10 Habits of Gastrointestinal Health
By: Christopher P. Shaver, MD, Birmingham Gastroenterology Associates
1. Control all of your “other” medical conditions. Many chronic diseases negatively influence your intestinal tract: think poorly controlled diabetes, undertreated cardiovascular diseases, thyroid disorders, obesity, and so on. There is a synergistic relationship between intestinal health and your other organ systems.
2. Work hard to avoid the habitual use of opioid analgesics. The individual and societal devastation wrought by the American opioid epidemic is well documented, however the deleterious effects on the GI tract are not. The chronic user of opiates will almost always deal with some degree of chronic gut distress in the form of opioid-induced constipation, narcotic bowel syndrome, and/or chronic nausea and vomiting. If you take narcotics, your gut will never feel normal.
3. Use antibiotics the right way. You have a delicately balanced community of gut bacteria found primarily in your large intestine. Disruption of this balance may create significant GI morbidity in the form of infectious colitis, chronic diarrhea, chronic constipation, and other maladies. Antibiotics are an invaluable tool in the treatment of bona fide bacterial infection but their overuse is problematic.
4. Be proactive! Colonoscopy is such an important tool for colon and rectal cancer prevention. Cancer prevention is typically an excellent investment in time, effort and dollars.
5. Don’t abuse alcohol. Ingested alcohol in any form may be exquisitely toxic to the gut, liver and pancreas when used in excess over extended periods of time.
6. Maintain an ideal body weight. Obesity increases your risk of fatty liver and cirrhosis, chronic acid reflux disease, gallbladder issues and various gastrointestinal malignancies. We find that the treatment of many chronic gut diseases evaluated in our office involves some form of weight reduction.
7. Don’t smoke. Smoking is toxic to the gut and pancreas, not to mention the heart and lungs. So, say it with me…
8. Follow-up with your gastroenterologist. Acute and chronic GI diseases are best managed through the experience and expertise of a board-certified gastroenterologist or affiliated physician extender. Your best chances for an accurate diagnoses and effective short and long-term treatment will usually occur under the watchful eye of a specialist.
9. Diet is not everything (but it is important). Was it your mom that said we are what we eat? She was right. Your body is a temple. Feed it good stuff.
10. Respect anti-inflammatories and aspirin products. These are good drugs that we need, but they can cause gastritis, ulcer disease and gastrointestinal bleeding when not used responsibly. Don’t forget to tell your doctors if you take these medications as a prescription or over-the-counter on a regular basis. Pro tip: Don’t forget the “powders.” Goody’s, BC and Stanback are loaded with aspirin.