November 5, 2013
Your digestive system is critical to managing your weight, maintaining healthy energy levels and even maintaining your overall health. When working correctly, the body absorbs essential nutrients to keep your body running properly through digestion.
When your digestive system is unhealthy or damaged, multiple problems can arise: heartburn, diarrhea, bloating, weight gain and constipation, to name a few.
But there are simple changes you can make to help you take control of your digestive health. Here are 5 keys to maintaining your digestive health.
When you’re dehydrated, your body absorbs all water in your system. Your colon is left dry, making it difficult to pass waste and function properly.
Conversely, adequate hydration keeps intestines and bowels operating smoothly, preventing constipation, water retention and worse.
While the daily 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water rule is a popular suggestion, the Institute of Medicine approximates 91 ounces for women and 125 ounces for men. The best rule of thumb is to always drink when you’re feeling thirsty.
Fill Up on Fiber
Fiber is a carbohydrate that doesn’t digest. Foods rich in fiber include whole grains, beans, and nuts. Fiber supplements, most often a powder form dissolved in water, are also readily available.
When digestion is too slow, constipation occurs. Diarrhea happens when digestion moves too quickly. Fiber regulates and normalizes digestion to prevent both.
According to WebMD, the average adult only eats 15 g fiber a day. Women need 25 g and men need 38 g per day.
If you keep your body moving with regular exercise, your digestive system keeps moving too.
Exercise improves blood flow and stimulates muscles, including those involved in digestion. This stimulation promotes food and waste to pass more efficiently through your system.
Wait at least an hour after a big meal before exercising. Moderate and aerobic exercises are best, such as walking, jogging, or swimming.
In one clinical study, 983 obese participants were interviewed and questioned. Participants who regularly exercised or participated in physical activities had fewer gastrointestinal problems.
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Smoking
Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco all release or stimulate acid in the intestines, resulting in heartburn, stomach pain, and even stomach ulcers.
Alcohol is especially volatile; bypassing normal digestion, most alcohol absorbs into the blood stream and is processed by the liver. Heavy drinking leads to serious liver damage. Both intestines and esophagus can be eroded and develop cancer.
A professor of medicine at Wake Forrest University Baptist Medical Center, Kenneth Koch wrote about the effect of stress on digestion:
“Stress can cause your esophagus to go into spasms. It can increase the acid in your stomach causing indigestion. Under stress, the mill in your stomach can shut down and make you feel nauseous. Stress can cause your colon to react in a way that gives you diarrhea or constipation.” 
Moderate exercise was listed as a way to manage stress, along with relaxation therapy, verbal communication and support, and a well-balanced diet.
-  “6 Reasons to Drink Water.” WebMD.
-  “Wonders of Water.” WebMD.
-  “The Benefits of Fiber: For Your Heart, Weight, and Energy.” WebMD.
-  “Fiber: How Much Do You Need?” WebMD.
-  Levy, R., J. Linde, K. Feld, M. Crowell, and R. Jeffery. “The Association of Gastrointestinal Symptoms With Weight, Diet, and Exercise in Weight-Loss Program Participants.” Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 3.10 (2005): 992-96. Web.
-  “Alcohol and the Digestive System/Gastrointestinal Tract.” Montana State University.
-  “How Stress Affects Digestion.” Every Day Health.