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Preventing Digestive Problems

You are one of the most important members of the team when it comes to keeping your digestive system healthy. Many digestive issues are manageable -- or even can be avoided totally -- by making small changes to your eating and lifestyle habits.

  • What is the digestive system?

    Digestive System

    The digestive system

    The digestive system is responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients from the food, and ridding the body of waste products from the food. The digestive system consists of the:

    • Upper digestive tract, which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
    • Lower digestive tract, which includes the large intestine and the rectum.
    • Liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
  • What you eat can make a difference

    How can you prevent digestive problems?

    Some digestive problems, such as ulcerative colitis, can’t be prevented. But you can do a lot to prevent other problems or make them better. Most of these things also promote a healthy lifestyle.

    • To help keep your digestive system healthy:
      • Get some exercise every day. Build up slowly to 30 to 60 minutes a day on 5 or more days of the week.
      • Stay at a healthy weight through sensible eating and exercise.
    • To avoid constipation:
      • Include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains in your diet each day. These foods are high in fiber. If needed, take a fiber supplement, such as Citrucel or Metamucil, every day. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
      • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Having a daily routine may help. Take your time and do not strain when having a bowel movement.
      • Drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • To prevent diarrhea, avoid food or water that may be tainted with bacteria. Raw or uncooked seafood and meat are high-risk foods. When you travel, avoid drinking the local water. A good rule of thumb is, “If it’s not boiled, well-cooked, or peeled, don’t eat it.”
    • To help prevent cirrhosis of the liver, limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
    • To prevent or ease the symptoms of IBS:
      • Do not smoke. Smoking can make digestion problems worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
      • Manage stress through deep breathing, guided imagery, or exercise. Any activity that helps you relax will help.