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Archive for the ‘Digestion’ Category

Probiotics

probiotics, digestion

Probiotics are microbes (bacteria) that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed, and can be found in certain foods or supplements that contain them.

Let’s consider the human lower intestinal tract, which is home to some 100 trillion microbes. This is ten times the total number of cells that make up the entire human body. These microbes are considered “good bacteria” and help to digest food, fight some harmful bacteria, and according to some research, may help boost the immune system.

An imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your intestines can make you sick. The most common problem from this imbalance comes when we take antibiotics, which can kill the good intestinal bacteria leading to diseases that cause diarrhea. It’s fairly common to have an episode of diarrhea during or after taking an antibiotic. Recent studies have shown a significant decrease of antibiotic associated diarrhea when taking probiotics during and up to a week after taking antibiotics. For greatest effectiveness, do not take probiotics within two hours of taking an antibiotic.

Probiotics may also help traveler’s diarrhea as well as diarrhea caused by the common “stomach flu.”

Some other health related conditions have been thought to also be helped by taking probiotics. However, there are few good scientific studies to substantiate these claims. Some of these conditions are:

  • Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
  • Celiac disease and lactose intolerance.
  • Constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Bacterial vaginal infections.

Probiotics are thought to be generally safe for anyone, but due to a rare risk of infection, those with a known immune deficiency or anyone being treated for cancer should avoid them.

Some foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, a fermented dairy drink called Kefir, and some fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and pickles. While they may contain probiotics, there’s no guarantee that they have them in the amount or type that may have health benefits. Only dietary supplements containing probiotics have been tested and may be helpful.

Most supplements contain freeze dried bacteria which come alive in your digestive system. These products can be found at most drug stores, supermarkets, heath food stores, and online. They come as tablets, capsules, or as a powder.

You need to look for a product that hasup to 10 billion colony forming units per day in a single dose. Check for the expiration date for the live bacteria found on the label and follow directions for proper storage.

In summary, although probiotics are touted for treatment of a variety of conditions, the only treatment which seems to hold up to scientific scrutiny is to help prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea. That being said, there appear to be no significant side effects or known health problems for healthy adults who use probiotics for other conditions.

Although there are a number of products on the market, from my research, three commonly used probiotics which have some evidence of being helpful are Culturelle, DanActive, and Florastor.

Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about the use of probiotics.

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AbPain

At one time or another, all of us have experienced abdominal pain. It is one of the most common complaints seen in emergency rooms.

Most of the time, it is not caused by a serious medical problem, but when it is serious it can be life-threatening. In this article, I’d like to differentiate between mild pain symptoms and more serious symptoms that would cause you to seek urgent medical care.

There are an abundant number of causes of abdominal pain too numerous to mention in this article, but there are many signs and symptoms of abdominal pain of which you should be aware.

What are the most common causes of abdominal pain?

– Indigestion, constipation, ulcers, and gas.

– Stomach flu and food poisoning.

– Food allergies and lactose intolerance.

– Gallstones and kidney stones.

– Urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, ovarian disease, endometriosis, and menstrual cramps.

More serious causes include:

– Aneurysm (swelling with possible rupture) of the aorta.

– Decreased blood supply to the intestines (ischemic bowel).

– Appendicitis, diverticulitis, and cholecystitis (infections of the appendix, the colon, and the gallbladder respectively).

– Bowel blockage (obstruction).

– Cancer of any of the intra abdominal organs especially of stomach, colon, or liver.

– Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

– Pneumonia.

– Heart attack.

Seek immediate medical help or call 911 for abdominal pain that involves:

– Severe sudden abdominal pain.

– Vomiting blood, having blood in your stool, or if your stool appears tar colored.

– Tenderness over your abdomen, or if it feels rigid when you touch it.

– Pregnancy either confirmed or suspected.

– A recent injury to your abdomen.

– Pain and difficulty breathing.

– Mild abdominal pain that does not improve within 24-48 hours, or becomes more severe or frequent, especially if occurring with vomiting.

– Diarrhea for more than several days, especially with fever or blood.

– Fever over 100 degrees with your pain.

I have tried to simplify the complex subject of abdominal pain. Obviously, this is not all-inclusive, but my goal has been to have you understand those symptoms that should prompt immediate medical attention. This information is from my personal experience to serve as a guideline in dealing with abdominal pain.

As I always say, in spite of anything you may have read or heard about, if you have any symptoms that concern you, or just doesn’t seem right, seek medical care.

Of course, as with most problems with your health, it’s much better to deal with them sooner rather than later.

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diverticulosis

Many people these days who are having routine colon screening exams, are being told that they have a condition called diverticulosis which is the presence of small pockets or pouches in the wall of the large bowel found just above the rectum. Risk factors for diverticulosis include inadequate intake of dietary fiber, lack of exercise, and aging. Diverticula are found in up to 60 percent of people by age 60, and the percentage keeps climbing with age.

Most people who are told they have this condition are surprised to find out because they have not had, and probably will never have, any symptoms of the disease. However, at some point in time some 10 percent to 20 percent of those who have diverticula will develop an infection in one of these pouches which is then called diverticulitis. (The suffix “itis” means inflammation.) It has long been thought that eating popcorn, nuts, or seeds would contribute to diverticulitis by becoming trapped in a diverticula, but this has since been disproven.

Common symptoms of diverticulitis are increasing pain and tenderness in the left lower abdomen, fever, nausea, and either diarrhea or constipation. Your doctor will likely order a blood count which may show an increase in the white blood cells indicating an active infection. A CT scan of the abdomen will often confirm the diagnosis.

Most of those in the early stages of diverticulitis can be treated as an outpatient with antibiotics for up to two weeks, pain medicine as needed, and a liquid diet for a few days. In most cases this is all the treatment that is necessary. If there is no significant improvement in two to three days, or if symptoms worsen at any time, a prompt medical re-evaluation is necessary.

Potential complications of diverticulitis necessitating immediate hospitalization are:

n An infected diverticula filled with pus (called an abscess).

n Rupture of an infected diverticula spilling contents of the bowel into the abdominal cavity which can lead to a life threatening infection.

n A bowel obstruction where the bowel stops working.

At this stage, treatment will include powerful intravenous antibiotics, IV fluids with no liquids or food by mouth, and adequate pain control. Surgery may be needed on an emergency basis to remove the infected bowel, or it may be delayed and done at a later date when the infection/inflammation has calmed down.

Up to 40 percent of those who have recovered from non-complicated diverticulitis will have one or many more attacks in the future.

Some now think that recurrent diverticulitis is due to underlying inflammatory changes in the affected portion of the bowel. There is hope that an anti-inflammatory drug currently used to treat colitis may go a long way in treating recurrent diverticulitis.

If you have worsening pain in the left lower abdomen or no improvement of pain for a few days, whether or not you know you have diverticular disease, seek medical help immediately.

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healthy diet clears constipation

Constipation is not exactly a dinner topic, but it is a condition that affects almost every living person at one time or another. It’s a common complaint at the doctor’s office.

Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools. The normal number of bowel movements for adults ranges from one or more per day to two to three per week. For most people, going without a bowel movement for several days is a temporary condition and does not lead to any obvious discomfort or health problems. One may begin feeling uncomfortable when constipation lasts more than a few days. It should be noted that constipation does not build up toxins in the gut, nor does it lead to cancer.

There are many causes of constipation, some of the more common being:

– Inadequate amounts of fiber in your diet.

– Insufficient liquid intake.

– Lack of physical activity.

– Side effect of some medications, especially narcotic pain medications such as Vicoden and Percocet.

– Changes in daily routine or lifestyle.

– Colon cancer (rare).

There are two methods of dealing with constipation including:

Life style changes

– A high fiber diet including beans, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and less dairy, red meat and processed foods.

– Adequate fluid intake.

– Regular exercise.

– Trying not to delay a bowel movement when one has the urge.

Laxatives

– Fiber supplements are natural and very safe. Examples include Metamucil and FiberCon which are safe and effective to use daily.

– Stool softeners, such as Colace and Surfak, add moisture to the stool.

– Stimulants help increase intestinal motility. Examples include Dulcolax, Senekot, and Correctol. (It’s best not to use these too often.)

– Osmotics bring more fluid into the intestines causing easier passage of stool. One of the most common which I recommend is Miralax available without a prescription.

– Saline laxatives also help to draw fluid into the intestines. Examples include milk of magnesia and Haley’s M-O.

– Lubricants, such as a dose of mineral oil, help the intestines to pass the stool more easily.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about colon cleansing which is enema therapy that is claimed to help flush the toxins out of the colon. There is absolutely no scientific proof that there are toxins in the colon which can cause any harm. Most substances good or bad have been absorbed into the body in the small intestine which is not affected by enemas. In fact, colon cleansing can flush out needed electrolytes before they can be absorbed by the colon and also wash out beneficial intestinal bacteria. Don’t flush your money down the toilet on this misguided treatment.

From my experience, if you suffer from constipation and follow my advice in this article, you can save a trip to your doctor. But if symptoms persist or worsen, by all means get professional advice.

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