When you think of “digestive health,” what comes to mind? Anything from Taco Tuesday-induced heartburn to scheduling a “dreaded” colonoscopy are examples that occur to most people. But digestive health spans beyond those two ends of the spectrum.

We have gathered some valuable and practical input from doctors at Baylor Scott & White Health to help you know what questions to ask, what signs to look for, and what little things you can do every day to improve your digestive health (and you don’t need to dread that colonoscopy — the process is simpler than you may think, and it could just save your life!)

Nearly everyone experiences occasional heartburn; it is an extremely common occurrence. But when you start noticing these gradual changes that come with constant heartburn, you might need to stop and pay attention to the signals that your digestive system might be trying to send you, as recommended by Clyde Collins, MD, gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney.

“There are multiple foods that can trigger symptoms,” Dr. Collins says. “Foods such as tomatoes, spicy foods, greasy foods and citrus fruits can cause acid reflux. One must remember overeating can also precipitate symptoms. Simple lifestyle changes such as not eating late at night and waiting approximately 3 hours before laying down after a meal can help reduce frequency of symptoms.”

Problems with swallowing, unintentional weight loss, continued symptoms despite medication, vomiting blood and seeing blood in the stool are all symptoms that could result from constant heartburn and require prompt medical attention.

“Medications are available if symptoms are continuing despite making lifestyle changes and avoiding dietary triggers,” Dr. Collins explains. “Acid suppressive medications such as antacids, Histamine 2 Blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors remain as cornerstones for therapy.”

Aside from food, there are other detrimental triggers on digestive health to watch for. According to Shibu Oommen, MD, gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano, the impact of outside stress in one’s life can directly relate to the health of his or her digestive system.

“Stress can exacerbate gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and GERD. This can result in symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, etc,” says Dr. Oommen. “Treatment options for stress such as relaxation techniques, adequate sleep, and regular exercise have a great impact on decreasing stress-related gastrointestinal symptoms.”

And then there’s the scary word “colonoscopy.” As intimidating as it might seem, people typically experience only slight discomfort during and after the procedure. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 45 for average people at risk. The preventative benefits far outweigh the momentary discomfort prior to the procedure, as explained by Suvin Banker, DO, gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Centennial.

“Colonoscopy is the only test that can screen and prevent colon cancer at the same time. Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. Colorectal screenings can often find growths on the colon or rectum called polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer. These tests also can find colon or rectal cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to be successful.”

So what are some regular steps people should take to ensure they keep their digestive systems healthy for the long haul?

Dr. Banker noted that research shows how habits related to diet, weight, and exercise are linked to cancer risk — and those links are stronger for colon cancer than for other any type of cancer.  

Here are some small steps you can take for big returns to care for your digestive health:

  • Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Eat less red meat and processed meats
  • Get regular exercise
  • Watch your weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol

Changing your lifestyle habits for digestive health reasons, let alone any health reasons, may be challenging at first. But it’s an important step in maintaining your digestive health and overall well-being.

For more information on what your gut may be trying to tell you, visit BSWHealth.com/DigestionQuestion.