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Ways to avoid a bad gut reaction.

Byline: Craig McQueen

WITH one in three people suffering from some form of digestive problem, it's surprising our awareness of them is so low.

Whether it's day-to-day issues such as indigestion, or more serious illnesses such as colitis, gut problems can affect people in a number of ways.

And that makes sense when you consider the digestive system includes not just the stomach but the mouth, oesophagus, intestines, pancreas, liver and gall bladder.

This week is National Gut Week, with people being encouraged to take better care of their digestive system and to become more aware of the problems that can occur.

Here's our guide to making sure you have a healthy gut.

Why is the gut important?

The digestive system is responsible for processing food, absorbing nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and helping our body to function properly.

Each part of the digestive system plays its role in the processing of food and it is also within the gut that most of the body's immune system is located. So by looking after your gut, you are helping to look after your whole body.

Factors such as stress, poor diet, illness, certain drugs and even the natural ageing process can have a detrimental effect on the gut. It may lead to constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, wind and infections.

That means it's important to look after your gut by taking steps to help ensure a balance of good bacteria to counter the bad which can affect our digestion and health.

What can go wrong?

There are a surprising range of gut problems, with more than 25 conditions relating to the digestive system.

They range from common ailments such as indigestion, heartburn, diarrhoea and constipation through to chronic illnesses such as coeliac disease, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

What are the symptoms?

Given the wide range of conditions that can affect the gut, it follows that there are a wide range of symptoms which could be the sign that something is wrong.

They include feeling bloated, nausea, heartburn, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, lethargy, unexplained weight loss and indigestion.

In addition, any changes in your bowel habits are worth getting checked out. In fact, it's a good idea to visit your doctor rather than waiting for the problem to get worse.

What should I be eating?

It'll come as no surprise that what you put into your body will have a big effect on your digestive health and the way to keep a healthy gut is to follow many of the same dietary guidelines we hear about frequently.

That means having a balanced, low-fat diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. But there are other things that can help, too.

For example, eating three meals a day that aren't rushed to fit around other things is important, as is limiting alcohol and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Prebiotic foods such as leeks, bananas and onions are useful for the "good" bacteria in your stomach, as are probiotic drinks such as Yakult. Dairy products are also useful, thanks to the vitamins and minerals they provide. How else can I help my gut?

Just as a good diet can improve your digestive health, so regular exercise and being active can help improve many common gut problems. Reducing excess weight around your midriff can also have a positive effect.

Other lifestyle changes can also be useful. Getting a good night's sleep is good for your appetite, body weight and bowel function, while stopping smoking will lower your risk of heartburn, peptic ulcers, Crohn's disease and gallstones.

Stress can also have an effect on your gut due to the higher levels of adrenaline in your body, so take time to relax.

For more information, visit www.loveyourgut.com

CAPTION(S):

PAINFUL: Stress, poor diet, illness, drugs and the ageing process can all affect your gut
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 24, 2009
Words:640
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