People that suffer from digestive issues, including stomach problems, know just how embarrassing and disruptive these episodes can be. Digestive disorders are very common in Canada, with over 20 million Canadian suffering from digestive problems each year. Suffering from stomach problems disrupts an individuals’ personal as well as professional life. Many people find talking about stomach problems and their symptoms quite embarrassing. Because of this fact, the extent of digestive disease in the Canadian population is more than likely under-estimated. Odds are, if you haven’t already suffered with a digestive disorder, such as stomach problems, in the past you probably will in the future!
The digestive system is a tract that includes several different organs. The digestive system includes: the esophagus, liver and biliary system, stomach, pancreas, colon, small intestine, appendix, rectum and anus. Each part of the digestive system plays an important role in proper digestion. A digestive system that is working optimally will provide better digestion of the food and drink particles that you consume. If there is a problem in one or more areas of the digestive system, it can impair digestion and cause disturbing symptoms.
You have probably heard of some digestive diseases that are quite prevalent in society including: diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lactose intolerance and peptic ulcers. However, there are a number of digestive disorders that you may have not heard of including: Crohn’s disease, colon and esophageal cancer, diverticular disease, dyspepsia, GERD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis, and Barrett’s esophagus. There is a wide array of digestive problems that you can suffer, sometime without any obvious symptoms.
There are a multitude of varying symptoms of digestive diseases. Some people are even diagnosed with a digestive disorder without the presence of symptoms. Some of the symptoms of digestive disease are:
– Frequent heartburn, regurgitation, acidic taste in your mouth
– Bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, gas, cramps
– Rectal bleeding, bloody stools
– Changes in appetite and bowel movements
– Pain with swallowing, mouth ulcers
While many people suffer from stomach problems, such as occasional diarrhea or constipation, there are situations where you should seek advice from your doctor. If you have persistent diarrhea or vomiting, unexplained weight loss, extreme fatigue, persistent fever, frequent bloody stool, bloody diarrhea, sleep disturbances due to abdominal pain among other symptoms, you should speak to your doctor right away. It may mean that something more serious is going on. To rule our colon cancer, or other problems with your colon, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy.
Furthermore, colon cancer has the second highest death rate of all cancers in Canada. It is therefore very important to get regular screening for colon and rectal cancers. The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology and the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation recommend routine colonoscopy testing, even if an individual doesn’t have risk factors for colon cancer. The current recommendation for individuals without risk factors is a colonoscopy once every 10 years after the age of 50. If colon or rectal cancer is detected early, there is a better chance of survival, so get tested!
Probiotics are a type of “good” bacteria that may lead to better digestion as well as offer protection from “bad” bacteria. Prebiotics act as food for probiotics and when they are combined, they are called a symbiotic. Examples of symbiotics included fermented dairy products as well as yogurt. Prebiotics are found in whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, artichokes and honey. Both prebiotics and probiotics can also be taken in the form of a supplement to help with better digestion.
Research has shown that certain strains of probiotics may help to improve your digestive health by:
– Treating diarrhea, especially after antibiotic treatment
– Treating irritable bowel syndrome
– Helping with the treatment for certain colon and small intestine infections
Most individuals can add probiotics and experience better digestion as a result with no complications. However, if you suffer from a chronic condition, consult your medical practitioner before beginning probiotic treatment.
Even if you’re not experiencing digestive problems, you should still consume fiber to support better digestion. There are two types of fiber:
1. Soluble fiber – breaks down into a gel in the colon and small intestine. This type of fiber helps to absorb water and slows digestion. Sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, beans and apples.
2. Insoluble fiber – does not break down in the colon and small intestine; it remains relatively intact as it passes through the digestion tract. This type of fiber speeds up digestion. Sources of insoluble fiber include seeds and grains.
It is important to consume both types of fiber for better digestion. Enough fiber can help you to stay regular. It also helps to bulk up stools in order to remove them from the digestive tract. Some types of soluble fiber are even considered pre-biotics.
The prevalence of digestive disease in Canada is overwhelming, with digestive disorders costing approximately $18 billion dollars in healthcare costs and lost work productively. If you are suffering from digestive symptoms, including stomach problems, don’t be embarrassed; speak to your doctor to learn lifestyle modifications that you can make to minimize the disturbance to your life.