No one likes to talk about gas or bathroom mishaps, but digestive difficulties afflict tens of millions every day. Symptoms can be avoided with diet tweaks, lifestyle changes or over-the-counter remedies. Here are some of the latest science-backed solutions for three common gastrointestinal problems:
You don't have to "go" every day, but in general, if you pass stools fewer than three times a week, and they're small, hard and tough to pass, you're probably constipated.
Try this: Eat more beans. They're packed with fiber, and they help the body form soft, bulky stools. A study found fewer than half of participants eating pinto or baked beans reported having more gas during the first week of the study, and only 19 percent experienced an increase after eating black eyed peas; researchers also found the increase in gas declined as each week passed. Eat high-fiber foods daily such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, and limit meat, cheese and processed foods. Also, stay hydrated (which helps soften your stool) and exercise regularly (to stimulate intestinal action).
When the valve that connects the esophagus and stomach doesn't work properly or is weak, digestive juices (or acid) can flow back from the stomach (or reflux), which causes that nasty sour taste in the back of your throat, along with heartburn. If that happens more than twice a week, it's GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease - a chronic, more serious condition.
Try this: Lose weight. Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus. New research found acid reflux rose almost 50% in the past 10 years; researchers say obesity is probably to blame. To ease occasional reflux, eat smaller meals and avoid heartburn triggers such as fatty or fried foods or caffeine, and don't lie down right after your eat. Over the counter medication may help with reflux; prescription meds may be needed for GERD.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
As many as one in five Americans have IBS symptoms, a disorder of the large intestine that leads to cramps, diarrhea and constipation. Despite the symptoms, IBS doesn't cause permanent damage to the colon, nor does it lead to a serious disease.
Try this: Peppermint capsules. Researchers have shown that peppermint helps relieve IBS by activating an "anti-pain" channel in the colon, which soothes inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract. Ask your doctor before trying the herb - peppermint may trigger heartburn or interfere with other medications.
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