Digestive health issues still seem to be a taboo subject, despite the fact that millions of people in the UK suffer from related problems.
The gut is the medical name for the digestive system which helps to process your food, taking energy from what you eat and getting rid of waste.
Gut Week (which runs until Sunday) aims to raise awareness of gut health and encourage people to discuss any problems they have with a medical professional.
Have a look at these helpful tips to improve digestion:
n Starchy snacks such as biscuits and crisps, plus big, rich meals, eaten late in the evening, can be difficult to digest. It’s best to spread your meals evenly throughout the day, eating small meals every four–five hours. This is much better for your digestive health than not eating for long periods of time and then eating a huge meal. For an added boost, eat your main meal at lunchtime if you can.
n Make sure you chew your food properly. This helps your body process food more easily. If food is not chewed enough, the stomach has to work harder to break it down and this can be a cause of bloating and heartburn.
n Overeating can cause indigestion as your body struggles to cope with all the extra food. This can leave you feeling bloated and causes excess wind.
n Drinking plenty of liquid aids digestion – you should try to drink one and a half litres a day.
n Diets which contain too much fat, salt, sugar and caffeine will lead to poor digestive health. Up your intake of fibre by eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods.
Stress and anxiety have a huge effect on the digestion of food and can cause indigestion, stomach pains, diarrhoea and constipation.
The adrenalin which is released by your body when you are stressed has an impact on your digestion. To decrease stress and improve your health, try to manage your time more effectively. Being well prepared at work and at home will help you feel in control. Make sure you allow yourself time to relax by having a long bath, reading a book or going for a walk. Activities which focus on relaxation and meditation, such as yoga and pilates, can also help to decrease stress.
Regular exercise also helps to maintain good digestion. Don’t worry if you don’t enjoy going to the gym, you can make small changes in your day-to-day life that will increase your fitness levels and improve your digestive health. Walking the dog, swimming or going to an exercise class are fun and easy ways to become more active. You could also try leaving your car at home and walking or cycling on short journeys.
It is commonly known that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease. But it can also cause stomach ulcers and increase the risk of stomach cancer. Too much alcohol is also bad for digestive health, affecting the stomach, liver and pancreas. Men should not exceed 21 units of alcohol a week and women should not drink more than 14. A unit is one single measure of a spirit, half a glass of wine or about a third of a pint of beer. For more information on alcohol units, visit drinkaware.co.uk
Although you might be embarrassed to discuss your digestive problems with a doctor, it’s important to do so as many disorders can be easily treated. Dealing with the problem earlier will lead to more effective treatment. Talk to your doctor if you persistently experience the following minor symptoms: abdominal pain, feelings of fullness, bloating or flatulence, sickness, heartburn, loss of appetite.
If you experience the following symptoms, contact your GP as soon as possible: Continued, unexplained weight loss, bleeding when you pass a stool, difficulty swallowing.