Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

There is reason why the intuitive leaps of knowledge which seem to arise out of nowhere are called gut feelings. Gut and emotions are strongly connected. Certain beliefs about the digestive system and its workings are tough to shake. Digestion myths are rooted in a semi-scientific understanding of how the digestive tract functions. These digestive health myths can be completely false or partially true. Learning to distinguish between myth and fact is important for acquiring the information needed for feeling better. Read on to know about some of the common myths and facts of digestive heath.

Digestive Health Myths & Facts

Digestive Health Myths & Facts

Digestive Health Myth: Gum Takes Many Years To Get Digested

Fact: Since gum does not dissolve in the mouth like other foods and it is difficult for the stomach to break down a swallowed gum, people believe that gum remains stuck in the gut for a long time. However, this claim is not true. In reality, the gum does not stick inside the digestive tract and rather moves along the digestive system and gets expelled out of the body with feces in a few days. So one of the age-old digestive myths gets debunked right away!

Digestive Health Myth: Ulcers Are Caused By Spicy Foods

Fact: Some people believe that having too much of spicy food can cause ulcers. Although spicy foods can worsen ulcers for some people, they; however, do not cause these sores or ulcers. The fact is, most of the ulcers in the stomach lining actually happen because of an infection caused by the bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. Even certain pain medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen can trigger the formation of ulcers. So, spicy food need not always be the cause of ulcers.

Digestive Health Myth: Hernias are a Result of Heavy Lifting

Fact: Heavy lifting is one of the many and not the only cause of hernias. A cough or long-lasting constipation can also result in hernia in the upper abdomen, belly button or groin. Hernias occur due to the dual presence of pressure and weakness, or an opening in the muscles lining the inside of the stomach. A fatty tissue or an organ then bulges out through the opening and causes hernia.

Digestive Health Myth: Cirrhosis Only Affects Alcoholics

Fact: Cirrhosis is a condition characterised by damage of healthy liver cells and irreversible scarring of the liver. Although cirrhosis is mainly caused by alcoholism, the fact also remains that other conditions like hepatitis B and C can also trigger this disease. Further, it should also be remembered that although excessive drinking mostly causes some liver damage, it does not always lead to cirrhosis. So this is another digestive myth debunked.

Digestive Health Myth: Celiac Implies Ongoing Pain

Fact: The condition of intolerance to protein gluten is termed as celiac disease. Common celiac disease symptoms are gas, bloating and diarrhea. However, many celiac disease patients never experience any of these symptoms. Celiac disease can be misdiagnosed by the doctor if they only look for these classic signs. To accurately diagnose this condition, the doctor should also check for other celiac disease symptoms like depression, anemia, growth problems, osteoporosis, and dermatitis herpetiformis.

Digestive Health Myth: Nuts Cause Diverticulitis

Fact: Diverticulitis is a condition in which there is inflammation and infection in pouches in the wall of the colon. Doctors earlier advised diverticulitis patients to avoid consuming nuts, popcorn, corn, and other foods with small seeds, like strawberries. They feared that pieces of these foods would stick to the pouches and cause pain. However, the latest studies suggest just the opposite and hence debunks this digestive myth. Actually, people who eat a high-fiber diet face a lower risk of diverticulitis.

Digestive Health Myth: Dairy is a Complete “NO” for Lactose Intolerant People

Fact: Lactose intolerant people differ in the amount of dairy they can handle. While one person can get symptoms from having just 1 glass of milk, others may be able to drink up to 2 glasses. Some patients can have ice cream or yogurt, but not straight milk. Aged cheeses, like cheddar and Swiss, are often better choices for lactose intolerant people. It is basically through trial and error that one can find the type of dairy foods, and the quantity, which is safe for them.

Digestive Health Myth: Beans Cause Maximum Gas Formation

Fact: Beans do not cause the most gas. Dairy products are the real culprit. Compared to any other food, dairy products cause more gas, especially as one ages and their bodies become lactose intolerant. To ease this problem, such people are advised to consume lactose-free products or take the OTC medicine, lactase, before having dairy foods.

Digestive Health Myth: Stress Causes IBD

Fact: While stress can aggravate many health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the cause of IBD is still unclear. IBD includes conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's, which are both characterised by inflammation of the lining of the small or large intestines. Factor like genetics and variations in the immune system of the body, possibly caused by bacteria or viral infections, greatly affect IBD.

Digestive Health Myth: Only Diet Can Stop IBS

Fact: Although irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms can be triggered by what one eats, dietary changes are not always enough to control the condition. Just the act of eating can also cause the symptoms of IBS like pain, diarrhea, constipation or bloating. Stress and anxiety can further add to the problem of IBS. By maintaining a food and symptom journal, IBS patients can identify their specific triggers.

Digestive Health Myth: Heartburn Sufferers Should Sleep Sitting Up

Fact: The claim that people with heartburn should sit up in bed to avoid symptoms, is not backed by any medical proof. Although a patient can get relief by raising their head and chest by 4-6 inches, with blocks under the bedposts, but that is as upright as they need to go.

Digestive Health Myth: Smoking Relieves Heartburn

Fact: Rather than relieving it, smoking actually adds to heartburn and this is the true fact. Nicotine relaxes the muscle at the top of the stomach which is responsible for preventing acid reflux, i.e. keeping acid from splashing back into the esophagus. More acid reflux implies increased heartburn. So heartburn getting relieved by smoking is the biggest digestive myth of all!

Digestive Health Myth: Aging Causes Constipation

Fact: It is not because of the aging body that people are more likely to have constipation as they get older. The fact is medications which older adults take can often weaken their digestive tract. These people are also less likely to eat properly, drink optimal amount of fluids, and get enough exercise, they thus often end up with constipation. So there goes another digestive myth which is proven just myth.

Digestive Health Myth: Fiber Does Not Help In Diarrhoea

Fact: As unlikely as it may seem, but like improving constipation, fiber also helps to ease diarrhea. Fiber helps to keep stool from being too hard or too loose. Fiber either absorbs more water from the colon to loosen stools and relieve constipation, or pulls out some of the fluid in the intestine to firm up the stool and improve diarrhea.

Digestive Health Myth: Colonoscopies are Terrible

Fact: Most people dread colonoscopy. But actually, colonoscopy is not as scary as it sounds. Colonoscopy is a procedure used to diagnose and treat problems in the rectum and colon. A typical colonoscopy lasts only for about 30-60 minutes, and this procedure is conducted while the patient is under the complete effect of anaesthesia. This implies that the patient remains asleep while the colonoscopy is being carried out. It is actually the preparation for the test that mostly makes people jittery. The patients have to empty their colon with the help of a liquid diet and a laxative drink, a day or so prior to colonoscopy.

Digestive Health Myth: One Would Know If They Have Cancer

Fact: Colon cancer is often asymptomatic until its latter stages. This makes early detection of colon cancer all the more important. Generally, most people at an average risk of cancer should start getting tested from the age of 50 years. Routine colorectal checks should consist of a yearly fecal test, once-in-5 years CT scan of the colon and flexible sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy every 10 years.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: September 7, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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