Looking after your digestion
Digestive problems and stomach upsets can be prevented, relieved and even banished by simple lifestyle changes.
You may have noticed a feeling of unease in your stomach during times of stress. That’s because anxiety and worry can upset the delicate balance of digestion. In some people, it slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain and constipation, while in others it speeds it up causing diarrhoea and frequent trips to the loo. Some people lose their appetite completely.
Stress can also worsen digestive conditions like peptic ulcers (on the inside lining of the stomach or small intestine) and irritable bowel syndrome.
One solution is to avoid eating when you’re feeling very anxious, stressed or unhappy. It also helps your digestion if you avoid arguing at the dinner table, as getting angry can put you off your food or make eating harder. Try to keep mealtimes happy and relaxed.
Smoking can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of the oesophagus (gullet) and allow acid from the stomach to travel in the wrong direction back up the oesophagus, a process known as reflux. Reflux causes the symptoms of heartburn (a burning sensation in the chest) and can bring on or aggravate peptic ulcers and inflammatory conditions of the bowel. Smoking is also an important risk factor for stomach cancer.
It is very easy to spend our working lives eating on the move or at our desks, gulping down food between meetings and then crashing out in front of the TV with a takeaway in the evenings. But eating this way can play havoc with our digestive system.
Following some basic rules can prevent problems:
Don’t rush your food. Take the time to eat slowly. Try putting your fork down between bites and chew each mouthful well.
Don’t overeat. Reduce the size of your portions at mealtimes, or try eating four to five small meals instead of three large ones.
Eat regularly and try not to skip meals.
Avoid eating a big meal just before you go to bed. Eat your last meal at least two to three hours before lying down.
Make sure you have plenty to drink. Try to have at least one and a half litres (two and a half pints) of liquid a day.
Lose excess weight
If you’re overweight, your tummy fat puts pressure on your stomach and can cause heartburn. Shedding some pounds may relieve digestive symptoms such as heartburn and other acid-related stomach complaints.
Don’t binge drink
Moderate drinking won’t hurt your digestive system but binge drinking increases acid production in your stomach and can cause heartburn and aggravate other digestive disorders.
Binge drinking is defined as drinking eight or more units of alcohol in one session for men and drinking more than six units in one session for women.