Inconsistency in our diets causes digestive disorders. The tendency to overeat or under-eat is increasing, with people dining out more often or skipping meals. This can cause a higher likelihood of indigestion, especially triggered by the unhealthy convenience foods we consume on a daily basis. This is not surprising when you consider that these foods include preservatives, hormones, artificial ingredients and other chemical additives. If minor problems are left untreated, they can lead to more serious, chronic illnesses.
Cairo East Magazine had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mostafa Ibrahim, an expert in the field of Gastroenterology and Endoscopy at Roeya Gastroenterology and Endoscopy Center to bring you the dietary guidelines you may need to follow.
CEM: Dr. Mostafa, what are the digestive problems you most commonly encounter?
MI: We mainly encounter problems such as constipation, most common in females, as well as heartburn, which falls under acid reflux diseases. These are so common that they can be even be misinterpreted as being normal.
Is there a main root cause for these or can there be a variety of reasons?
I believe that both constipation and heartburn positively correlate with our new unhealthy eating habits, like eating junk food, which contains more fats and fewer vegetables. Also, stress is a major player in both diseases, since it increases acid production in the stomach. This eventually leads to reflux of acid, which causes heartburn. Constipation is also directly correlated with stress, it is also known as irritable bowel syndrome.
How are the main problems treated?
For heartburn, proper diagnosis should be made. As well as an exclusion of the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is the chief cause of gastritis and hence refluxes. As for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome should be diagnosed; primarily by the elimination of other organic colonic diseases. Stress reduction of the patient is needed; the treatment is a triad of lowering stress levels, rehydration and laxatives.
Can they be cured, or merely managed?
Sure they can be cured. Heartburn can be cured with a few main types of medicine that can help with the symptoms of acid reflux. These are antacids; surface acting agents, histamine blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. All of these medicines work by reducing or blocking stomach acids in different ways.
Antacids and surface acting agents can relieve mild symptoms, but they work only for a short period of time, while histamine blockers are stronger and last longer than antacids and surface acting agents. Proton pump inhibitors are the most effective medicine in treating reflux disease. You can buy most of these medicines over the counter, but your family physician should be consulted before any course of treatment.
Constipation is a common complaint and often responds to dietary changes and various laxatives. Idiopathic constipation may be associated with normal or slow colonic transit, defecatory dysfunction, or both. The initial management of chronic constipation includes patient education, behavior modification, dietary change, bulk-forming laxatives, and the use of non-bulk-forming laxatives or enemas.
For severe constipation, the treatment will involve suppositories, biofeedback, and possibly botulinum toxin injections into the puborectalis muscle. However, if the constipation is mild, we suggest dietary fiber and bulk-forming laxatives to be taken together, along with adequate fluids.
Can digestive problems be hereditary?
Yes, there are many digestive problems with a hereditary background.
At what age are people most vulnerable?
This would depend on the disease itself, for example Crohn’s disease can appear at any age, but it is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 13 and 30.
How important is diet when it comes to dealing with digestive problems?
Diet and unhealthy food account for more than 50 % in cases of most digestive diseases. For example in reflux disease, only the avoidance of spicy and fried food could eliminate more than 60 % of the symptoms.
As more people turn to healthier food options do you see a reduction in certain types of problems?
Yes, especially in younger generations, although we all need to work more for patient education, especially for working men and older generations.
What are your top tips for avoiding digestive problems?
Eat More Frequent Meals
Eating more frequent meals not only helps boost metabolism but also keeps you from overeating. This is because when you eat a big meal, your digestive system can get overloaded and may not be able to handle food as well as it should. Aiming for eating 5-6 small meals a day will promote overall good digestive health.
Eat More Fiber
Fiber is useful for gut-friendly bacteria, which lives on indigestible carbohydrates. So eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, which will help in digesting complex foods. Eating fiber-rich food also normalizes and helps maintain bowel movements and therefore relieves constipation. It’s recommended that women should have their 20g of fiber a day, while men should aim for at least 30g.
Have Regular Check-Ups
Having regular check-ups is very important because that way you are able to identify the exact problem you’re facing and can treat it accordingly. Also, regular health check-ups can prevent problems before they start, making your chances for treatment and cure much better. >>
Stay Away from Fried and Fatty Foods
Especially if you have heartburn, these foods can increase your discomfort when they are being digested. In addition, try to limit your alcohol intake because it slows down the digestive system.
Make Sure to Drink Lots of Fluids
Most people only think of water in this category, but fluids also include soup, broth and juices (just watch out for the sugar content). Fluids break down foods during digestion and can help you avoid constipation. Water can also help in neutralizing stomach acid, therefore playing a key role in reducing heartburn.
Get More Sleep
This is essential for activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of how your body rests and digests food. Also, try sleeping on the left side of your body because research shows that this position is better for digestion. Getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night will also help eliminate your heartburn.
Start a Workout Routine
Even exercise, as simple as brisk walking for a few minutes each day, can help your body move gas through the digestive system more quickly, which will be a relief if you’re always bloated.