Digestive Health

23 May 2017

9 habits that could hurt your digestive system

When last did you give your gut any thought? Turns out these nine common habits could actually be causing damage to your digestive system.

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Our digestive system has a pretty important job to do. It is responsible for digesting foodand breaking it up into much smaller pieces so the nutrients can be absorbed.

Here are nine habits that could be hurting your digestive system. 

1. Medication

Although a bacterial infection (caused by Helicobacter pylori) is the most common cause of gastric ulcers, medications, including aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ibuprofen for example, can put you at risk of developing stomach ulcers. Avoid overusing them. 

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2. The time you eat

Eating or snacking too close to bedtime may lead to heartburn. Help your digestive system by having your last meal or snack at least two to three hours before going to bed. If you are susceptible to heartburn, put a few books under one end of the bed so that your head is higher than your feet.

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3. Eating too much

Aim to have smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, which will make it easier for your body to digest the food. Eating too much in one sitting can cause acid reflux or bloating.

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4. Eating too little fibre

You need to eat about 25g of fibre per day to keep your bowel movements regular and prevent constipation. If you’re looking for a fibre boost, try adding some of the following foods to your diet: sweet potato, oranges, apples, broccoli, nuts, bananas, carrots, spinach, beetroot, green beans and cauliflower. 

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5. Eating too quickly

When you eat too quickly you don’t give your stomach enough time to expand, which can cause pain and discomfort. Plus, you could also be swallowing unnecessary air that may bloat you. 

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6. Drinking too much alcohol

Alcohol can contribute to the development of ulcers or prevent them from healing. Drinking excessively or frequently can also cause stomach discomfort and even diarrhoea. 

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7. Chewing gum

Your gum habit may lead to swallowing too much air, which can leave you feeling bloated. The artificial sweeteners found in chewing gum can also aggravate the bloating. Sucking a hard sweet can have the same effect. If you want to keep your mouth busy, sip on flavoured water instead. 

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8. Postponing a colonoscopy 

Most colon cancer is found in patients who don’t experienced any pain or other symptoms. Schedule your first colonoscopy at the age of 50, unless your doctor recommends otherwise. 

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9. Cleansing your bowels 

If your intestines are healthy, they will be able to “cleanse” themselves as part of the normal process of digestion. Using laxatives that contain herbal extracts, like senna, or chemical preparations containing phenolphthalein, will make your bowels work overtime and may cause diarrhoea. A bout of diarrhoea will make you become dehydrated and lose many of the good microorganisms that perform important functions in your digestive system. Also, instead of “cleaning you out”, laxatives could actually cause you to become constipated by interfering with peristalsis. 

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Read more:

Symptoms of digestive disorders

Diagnosing digestive disorders

Treating digestive disorders

 

Ask the Expert

Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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