The Gastrointestinal system is a common area of health problems, but its normal functioning is a wonder; it’s automatic while you do many other things.
Heartburn. This is usually caused by too much acid or having a weak lower valve. The excess acid can be from cigarettes, caffeine, chocolate, peppermint, or alcohol. You usually feel a burning in your lower chest or stomach, especially when lying down. There are multiple medications which lower the acid or push the food on down so that the stomach isn’t so full for too long. A hiatal hernia is when the stomach is pushed into the chest a little bit so that the valve between the stomach and food pipe (the esophagus), the lower valve, doesn’t work well and the food can’t pass down easily, therefore it sloshes into the esophagus. The upper valve is in your neck to keep stomach and esophageal secretions from coming into your mouth or lungs. Usually they work well.
Trouble Swallowing. The acid sloshes up from the stomach and repeatedly burns the esophagus causing a narrowing by creating a scar. This can be relieved by having a scope passed down and then inflating a balloon to dilate the narrowed zone.
Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining, again caused by too much acid. You may have a sour taste in your mouth, or belch more than normal with any of these acid problems. The pain is usually worse with eating. This is also treated by the acid reducer medications and avoiding the causes.
Gastroenteritis is from an infection causing nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. This is very common and usually comes from contamination of the food from an unclean restaurant, food packager, or poor practices at home. You can avoid street vendors and low-rated restaurants. At home the most common cause is cutting meat and then vegetables served raw in a salad, but not cleaning the cutting board thoroughly between the meat and the vegetables. The bacteria or viruses on the meat will be killed with cooking, but live on the raw vegetables and then inside of you. There are a huge number of cases of gastroenteritis in the USA. Almost everyone has one or two per year. You have heard of E. Coli and Salmonella being in meat and vegetables and the recall of these items.
Please be careful when handling pets or their excrement, to wash your hands thoroughly so you don’t spread the bacteria to the food for you and others.
Staph infection is also common and can be spread by those with sores on their hands. We routinely ask them to not prepare food until the sore is closed and not red.
Another way to spread bacteria is to not wash your hands after having a bowel movement and then preparing food.
Restaurants are rated in LA County by the Health Department and the closer to grade A the better and probably cleaner the processing. I have eaten in B and C restaurants without problems, but I was aware that they had deficiencies on their latest inspection.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is a condition where you might experience bloating, diarrhea, or constipation or all of these, especially when under stress. Both conditions produce misery. There are medicines that can help.
Constipation. This condition is very common. The bowels need enough fluid and fiber to process the food properly. Fiber is in vegetables and fruits (remember we discussed eating 5 or more servings per day). 8 glasses of liquid is generally recommended per day, but as long as your urine looks clear to light yellow, you know you are getting enough fluids. When we say fluids, we mean those without caffeine or alcohol since these cause you to urinate more than normally and lose some of the fluid you drank unnaturally. If you want to lose weight, then drink water. If you start drinking water more, your body will start to crave it and it is satisfying and low cost. Filtered water in bottles has been proven to be no more safe or nutritious than tap water that is filtered. I think charcoal filtering is superior.
When you are constipated, your stools are hard, causing gas, bloating, and maybe hemorrhoids or tearing of the anus which results in bleeding. Hemorrhoids are varicose veins that have enlarged due to being blocked from the hard stool; they expand and stretch the lining over them in the anal-rectal region. There are two zones for the veins. When the lower zone near the anus stretches, it results in itching and burning, with painful bowel movements. The upper zone in the rectum doesn’t usually have pain receptors so they usually are discovered by bleeding or being pushed down by stool so that you feel something strange is in your anus; there is. Feel free to squat over a mirror with a flashlight to see what is going on. Preparation H or its generic form can be quite helpful.
Diverticulitis. When there is not enough fiber and fluid you get constipation but you might also get small pockets/bubbles/aneurysms of the bowel lining pushed out from the high pressure which was needed to move the tiny, hard stool balls along. Later these can be blocked by a small piece of stool and cause inflammation, pain, and can burst, causing an infection. The prevention and treatment for the stage before blockage is (duh!) fiber and fluids. Eating only meat and potatoes is a bad idea for many, many reasons!
Bleeding from above or below is important to mention to your provider. It is an emergency when more than just a little blood comes out; call your provider or the nearest emergency room for advice. One can die from this quickly. Black stool is produced when you bleed in the stomach and the acid turns the blood black (and I mean black).
Eat healthy, exercise, take care of your bodies. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.