9 Common Myths About Your Digestive Health

ImageYou might think that living in The Information Age would mean that our incredible access to knowledge would easily dispel myths that abound about our health. But in fact, it seems that so far, the internet has only helped propagate some of them. Hopefully, reading this will help set you straight on a couple doozies you might not have been aware were actually untrue.

1. The Ulcer-Causer. This is a big one for untrue myths: that spicy foods and stress cause ulcers. In fact, they can aggravate your ulcers, but the most likely cause of ulcers is infection by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (aka H. Pylori), a commonly occurring bacteria in your stomach. Another likely suspect for most people is the overuse of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen).

2. The Ulcer-Curer. This myth, that milk can cure your ulcers, has been believed for some time now, but alas is also untrue. If it’s bacterium that cause your infection, only antibiotics can cure it. Even in the case of NSAID-caused ulcers, the milk would at best only provide temporary relief. Sorry dairy farmers!

3. The Liver-Killer. Many of us believe that only alcoholics can get cirrhosis of the liver, but this is actually not true. While alcoholism may be a big cause of this disease, there are many other ways to damage your liver, including infection with hepatitis B or C, severe reaction to prescription drugs, and more commonly via something called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is becoming the most common liver disease in the U.S., associated with the increasing number of people with obesity and diabetes.

4. The Fibre-Lover. It’s vitally important to get enough fibre in your diet, and this is especially true if you suffer from something like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But you don’t need more than approximately 25 grams of fibre per day, and if you’re increasing to this amount, do it gradually or you’ll get a lot of bloating and gas as payback. And, if you do suffer from IBS, you’re better off with soluble fibre like psyllium instead of insoluble fibre like bran to reduce your symptoms.

5. The Colon-Cleanser. Some people religiously go for colon cleanses to detox their bodies, or do serious juice-fasts to lose weight or to ‘get clean’. But the truth is, these sometimes radical changes to your diet can be robbing you of needing nutrients, and can even put your digestive system into a kind of shock, causing diarrhea and/or abdominal pain, for example. The best way to cleanse is to eat cleanly: add more fruits and vegetables (organic if possible) to your diet, and stay away from refined foods. Cut down on your caffeine and alcohol intake and quit smoking. Plus, adding in a little more exercise can help tremendously when it comes to flushing out your system of unwanted toxins.

6. The Nut No-No. Diverticulitis is a common condition in which pockets of your intestine become inflamed and irritated. But if you’ve been told to avoid nuts, corn, popcorn and food with small seeds such as strawberries, you should know now that researchers have found no link between eating them and the often painful condition. In fact, it’s a low fibre diet that is the usual cause of diverticulitis, which nuts can be a part of curing, since they contain fibre themselves.

7. The Heartburn-Smoker. If you’ve ever tried smoking as a means of relaxing, you may have also been fooled into thinking that a cigarette can help relieve you of heartburn. Alas, the truth is that nicotine can actually contribute to acid reflux, as it causes the sphincter muscle between your stomach and esophagus to relax. And not relax in a good way, because this allows hydrochloric acid to leak up into your esophagus, causing a very uncomfortable burning sensation!

8. The Dairy-Dodger. If you’re lactose intolerant, you have a deficiency of the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose, a sugar found in milk products. But a deficiency is not a complete lack, and you might have more or less of the enzyme than the next person. So with some trial and error, you can actually consume some dairy products.

9. The Bowel-Brouhaha. Many people are worried when they don’t have a bowel movement every day, or if they have as many as three a day. The truth is, it’s a variance in your bowel movements to watch for. If you’re eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise, and nothing changes in your lifestyle, then your bowel movements should stay relatively the same. Get worried if you’re having less than 3 a week, or more than 3 a day. And while we’re at it bowel-wise, getting older doesn’t mean fewer bowel movements in and of itself, either. Ageing folks tend to get constipation because of the medications they’re taking, or because they’re getting less exercise. Not because they’re older.

By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc

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