Health tipsJuly 2018

Keep your digestive tract on track!

If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve probably seen advertisements for a plethora of smoothie cleanses or tea detoxes that promise to clear out your digestive tract and improve your overall gut health. But did you ever stop to think that the key to a healthy gut is actually what comes out of your butt?

“Your digestive tract is such an intricate part of achieving and maintaining good health,” says Dr. Polymnia Galiatsatos, a staff physician in the JGH Division of Gastroenterology. “It’s the port of entry for everything you put in your body, so healthy choices are necessary for good gut health.”

It all begins with making sure we have regular bowel movements. To keep them regulated, Dr. Galiatsatos recommends increasing your intake of fibrous foods, such as fruits and veggies, while keeping hydrated. Regular exercise and limiting stress can also improve your digestive health.

“A lot of us take for granted how our daily stresses affect our intestinal tract and our symptoms,” says Dr. Galiatsatos. Activities like meditation, yoga or acupuncture can help with stress levels, and any kind of physical activity is also beneficial. “The more you move, the more likely you are to help your bowels move,” she adds.

“Your digestive tract is such an intricate part of achieving and maintaining good health. It’s the port of entry for everything you put in your body, so healthy choices are necessary for good gut health.”

Contrary to what many of us might think, we don’t need to have a proper bowel movement every day. Everyone has their own frequency.

“We all digest differently,” explains Dr. Galiatsatos. “There’s not one normal profile, but a range of what’s normal.” A person could have anywhere from one stool every three days, to three stools a day. Just be on the alert for any changes to this frequency.

“If you’re used to having one bowel movement every other day, and all of a sudden you’re going multiple times a day, that would be a reason to be alarmed,” she says. Additional symptoms, such as weight loss, abnormal bloating, liquid bowel movements, nausea and vomiting, could be signs of a problem in the digestive tract.

If your stool contains blood or is black, your doctor should also be consulted. “Black stool is often a sign of digested blood, usually from the upper part of your intestinal tract,” Dr. Galiatsatos explains. However, the colour of your stool can vary, depending on your diet; shades of brown, yellow and green are all normal.

And, if you find yourself regularly passing gas, don’t feel bad! “The human body is made to pass gas,” says Dr. Galiatsatos. “People often perceive that they’re passing too much gas or foul-smelling gas. Often, it’s diet-related, not something that hints at a particular diagnosis.”

A lactose or fructose intolerance, for example, may make you more likely to pass gas after consuming these foods. Some foods and beverages, like legumes or soda, can also trigger gas.

Overall, Dr. Galiatsatos advises, when it comes to “gut cleansing” products, invest that money elsewhere. “We’re designed in such an incredible fashion that the body is meant to cleanse itself,” she says. “Eating healthy and keeping fit will keep you on track.”

You can learn more about good digestive health from the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research.

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