Health News Articles

A Guide to Improving Your GI Health

Apr 21, 2014
If you think that a balanced diet is the key to gastrointestinal health, you’re only half right. While it’s important to watch what you eat, it’s equally critical to consider other day-to-day choices as well.

“An overall healthy lifestyle that includes eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in animal protein, avoiding smoking, controlling weight, exercising regularly, and minimizing stress is critical to both GI and overall health,” says Kevin Skole, MD,  a board certified gastroenterologist with Princeton Medicine. Evaluating your lifestyle and making a few adjustments can lead to major improvements in your health.

Lifestyle Changes
Control your weight. Obesity can lead to chronic GI problems, like acid reflux and constipation, and put you at risk for esophageal cancer.

Stop smoking. Smoking can exacerbate Crohn’s disease and may have a role in esophageal and pancreatic cancer.

Watch alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol can trigger acid reflux, irritate the stomach lining, and put you at risk for esophageal and pancreatic cancer, as well as pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas.

Pay Attention to Diet
Consider probiotics. “The bacteria in our gut play a large role in overall health, GI and otherwise,” notes Dr. Skole. Probiotics — found in cultured foods like yogurt and also available in supplement form — may help maintain those good bacteria.

Add fiber to your diet. Insufficient fiber can lead to constipation and can contribute to diverticulitis, a painful disease of the large intestine. A high-fiber diet can help maintain healthy intestinal bacteria and aid in weight loss by creating a feeling of fullness.

Limit fatty foods. Eating high-fat foods can lead to reflux and contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic condition with symptoms that include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.

Consider gluten. A protein found in wheat, barley and rye products, gluten can cause serious problems in individuals with celiac disease. If you have unexplained intestinal pain, ask your doctor if celiac disease might be the cause. In addition, symptoms like bloating, gas and diarrhea could be a sign of gluten sensitivity in people who don’t suffer from celiac disease. Sometimes, simply cutting back on gluten can help.

Anything Else?
Limit antibiotics and pain medications. By killing off good bacteria as well as bad, antibiotics can cause GI problems like intestinal pain and diarrhea. And nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), like ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause stomach pain and bleeding.

Control stress. Excessive stress can slow digestion and lead to—or exacerbate—GI pain. Studies indicate that relaxation therapy, hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy may all help regulate stress.

Get moving. Aerobic exercise like walking, running and biking can relieve and prevent constipation. It can also help control stress.

To find a physician affiliated with Princeton Medicine, call 1.800.FIND.A.DR (1.800.346.3237) or visit