It happens to everyone from time to time. Digestive upsets like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas or heartburn can make it hard to sleep, work or get through your day.
“Digestive issues can be uncomfortable or embarrassing,” says Kaylan Graham, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “People usually don’t want to talk about them, even with their doctor. But these issues are often not serious and can even be prevented.”
Many stomach issues can be eliminated with some simple lifestyle changes. Try these six tips to help your digestive system stay on track.
1. Eat small, frequent meals
Prevent indigestion, bloating and heartburn by changing how often you eat without increasing your overall calorie intake. Instead of three meals a day, enjoy four to five smaller meals and eat them slowly. Taking time to chew food properly makes you feel full, which can help prevent overeating that can cause gas, bloating, heartburn and indigestion.
2. Drink plenty of water and limit alcohol
Water helps your body flush waste and toxins, and helps your colon eliminate waste, which prevents constipation. The amount of water you need every day may depend on numerous factors such as activity level, geographic location and temperature. If you have questions about how much water you need per day, check with your doctor.
“Make sure you also limit your alcohol consumption,” notes Dr. Graham. “Alcohol interferes with acid secretion and nutrient absorption. Too much alcohol can contribute to heartburn, diarrhea and liver issues.”
3. Exercise regularly
Daily physical activity can help your body’s digestive system move things along and eliminate waste. Try walking, cycling, swimming, using an elliptical trainer or hiking.
4. Maintain a healthy body weight
Extra pounds, especially around the midsection, can make digestive issues such as heartburn, gas and burping, worse.
5. Eat a balanced diet
“Stay away from fried, greasy foods that are hard to digest,” notes Dr. Graham. “Instead, fill your plate with fiber-rich foods, like cherries, grapes, bell peppers, beans, whole grains and nuts.”
Add fish to your list of healthy foods as well. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can improve digestive issues by stabilizing cell walls to reduce inflammation. Probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt and kefir contain good bacteria that can fight any bad bacteria lurking in your gut.
6. Manage your stress level
A presentation can cause “butterflies in your stomach” or a sad experience is “gut-wrenching” because your brain has a direct impact on your stomach.
“Your digestive tract is controlled by a complex system of about 100 million nerves that start in the brain and end in the gut,” notes Dr. Graham. “So your emotions cause chemical and physical responses in the body that can result in stomach pain and discomfort. If ongoing stress is an issue for you, try meditation or other relaxation techniques and make sure to get enough sleep.”
“Sometimes an upset stomach or chronic heartburn can be signs of a more serious condition,” adds Dr. Graham. “They can be signs of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers or gallstones. Contact your primary care doctor if digestive issues interfere with your daily life.”
If you have severe symptoms such as problems swallowing, bloody or black vomit or stool, abdominal pain or have unexplained weight loss, seek immediate medical attention.