12:00 am on January 1 and the calendar flips forward to confetti, fireworks, kisses, and the sound of “Auld Lang Syne.” A brand new year stretches before us. Many people around the world make New Year’s resolutions, on topics as diverse as weight loss, remembering to floss our teeth, or bulking up the savings account. Here are some to consider for your gut.
- For your esophagus, resolve to control acid reflux.
While the stomach is made to withstand the effects of the acid it produces to break down your food, the esophagus is not. Simple measures for reducing the occurrence of acid reflux include not eating for 2-3 hours before lying down for bed and sleeping on a wedge shaped pillow. Determine which foods are trigger foods for reflux symptoms and avoid them. If this doesn’t work, it’s time to see your doctor.
- For your stomach, resolve not to overeat.
Try to listen to your body telling you it’s full and not stretch your stomach by overeating. Ways to do this include chewing slowly and savoring your food, putting your fork down between each bite, and concentrating on eating (e.g., don’t read or watch TV while you eat). Eating in a social situation helps to slow down as you engage in conversation between bites.
- For your pancreas, resolve to keep your blood sugar at healthy levels.
Many people don’t realize the pancreas plays an important role in maintaining your blood sugar at healthy levels. When this doesn’t function properly, you develop diabetes. Eating a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats helps your pancreas maintain the sugar levels in your blood more easily, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and helps keep diabetes away.
- For your liver, resolve to get tested for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is very common in the United States, and it is estimated that there are millions who aren’t aware they have the disease. Testing for it is a simple blood test. There are several options available for treatment that have few side effects and high cure rates. This is the year to get tested and cured.
- For your small intestine, resolve to think of your gut microbiome.
Researchers use the term “gut microbiome” for all the organisms, including various bacteria, fungi, and yeast, which live in our digestive systems. Research in this area is fascinating, from whether the gut microbiome plays a role in mood, in sleep patterns, or in healthy aging, to name a few. There is also research into whether disruption of the gut microbiome is the cause of some types of gastrointestinal disease. The best way to keep a healthy gut microbiome, in addition to eating a healthy diet, is to consider taking a probiotic. Also, don’t wash all of that good bacteria out with a colon cleanse. The only time to do a colon cleanse is if it’s medically necessary (such as before a colonoscopy).
- For your colon, resolve to eat a high-fiber diet.
While the small intestine absorbs vitamins and minerals from your food, the colon takes the leftovers your body can’t digest and mashes it together to form stool for eventual elimination. Fiber is an example of a substance that is not digestible. A high fiber diet allows food to move through the GI system more quickly and efficiently, which then allows for healthy elimination of waste products on a regular basis. Drinking plenty of water aids in this process. Bonus: high fiber foods have been implicated in maintaining a healthy weight because they are generally more filling than lower fiber foods. Extra bonus: They have also been implicated in maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
- Resolve to go to the bathroom when you feel the urge.
Having a bowel movement outside of your own home can be embarrassing for some people, but it is important to go to the bathroom when you feel the urge to do so. Waiting can make it harder to pass the stool later, which can lead to constipation. If you then strain to pass the stool, you can eventually develop hemorrhoids, which are a problem in their own right.
Happy New Year, everyone, from us here at GastroIntestinal Healthcare!