How to maintain a healthy digestive system and avoid digestive problems

How to maintain a healthy digestive system and avoid digestive problems

30 Jan 2022

About your digestive system

Whilst we might know that the digestive system is important to the body, it might not be seen as sophisticated as other systems, such as the circulatory or immune systems (1).

Fortunately, mounting scientific findings are beginning to challenge this notion. For the last few decades, there has been groundbreaking research on the gastrointestinal tract (now dubbed as the “second brain”(2)). This research examines the close relationship between the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) in your gut and the Central Nervous System (CNS), and the substantial impact that symptoms of digestive problems can have even on emotional well-being (2).

The digestive system, after all, is chiefly responsible for how you transform the food and drink you consume into nutrition that your body needs: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. The six key activities being executed by the digestive system are ingestion, propulsion, mechanical digestion, chemical digestion, absorption, and defecation (3). As a result, your body breaks down food and water into nutrients at the molecular level in order to use them for cell repair, energy, and growth (4).

Symptoms of digestive problems

Why should you care for your digestive system?

All your organs and bodily functions rely on the nutrients absorbed by your digestive system. This makes them wield incredible influence over your physical capabilities, immune system, cognitive facilities, and mental health (2). As a matter of fact, scientists are even beginning to map out possible cause-effect links between certain gastrointestinal issues and psychological disorders (2).

While we are still waiting for all these to be conclusive, there is still significant evidence suggesting the importance of taking care of your digestive system as symptoms of digestive problems can have ripple effects on other effects on your body.

What are common digestive problems?

Your digestive system comprises the gastrointestinal tract (mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus), liver, pancreas, and gallbladder (16).

Any mild or severe health problem that takes place inside the digestive system or affects any of these organs is called a digestive disease (5). They are often sorted into two groups:

Functional gastrointestinal disorders

These are identified as problems or symptoms found along the gastrointestinal tract and affect its motility, or capability to move food down the tract (17). They are “functional” because while they can affect your gut’s motility or your mood, they do not show up as structural abnormalities when examined or screened. Examples of functional gastrointestinal disorders include: constipation, nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea, irritable bowel system (IBS), and food poisoning (18).

Structural gastrointestinal disorders

Structural gastrointestinal disorders are problems or symptoms that appear as visible abnormalities in your gut when examined. The situation may call for surgical removal (6).

Fortunately, most gastrointestinal diseases can be detected, prevented, and/or treated. This is partly because you can monitor the likelihood of certain diseases based on your family history. However, it is also not uncommon for people to ignore or dismiss digestive symptoms.

Your gut contains millions of bacteria (8) (both healthy and potentially harmful), and their species may depend on several factors including where you live and what you consume, including medicines (9). Any unusual situation can already throw the ecosystem off-balance, leading your gut to alert you through various gastrointestinal symptoms.

Symptoms of digestive problems

What are symptoms of digestive problems to look out for?

There are particular symptoms (individually or when together) that can alert you of a serious illness that warrants an immediate medical check-up. Some of them are as follows (5):

  • Sudden, chronic changes in bowel movement
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Debilitating and worsening heartburn, indigestion, or abdominal pain
  • Anal bleeding

Early detection is crucial in order to prevent any type of digestive disease from progressing. Regular screenings and check-ups are important to address them from the onset.

How can you prevent digestive problems?

Many times, gastrointestinal diseases are treatable and more importantly, preventable. There are basic health habits you can do to protect your gut such as maintaining a healthy diet (e.g.: eating more whole foods and avoiding processed foods), consuming more water, and staying active (19). However, there are extra precautions you can take if you’d give your gut health more attention. Some other tips you can keep in mind are listed below:

  • Regularly seeing your doctor to check on your gastrointestinal health is important, especially past the age of 45, when the risks of colorectal disease goes up (6).
  • Practicing good bowel habits is ideal for your gastrointestinal health (10). That means eating your meals at a personal standard time each day, eating in consistent amounts per interval, consuming high amounts of fibre, never forgetting breakfast, exercising daily, and dedicating a preferred time each day for bowel movement, among others (11).
  • Giving your body an abundant, diverse amount of nutrients regularly is definitely good for your body, including your digestive health. That means various sources of proteins, carbohydrates, fibres, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. It also means minimising consumption of sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners, among others (11).
  • Taking probiotics that are beneficial for your gastrointestinal tract will help promote digestive health. While nutrients are best taken in through a healthy diet, it may also help to take probiotic supplements (19).
Symptoms of digestive problems

Supplements to support gut health

Here are some examples of supplements you can take alongside a healthy and well-balanced diet to ensure you receive adequate nutrients to support gut health:

Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are naturally found in the gut (14). They support a healthy balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your digestive tract. Probiotics can be taken in through foods like kefir, yogurt, and kimchi, but in the event you don’t get enough of it from diet, it helps to take them in through supplements.

Curcumin

Curcumin comes from turmeric, a common spice (12). It has been suggested that curcumin has a regulatory effect on the gut microbiota, and may help address gastrointestinal concerns (15).

Zinc

Zinc plays a key role in helping regulate blood sugar and assisting in DNA synthesis (13). Zinc deficiency has been linked to problems in the gastrointestinal tract.

Consider Vitable daily vitamins today and pair them with a healthy and well-rounded diet to support your gut health. Sign up for a vitamins subscription and get your personalised vitamins brought to you through our vitamin delivery services to anywhere in Australia.

Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:

Zinc | Probiotic SB | Daily probiotics | Curcumin

*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.

References:

  1. Healthline. “What’s an Unhealthy Gut? How Gut Health Affects You”. Last medically reviewed July 2, 2018 on https://www.healthline.com/health/gut-health#signs-and-symptoms. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  2. John Hopskins Medicine. “The Brain-Gut Connection”. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  3. BIO 140 – Human Biology I – Textbook. Compiled by Damaris-Lois Lang. “Digestive System Processes and Regulation”. Published June 28, 2013 on https://guides.hostos.cuny.edu/bio140/5-16. Last updated on Nov 12, 2020. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  4. Cleveland Clinic. “Digestive System”. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Last updated August 9, 2018 on https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7041-the-structure-and-function-of-the-digestive-system. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  5. MedlinePlus. “Digestive Diseases”. Updated 2021 on https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007447.htm. Accessed November 22, 2021.
  6. Cleveland Clinic. “Gastrointestinal Diseases”. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Last reviewed January 14, 2021 on https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7041-the-structure-and-function-of-the-digestive-system. Accessed November 22, 2021.
  7. NHS UK. “Common digestive problems and how to treat them”. Last reviewed August 29, 2019 on https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/common-digestive-problems-and-how-to-treat-them/. Accessed November 22, 2021.
  8. Eamonn M. M. Quigley, M.D. “Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease”. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Published September 2013 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  9. Better Health Channel. “Digestive system explained”. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/digestive-system. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  10. University of Michigan Health System. “Healthy Bowel Habits”. Last updated January 2011 on https://medicine.umich.edu/sites/default/files/content/downloads/healthy-bowel-habits.pdf. Accessed November 22, 2021.
  11. Karen Finney. “What is 'gut health' and why is it important?” Published July 22, 2019 on https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/what-is-gut-health-and-why-is-it-important/2019/07. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  12. Francesco Di Meo, et. Al. “Curcumin, Gut Microbiota, and Neuroprotection”. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Published October 2019 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835970/. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  13. GI Society: Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. “Are You Getting Enough Zinc?” Published 2011 on https://badgut.org/information-centre/health-nutrition/zinc/. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  14. Cleveland Clinic. "Probiotics". Cleveland Clinic. Reviewed March 9, 2020 at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  15. Scazzocchio, B., et. al., "Interaction between Gut Microbiota and Curcumin: A New Key of Understanding for the Health Effects of Curcumin". Nutrients. Published August 19, 2020 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7551052/. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  16. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). “Your Digestive System & How it Works”. Last reviewed December 2017 on https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works. Accessed November 21, 2021.
  17. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Digestive Disorders.” n.d. Published on https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/digestive-disorders. Accessed January 5, 2022.
  18. UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders. “What is a Functional GI Disorder?” n.d. Published on https://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/wp-content/uploads/sites/450/2017/10/What-Is-Functional-GI.pdf. Accessed on January 5, 2022.
  19. Cleveland Clinic. “5 Steps to Help Prevent Digestive Problems as You Age.” Published August 12, 2020 on https://health.clevelandclinic.org/stomach-trouble-5-steps-help-prevent-digestive-problems-as-you-age/. Accessed January 5, 2022.