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Keep Your Digestive System on Track

How to Identify And Manage Digestive Disorders

What you put on your plate each day has a great deal to do with healthy digestion. With a busy summer ahead of you, now is a good time to review the basics of how proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle changes can help keep your digestive system on track. Mayo Clinic on Digestive Health (Mayo Clinic, 2004), offers the following "recipe" to keep your digestive system healthy:

  • Eat plenty of fiber. Foods that pass more easily and quickly through your digestive system are the same foods that form the foundation for a healthy diet. Plant foods – fruits, vegetables and foods made from whole grains – contain beneficial vitamins, minerals and compounds that may protect against cancer. Plant foods are also an excellent source of fiber, a nutrient that's especially important to digestion.
  • Cut the fat. Excess fat slows digestion and can lead to heartburn, bloating and constipation, in addition to increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and perhaps even colon cancer.
  • Drink ample fluids. Water is the best beverage. Caffeinated beverages and alcohol don't count. Most people should drink eight to 10 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
  • Practice good eating habits. Eat moderate proportions, eat at regular times and relax while you eat.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Heartburn, bloating and constipation tend to be more common in people who are overweight.
  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise – exercise that increases your breathing and heart rate – is the most beneficial for healthy digestion.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Too much alcohol (more than one or two drinks in a day) or chewing or smoking tobacco can lead to serious digestive disorders. When combined with tobacco, alcohol greatly increases your risk of mouth and esophageal cancer.
  • Use medications with caution. Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen (Aleve) and ketoprofen (Orudis) are potentially the most damaging. Taking them with food may help. Ask your doctor for advice.

Digestive problems are among the most common reasons people see their doctors. They're also a leading reason people take medication. Mayo Clinic on Digestive Health offers practical advice to help you identify, manage and prevent digestive disorders so you can enjoy life with less stomach and intestinal upset. You can't prevent or control all digestive problems with nutrition or lifestyle changes. Some digestive disorders are hereditary, or they require more advanced care. But good nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way toward keeping your digestive system healthy.

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