It’s vital to understand the marks of a healthy digestive system, and also a digestive system in distress. A recent survey conducted among 1,000 UAE residents found nearly one in four of those surveyed say their overall digestive health “could be improved.” Dr. Mazen Al- Asadi, Chief of the Gastroenterology and Hepatology Division at Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi explains why having good digestive health is essential.
The Link between Overall Wellness and Digestive Health
Digestive health is the cornerstone of overall wellness and can be a good indication for how other systems in your body are functioning. The digestive tract is a system of organs that takes in food, digests it to extract energy and nutrients your body needs to thrive, and expels the remaining waste. Digestive health and the immune system are inextricably linked given nearly 70 percent of your body’s immune system resides in the digestive tract.
According to Dr. Al-Asadi, when your digestive system is healthy, you’ll experience regularity. For example, having a normal bowel movement anywhere from three times a day to three times a week. When your digestive system is unhealthy, you may suffer from one of the following common digestive issues:
• Constipation, a condition characterised by a person having fewer than three bowel movements a week
• Diarrhea, a condition that occurs when the digestive system becomes unbalanced and foods or liquids move too quickly through the body
Digestive Health in the UAE
People across the globe, including UAE residents, have likely been affected by diarrhea at some point in their lives. Diarrhea can cause sufferers to miss school, work, family and social gatherings. According to a recent survey conducted among approximately 1,000 UAE residents, 23% of those who suffered with diarrhea said they did not treat their condition.
There are a variety of reasons people don’t receive treatment for digestive conditions such as diarrhea, and the reasons range from people believing that it’s best for diarrhea to “run its course” to not knowing how to treat the condition.
Symptoms to Watch For
With diarrhea, the severity of the condition can vary greatly among individuals— ranging from acute to chronic symptoms.
Acute diarrhea—characterised by abnormally frequent and loose bowel movements lasting less than two weeks—generally has a sudden onset and while the episodes are brief, the symptoms include cramps, nausea and bloating, and can be both distressing and incapacitating. Chronic diarrhea on the other hand is a prolonged condition, lasting more than four weeks. While acute diarrhea is more commonly seem among travellers, or as a result of bacteria in food or poor hygiene, chronic diarrhea can be caused by stress, hormones, medication and even dietary intolerances.
As “normal” digestive health can vary greatly from individual to individual, it’s important to consult your doctor or pharmacist for medical advice if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis and you think your digestive health could be improved.
“Through treatment you can help to reduce the associated loss of fluids and salts. I encourage all healthcare professionals – including general physicians and pharmacists – to aid in breaking down these barriers to treatment by having open and honest conversations with their patients about digestive health. And equally important, patients should feel comfortable speaking with their doctors on the topic, as the more details you share, the better your doctor can help to restore your digestive balance.” –
Exploring Treatment Options
There are many myths in the region associated with the treatment of digestive conditions. For example, some patients believe diarrhea is a defense mechanism which flushes out toxins and pathogens in their body.
There are a variety of treatment options available in the UAE for both acute and chronic diarrhea, ranging from over the counter Loperamide-based medications to antibiotics to natural based remedies such as charcoal. Research shows natural absorbents, such as charcoal provide little, if any, benefit to adults suffering from diarrhea. However, it’s important to speak to your pharmacist or doctor to find the best treatment for your symptoms. There are innovative treatment options available and leaving diarrhea untreated can worsen the distress and discomfort of the individual suffering and can lead to continued abdominal pain and in some cases dehydration.
Top Tips: Maintaining Optimal Digestive Health
Dr. Al-Asadi recommends the below steps to keep healthy throughout the year:
Be active –
Physical activity speeds up digestion, increases blood flow to all your organs, and stimulates muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, improving your digestive health.
Stay hydrated –
Drink plenty of water and other healthy fluids, especially after you exercise.There’s almost nothing better for your overall health than water.
Eat healthily –
Make sure your diet is well balanced. Eating slowly helps to avoid uncomfortable indigestion and avoiding foods that are spicy, rich or high in fat will help reduce the chance of diarrhea or constipation.
Keep a diary –
Try writing down specifics about what you’re eating, how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, and how each of these affects your digestive health. After a couple of weeks, see if you notice any patterns or perhaps triggers.