gets trapped in the digestive tract. This can trigger nausea, gas and diarrhea-usually within 30 minutes to two hours of eating. Eliminating dairy and all lactose-containing foods from the diet will alleviate symptoms. (Some people can tolerate dairy products, particularly aged cheeses and yogurts, in small amounts.)Some people choose to take lactase liquid or tablets to help them digest lactose.
Milk and dairy products are a major source of nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, so don't eliminate them from your diet unless you've tested positive for lactose intolerance. (Your health-care provider can diagnose the condition with a simple, non-invasive test.) If indeed you don't produce enough lactase to digest dairy, be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D from other food and/or supplemental sources.