By any standard, the human digestive system is a marvelous thing. Like most of our organs, it has been set up to take considerable punishment. The foods we eat are often not the most ideal intake for this system. Nor are the schedules and timings that we subject it to.
Medically referred to as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or “gut,” the digestive system comprises the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. It is responsible for absorbing and digesting nutrients from the food we eat. When this food is difficult to digest or absorb, then we are faced with problems, sometimes very painful ones. And millions of people from around the globe suffer from these very same, very common digestive issues.
That burning sensation: Heartburn
Too much off a good thing often has the exact opposite effect on our stomach. We get heartburn! A burning, searing pain in the chest, regurgitating, belching – all these are the common symptoms of heartburn – one of the most prevalent digestive problems we face after eating too much and too well. It’s not a hugely serious problem to start with but becomes one when accompanied by vomiting, problems with swallowing and inexplicable weight loss.
Treatment depends on many factors including severity and frequency of symptoms. Plus, one’s medical history, weight, cigarette and alcohol use. More serious problems may be indicated if the risk factors include a family history of esophageal cancer, obesity, heavy smoking and regular alcohol consumption.
Lifestyle changes are generally advocated and prescribed for the treatment of heartburn. Providing one’s heartburn is not caused by more serious issues, the doctor will recommend that the following routine be followed:
- Eat and drink at least three hours before bedtime
- Eat three to five small meals during the day instead of a large lunch and dinner
- Obese people should lose weight and maintain the weight loss
- Give up smoking as it aggravates heartburn
- Use antacids as and when required
A painful discomfort: Dyspepsia
When we think of Dyspepsia, we think of irritable, bad-natured people who go around looking grim and bad-tempered. And they have reason to be…The discomfort, the burning pressure and pain that is generally located in the upper-middle part of the abdomen, as well as the urge to burp and belch would make the nicest of people very bad tempered. Dyspepsia generally occurs after eating a rich meal or too much of a meal – a chronic issue which is not necessarily associated with any serious factors. Sometimes it’s also caused by the overuse of anti-inflammatories which can cause stomach ulcers.
A surprisingly common condition: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
When IBS strikes, it makes one feel bloated, gassy, with an unfortunate tendency towards flatulence and frequent visits to the toilet. Providing there is no blood in the stools or any marked weight loss, IBS is a chronic, very painful disorder, that could be connected to intolerance of certain foods such as carbs and gluten.
When the food just won’t go down: Dysphagia
Many of us suffer from the sensation of food being stuck in the middle of our chest or have difficulty swallowing food. This discomfort is known as Dysphagia. Historically, doctors thought that Dysphagia was connected to acid reflux caused by scarring in the esophagus. But actually there are a host of other factors, including stress, lifestyle habits, not chewing food properly, eating and swallowing food too fast or talking too much during meals that can also cause IBS. In the recent past, doctors have connected Dysphagia with food allergies. Foods such as nuts, shellfish, wheat, milk and wheat can cause the esophagus to get inflamed – thus causing food to get stuck.
A chronic and painful problem: Constipation
The number of people who suffer from Constipation is legion. Yet it is a problem that is generally caused by the individuals themselves. For over 90% of sufferers, Constipation is caused by lack of exercise, not enough liquid intake, a bad diet and deficiency of fibre. Constipation is characterized by hard, dry stools that are expelled with straining and effort. Certain medications can also be the cause of this condition.
Digesting what we eat, properly and thoroughly, results in optimum absorption and assimilation of food nutrients while increasing their effective use and distribution throughout the body. The food and drink we consume can help or get in the way of healthy digestion. Thousands of people suffer from chronic indigestion, constipation and diarrhea – when all they need to do is make a change in their dietary habits to alleviate digestive problems. Understanding the basis of digestive and enzymatic functions is one of the first steps to improving your digestion.