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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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Exercise to Promote Good Digestion

Exercise to Promote Good Digestion

You probably know that eating fruits, vegetable and foods that are high in fiber can help your digestion.   But exercise can also help optimize your digestive process.  Exercise improves blood flow throughout the body –including your digestive tract.  

A consistent exercise routine will help keep your digestive process moving and can alleviate constipation, gas, and bloating.    Different types of exercise have different effects on the body. For example, riding a bike or breathing exercises can help reduce heartburn.  Certain yoga poses like gentle twists can stimulate your abdominal organs.   But the best kind of exercise is the exercise you enjoy because you will be more motivated to get moving.  National recommendations for physical activity say that adults should exercise about 150 minutes per week.  That is less than ½ hour per day – and enough for your digestive health.

Alternatively, some types of extreme exercise can have negative effects on digestion. Endurance athletes often report gastrointestinal issues such as is nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea. It’s important to talk with a doctor before implementing a new exercise regimen, especially if you have health issues.  

Eating right, exercising and staying hydrated are all important parts of general health that impact your digestion.  Please contact us anytime you have questions or concerns about your digestive health: 952-368-3800

 

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Your Digestive System And How It Works

Every time we eat or drink something, our digestive system goes to work to help our bodies absorb the nutrients we need
to stay strong and healthy.

It all starts in our mouth.  As we chew our food, saliva is produced and our food starts to break down. Once swallowed,
food moves down our esophagus and into our stomach.

The stomach is a curved organ that stretches when we eat or drink and it connects the esophagus to the small intestine.  Muscles at the top of our stomach relax to let food enter while muscles at the bottom of our stomach go to work to mix the contents of our stomach with digestive juices or acids that primarily break down proteins. 

Next, the contents of the stomach, which is now called chyme, enters the small intestine.  Digestive juices created by the small intestine, along with bile from the liver (which is stored in the gall bladder) and enzymes from the pancreas all go
to work to further break down the food into carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The walls of the small intestine absorb these nutrients and – via the bloodstream - deliver these nutrients to cells throughout the body.  Meanwhile, the remaining chyme passes into the large intestine.

Once in the large intestine (also called the colon), there are very few nutrients left in the chyme.  Water and electrolytes are removed and microbes go to work to continue the digestive process.   What’s left now is waste, which passes through the final part of the large intestine, called the rectum and exits through the anus.

This vital and amazing process takes place every time we eat or drink. And the nutrients absorbed into our bodies through digestion help all parts of our body - from our organs to our hormones.

You can help keep your digestive system working well by drinking lots of water and eating a healthy diet that has lots of fiber-rich foods like fruit and vegetables.

As a gastroenterology clinic, we specialize in caring for people who have digestive issues.  Please contact us if you have concerns about your digestive health.  

 

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