There is nothing more frustrating than a stomach ache on a busy day. Upset tummies distract us from our work, ban us to the bathroom and leave us begging for a cure.
The gut is a sensitive organ made up of millions of nerves, and little things you do every day could be what throw your stomach into chaos. Who knew that when you were trying to be healthy, you were actually dooming your tookus to the toilet?
We’ve found the most common daily habits that can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Are you guilty of some of these tummy-turning mistakes?
1. You don’t test your diet
Even if you aren’t lactose intolerant, the protein in dairy called casein can still cause unhealthy digestive. And overdosing on beans or fruit can also result in tummy troubles. You won’t know what food is giving you grief until you test it by eliminating the food from your diet and seeing if your symptoms improve. We know you’re scared to find out that your favorite food is now on the do-not-eat list, but it’s worth knowing.
2. You don’t treat your anxiety
The connection between our brain and our stomachs is stronger than many think.
“There is definitely a connection between the brain and the gut,” says Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “The gut is called the little brain—it’s the largest area of nerves outside the brain.”
Your stomach reacts to your brain and daily habits, and it’s incredibly sensitive to any change. When your noggin gets nervous or stressed, it goes into fight or flight mode, signaling your body to do the same. This slows your digestive system to repurpose that energy to other parts of your body. When this happens for a brief moment, you hardly notice, but with chronic anxiety, your digestive system is constantly interrupted.
If you suffer from anxiety, you may experience constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating regularly. Learn how to control your anxiety through deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Some doctors even prescribe antidepressants to help relax the stomachs of anxiety-ridden patients.
3. You skimp on sleep
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, because of stress or other reasons, your body suffers on multiple levels. A lack of sleep can really affect your digestion. When you sleep, your body can evenly appropriate energy to the places that need it most, including your gut. Food is passed through your stomach at the right pace and your hormones and enzymes are recharged, which help you continue to break down food during the day. Robbing your body of this time to regulate can cause you to suffer the consequences the next day.
4. You let stress get the best of you
Chronic anxiety isn’t the only stressor that can affect your gut health. In fact, small, daily stressors can have just as destructive a result. Stress is to blame for many digestive problems, says Dr. Nick Read, chairman of the IBS Network. “It takes blood away from the digestive system, drying up the secretions that help us digest food and also sending the muscles into spasm, hence that stomach ache.”
Stress management is an important skill for many reasons, but keeping your digestive tract in good health should be a primary motivator. To help eliminate daily stressors that could be causing your tummy to overreact, don’t take on more responsibility than you can handle, get comfortable saying “no” to people, and prioritize your responsibilities so you don’t feel overwhelmed. These daily techniques should help you keep stomach aches at bay.
5. You have bad posture
When you slouch or slump at the computer desk all day, you not only put unnecessary pressure on your back and hip muscles, you also compress your digestive system and your lungs. The digestive system is already fairly compact, and compressing your organs makes it difficult for the intestines to pass food properly.
Keep good posture in mind all day, and especially after lunch. Stand and work for 30 minutes after eating if you can to aid digestion. If slouching is a chronic problem for you, try getting a posture chair or back brace that will help you sit upright and well-supported all day.
6. You over-hydrate
Yes, water is very important to drink every day, but over-hydrating can cause just as many issues as not drinking enough water.
“There seems to be a craze that we’ve got to drink three liters of water a day, but it’s a complete scam,” says Dr. Peter Fairclough, a consultant gastroenterologist at the London Clinic. “I see many patients who say they drink this amount, yet they are still constipated.”
Water is absorbed into the bloodstream before it reaches the large intestine, where the consistency of your stool is determined. Sometimes your body needs more than water to move food through your bowels properly. “Drinking a glass of prune juice could also help ease constipation,” says Fairclough.
7. You use painkillers regularly
Commonly prescribed painkillers, such as codeine and morphine, are known for causing constipation because they stop all signals, not just pain, but the messages that tell the stomach to keep your bowels moving too. Blood pressure drugs and iron supplements have been known to have the same effect.
One of the worse painkillers for your tummy? Ibuprofen. Instead, go for an antispasmodic drug or natural alternative like peppermint oil. And avoid gut-irritating foods such as coffee, fat and chocolate if you have to take any of these medications.
Healthy digestion means not making these 7 common mistakes. It’s important to educate yourself about how the gut functions and test possible foods and medications that could be causing your stomach to suffer.
One of the most important takeaways for maintaining stomach health is to manage your stress. The negative effects of chronic stress are numerous—it ages your skin, deprives you of sleep and aggravates your temper—but perhaps one of the most harmful is how stress affects your gut.
Support your digestive system with a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and stress management techniques. You’ll quickly notice that more than just your tummy feels a lot better. You can also aid digestion and promote immunity with Bifidophilus probiotics, a natural immune booster.