Once a hush-hush topic among friends, digestive distress (such as constipation and diarrhea) is now a widely discussed topic. Chances are you yourself has experienced a digestive issue or know someone who has. It can seem that digestive disorders are on the rise, but Dr Masterson says it's more about awareness. "Digestive disorders encompass a large category that can include anything from constipation, diarrhea, loss of bowel control, IBD and IBS to heartburn, indigestion and abdominal pain as well as a large group of abdominal diseases," the Cedars-Sinai OB/GYN explains. "To say that any one symptom, disorder or disease is increasing is difficult at best. However, many more people are aware of these disorders and disease because of the increasing amount of medical information on the Internet and television and in magazines."
According to Dr Masterson, who also founded the Ocean Oasis Medical Spa in Santa Monica, California, more women than men appear to suffer from digestive disease and it is due to biological and gender-related differences. "Women suffer more often from IBS, IBD, heartburn, GERD, loss of bowel control, hemorrhoids, and indigestion as well as certain diseases," she says. "But, it may also seem they suffer a lot more because they see a doctor more often, such as an OB/GYN like myself, and thus are able to communicate their symptoms more often than men." The good news is, increased awareness has led more women and men to talk with their doctors, which is the first step to finding relief.
It's no surprise that a poor diet, particularly one low in fiber and high in processed junk food, will upset digestion, but there are other lifestyle factors that have an impact on digestive health. Dr Masterson says poor nutrition, being sedentary, stress, and alcohol abuse can all contribute to digestive distress as well as other chronic diseases. On the contrary, a healthy high-fiber diet can prevent bloating and promote regularity while also boosting heart health and reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
Do you like feeling bloated or experiencing bowel irregularities? Of course not! "But If you don't alert your doctor about any bowel changes or distressing symptoms, you cheat yourself out of improving your quality of life, potentially missing out on things you enjoy because of pain or fear of social embarrassment," says Dr Masterson. More important, the doctor warns that a digestive symptom may be a sign of a more serious disease that may be cured with early treatment. "And some treatments are as simple as changing your diet or food preparation," she adds. So talk to your doc if you're feeling digestive distress.
"Most women don't realize how important fiber is to digestive health," says Dr Masterson. She recommends adding psyllium fiber, like that found in Metamucil, to your daily diet.
Other ways to add fiber to your summer fare:
Dr Masterson suggests swapping out your daily quota of coffee for green tea at least half of the time. "Green tea is refreshing and provides powerful antioxidants which are key to general and digestive wellness," the medical expert adds.
You may not be able to eliminate stressors but you can certainly manage them so they don't take a toll on your health. Dr Masterson recommends stretching for 10 minutes each day to relieve tension, which will lead to improved digestive health.
In addition to being a great stress-buster, exercise can also contribute to your digestive wellness. "Make exercise a part of your daily routine to keep all systems running smoothly, and remember, little things like taking the stairs, walking short distances instead of driving and outdoor play time (with kids or friends!) all count," encourages Dr Masterson.
"Although I'm an OB/GYN, women discuss many types of health concerns with me and I'm able to point them in the right direction when it comes to digestive wellness, so be sure to make and keep an annual appointment," the medical expert stresses.
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