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Why being aware and proactive is key for digestive health

We’re not always as aware of our digestive health as we could be – many problems could be averted, and benefits reaped, with greater knowledge and awareness of our digestive health.

Good digestive health is key to good overall health

Digestive health is easy to ignore but, left neglected, it can lead to serious problems, says Dr Christian Jessen. Good digestive health is key to good overall health, and being aware and proactive is key, says Dr Jessen, supporter of Gut Week and presenter of Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize v Superskinny on Channel 4.

“The digestive system is both incredibly complex and incredibly efficient, it’s brilliant at separating out what the body needs,” Dr Jessen points out. “It’s like a second brain, which doesn’t seem to need a second thought and does what it needs to do very well – but this is also to its detriment. It often means that we never really give it much thought until things start going wrong.”

Linking gut health with stress

Many gut disorders arise from lifestyle issues – from eating too much to eating too quickly, leading to common problems such as heartburn, constipation and diarrhoea, explains Dr Jessen. And many are made worse by a lack of exercise, especially constipation. With exercise and the bowel quite closely linked, exercise can be often all you need to get things moving, he says.

“Add on top of that stress, which, for instance, in my case causes terrible heartburn that disappears again as soon as the period of stress is over,” says Dr Jessen. Many people develop terrible digestive symptoms when under stress, he points out. “While for some distressing techniques such as learning relaxation may work, perhaps most important is learning to recognise stress-related symptoms and learning how to look after yourself during stressful times. Make sure, for instance, you’re not going long periods without food, and avoid snacking on sugary, fatty quick fixes.”

Be aware of what works for your gut and what doesn’t

Knowing what works for you is key, points out Dr Jessen. “We have this concept of three meals a day, but that’s not right for everyone. For example, I prefer to graze on small amounts of food throughout the day instead.” “So much of our health revolves around how we live our lives. Be aware of what you put in your mouth, learn what’s good for you and what isn’t,” he says. “There’s no need to get too technical about it but awareness and being informed is vital for healthy eating. “It’s all about listening to your gut – don’t be afraid to work out what those gurgles mean!”

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