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Myth: Digestion Happens in the Stomach

 

Most of us have a blurry idea of how digestion works: we eat food, break it down (that’s the scientific term, right?) and, somehow, profit. But without a better understanding of what goes on in there, we’re liable to believe a few bizarre myths that have become common.

Our digestive tract is a complex system with many parts that communicate with each other and the rest of our body. It’s also very adaptable to what we consume, and doesn’t need specific food combinations or “cleanses” to keep working at its best. Here is a myth about digestion, debunked by Dr. Bhatti.

Some digestion happens in the stomach, but food passes through a series of stations on its way through our body, of which the stomach is only one. Here’s the cheat sheet:

 

  • The mouth is the first stop, and actually plays an important role. Tastes and smells signal the rest of the digestive system that food is on its way. We chew food to give it more surface area (the better for enzymes later on to do their job) and saliva helps us taste and swallow, as well as keeping our mouth healthy in between meals.

  • A swallow sends food on a trip down the esophagus, which pushes it tube-of- toothpaste style toward the stomach. (The trip takes about eight seconds.) This motion, called peristalsis, ends by triggering the stomach’s entrance to open.

  • In the stomach, food is drenched in an acid wash. This helps to kill microbes and partially unravel proteins. A few enzymes, specialized to work in the acid environment, can do their jobs: mainly chopping up proteins.

  • The small intestine is actually where most of this action happens: enzymes breaks down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into their components (fatty acids, amino acids, and sugars, respectively). Giving the body tiny building blocks instead of large chunks of macronutrients, allowing the small intestine’s cells to absorb them and pass them through to the bloodstream. From there, they are transported to where they are needed. We either burn them for energy, store them as fat, or in some scenarios, use them to build components of our own bodies—like when we use the amino acids from food protein to build more actin and myosin in our muscles.

  • In the large intestine, trillions of microbes devour what we couldn’t—mainly fiber and other “prebiotic” carbohydrates. That’s good news for us, since these microbes’ waste products are essential to our health. They’re where we get most of our vitamin K, for instance.

The whole process of digestion is mysterious and awesome, and way bigger than what happens in any one organ. The entire route your food takes is known as your gastrointestinal (or GI) tract, and scientists often call it simply the “gut.” 

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Causes of Stomach Pain after Eating




That little “tummy ache” could be attributed to eating too much or too fast, but it could also be a sign of a more serious health problem. Let’s take a look at the possible causes of stomach pain after eating:

1. Over eating: Stomach pain can result when you consume your food too fast. When you overeat, you might not take the time to chew through your food properly and you might notice that the food generally disappears from your plate very quickly.
2. Food intolerances: It is estimated that nearly 20% of the population is intolerant or sensitive to certain foods. Stomach pain and cramping are common symptoms of food intolerances or sensitivities, which are often associated with dairy, gluten, nuts, yeast, and tomatoes.
3. Food allergies: Dairy products, nuts, eggs, peanut butter, soy, corn, wheat, and gluten are common food allergies that can cause symptoms such as stomach pain. A food elimination diet or an allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody test can be conducted to determine whether you are allergic to a particular food or substance.
4. Celiac disease: Stomach pain is a common symptom of celiac disease. The condition is characterized by gluten sensitivity. People with celiac disease will immediately react to a specific protein found in gluten called gliadin—it is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats.
5. Irritable bowel syndrome: This is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects approximately 15% of the population. Some symptoms include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, abdominal pain, or stomach pain after eating. Candida, food allergies, and food sensitivities are also associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
6. Pancreatitis: Stomach pain after eating can also indicate pancreatitis, especially when the pain lasts for over six hours. Pancreatitis is known as pancreas inflammation. People with pancreatitis will experience pain that begins around the upper abdomen; the pain will then spread to the back. Other pancreatitis symptoms include fever, nausea, and vomiting.
7. Diverticulitis: Diverticulitis is a condition where pouches in the colon become inflamed from bacteria. The pouches are also known as cysts or diverticula. Some symptoms include fever, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, bowel habit changes, and cramping pain, especially around the lower left area of the abdomen. Stomach pain after eating is also common.
8. Intestinal obstruction: When there is a blockage in your colon or small intestine, it can be difficult for foods to be digested properly. When you eat too fast, large pieces of food may not be broken down. A hernia or tumor can also lead to intestinal obstruction.
9. Chronic candida: Abdominal pain can also be a symptom of chronic candida—a condition also known as yeast overgrowth. Other common symptoms associated with candida include chronic fatigue, bloating, gas, and depression.
10. Heartburn: Heartburn is also sometimes referred to as acid reflux, or acid indigestion. Heartburn is the result of too little stomach acid, and it can produce burning chest pain after eating. The pain may only last a few minutes, or up to several hours. Stomach pain after eating can also be attributed to gallstones, eating spicy foods, a stomach flu, lactose intolerance, food poisoning, appendicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, Crohn’s disease, and peptic ulcers. Stomach pain after eating may also be the result of a blocked blood vessel.

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5 Simple steps to start eating healthier today.

 

1. Everything in moderation.
The foremost step in eating healthy is learning to relish all your preferred foods in moderation. You don’t have to forego your favorite treats all at once. Healthy eating is about balance and giving your body the nutrients it needs to function while also pleasing your taste buds.

2. Eat the rainbow.

Make your meals like the rainbow – full of an array of natural color. You should eat double the amount of fruits and vegetables as you do proteins and carbohydrates. Reach for your favorite fruits and veggies, but try some outside of your comfort zone as well, and find ways to incorporate them into your favorite meals.

3. Don’t skip meals!

Within four to six hours of your last food intake

  • The brain starts experiencing fuel shortage. 
  • You become tired, sluggish, moody and irritable.
  • Your cognitive functions are affected, and you might have difficulty with attention, memory, concentration and general mental functioning.

If you know you get hungry around certain times, make sure to pack a healthy snack to help control your hunger until your next meal. 

4. Water is life.
This one isn’t news. Water is indispensable for your consistency. Water aids digestion and other bodily parts. The benefits of drinking water include less fatigue, younger looking skin and feeling full longer, which saves you from feeding when your body isn’t hungry.

5. Choose whole grains.
Whole grains contain healthy fibers, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are removed from processed grains, such as . eating a well-balanced meal that includes whole grains has been demonstrated to decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

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RELIEF FROM HEARTBURN

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Heartburn is the most common symptom of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Other symptoms include regurgitation of food, a burning feeling in the chest or throat, difficulty swallowing, and sometimes chest pain. (Note: there can be similarities between heartburn and heart attack symptoms. If you have chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or any warning signs of a heart attack. seek immediate medical attention.)

There are a number of common culprits that cause heartburn including fatty foods, late night meals and overeating.  A loaded cheeseburger at 10 pm is not a good idea if you’re prone to heartburn. Specific foods that are known to cause heartburn include:

  • Onions, garlic, mustard and other spicy foods/condiments
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges
  • Caffeinated drinks including, coffee, tea and soft drinks
  • Peppermint
  • Tomatoes
  • Some medications and some forms of exercise can also set off heartburn

Relief starts by being aware of the foods or activities that trigger heartburn for you:

  • Avoid specific foods and beverages that you know cause discomfort.
  • Consider a diet if you’re overweight. Extra weight increases pressure on your stomach, forcing more acid into the esophagus.
  • Eat 4–6 small meals instead of 2-3 large ones.
  • Research options for over-the-counter medications.


Depending on the severity of your heartburn and other symptoms; treatment for  heartburn and other GERD- related symptoms may include lifestyle changes, medicines, or surgery.  If lifestyle changes or medication don't help, Dr. Bhatti may perform an EGD to biopsy or obtain images your upper GI tract. 

 
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