by KAYLAN GRAHAM, M.D.; Scripps Clinic, Carmel Valley

Tired of Tummy Trouble?

Follow Six Simple Steps Toward Better Digestive Health

scripps_kaylanEveryone experiences digestive distress from time to time — including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, or heartburn. While many digestive issues are uncomfortable or embarrassing, they often are not serious and can be eliminated with some simple lifestyle changes. Try these six tips to help your digestive system stay on track.

1. Eat small, frequent meals.
Prevent indigestion, bloating, and heartburn by changing how often you eat without increasing your overall calorie intake. Instead of three squares a day, enjoy four to five smaller meals and eat them more slowly. Taking time to eat and chewing food properly makes you feel full, which prevents the overeating that can upset your digestive tract.

2. Drink plenty of water.
Water helps your body flush waste and toxins, and prevents constipation. Water needs vary by individual, depending on numerous factors such as activity level, geographic location, and temperature. If you have questions about how much water you need per day, check with your doctor. At the same time, limit alcohol, which interferes with acid secretion and nutrient absorption. Too much alcohol can contribute to heartburn, diarrhea, and liver issues.

3. Exercise regularly.
Daily physical activity can help your body’s digestive system move things along and eliminate waste. Try walking, cycling, swimming, using an elliptical trainer, or hiking.

4. Maintain a healthy body weight.
Extra pounds, especially around the midsection, can make digestive issues such as heartburn, gas, and burping worse.

5. Eat a balanced diet.
Stay away from fried, greasy foods that are hard to digest, while making sure you include fiber-rich foods, which are important for overall digestive health. Fill your plate with foods like cherries, grapes, crunchy bell peppers, beans, whole grains, and nuts. Add fish to your list of healthy foods as well. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can improve digestive issues by stabilizing cell walls to reduce inflammation. Probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt and kefir contain good bacteria that can crowd out any bad bacteria lurking in your gut.

6. Manage your stress level.
A presentation can cause “butterflies in your stomach” or a sad experience is “gut-wrenching” because your brain has a direct impact on your stomach. Your digestive tract is controlled by a complex system of about 100 million nerves that starts in the brain and ends in the gut, so your emotions cause chemical and physical responses in the body that can result in pain and discomfort. If ongoing stress is an issue for you, try meditation or other relaxation techniques and make sure to get enough sleep.

When should you see your doctor?
Sometimes an upset stomach or chronic heartburn can be signs of a more serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, or gallstones. Contact your primary care doctor if digestive issues interfere with your daily life. Seek immediate medical help if you have problems swallowing, bloody or black vomit or stool, abdominal pain, or have unexplained weight loss.

Kaylan Graham, M.D., is an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic in Carmel Valley. Dr. Graham provides comprehensive primary care with special interest in preventive medicine and weight management.

Looking for a new doctor? To find a Scripps physician near you call 858-223-1354  or visit