Digestive Health Part #2

Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus, collard greens, Chinese cabbage, etc. contain sulfur compounds which have cancer prevention benefits. The anti-cancer properties of the sulfur compounds include (a) induction of carcinogen detoxification, (b) inhibition of tumor cell proliferation, (c) antimicrobial effect, (d) free radical scavenging, (e) inhibition of DNA adduct formation, (f) induction of cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, etc. The sulfur compounds help prevent cancer by inhibiting cancer cells from both initiating and proliferating. Researchers have shown that high intake of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a reduced risk for colorectal cancer and colon cancer. If you have a family history of gastrointestinal cancer, I would strongly recommend eating more cruciferous vegetables and fiber for prevention. 

Dehydration, Electrolytes Imbalance from Diarrhea

Vomiting or diarrhea is a common symptom of a GI infection or disturbed GI balance. When you vomit or have diarrhea, you lose a lot of fluids and electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, etc. When lost fluids and electrolytes are not replenished, you will experience dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. So what happens if you get dehydrated? Your body consists mostly of water. If your cells lack water, a lot of mechanisms cannot function smoothly. For example, your kidney will not be able to  remove waste toxins from your body efficiently, or you may experience low blood pressure. Severe dehydration can endanger the lives of young children. Electrolytes can help maintain the homeostasis of blood volume and pH in your body. They also involve the proper functions of nerve impulses, muscle contractions, heart contractions, brain chemicals, etc. When your electrolytes are imbalanced, you mess up all these functions and may experience symptoms like muscle weakness, spasms, cramps, paralysis, respiratory problem, irregular heartbeat, etc. It is important to understand that when you replenish fluid loss for dehydration due to diarrhea, you also need to replace electrolyte loss at the same time. Therefore, Pedialyte and Gatorade are better alternatives than just plain water. If you don’t have any of these beverages available, adding some salt to water or chicken broth helps too. 

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Diverticulosis VS Diverticulitis

Diverticulosis is a condition in which you have small pouches (diverticula) that bulge outward through the colon. It becomes more common when people age. Diverticulosis is associated with low dietary fiber intake and constipation. Constipation causes people to exert extra strain on the colon wall, and the extra pressure causes the diverticula in the weaker spots of the colon wall. Having diverticulosis under normal conditions won’t give you any trouble. However, when one or more diverticula get infected, it is called diverticulitis, troublesome symptoms like fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, chills, constipation, rectal bleeding can occur. Inflammation of the diverticula may be caused by the small pieces of food getting stuck in the pouches, thus causing bacteria overgrowth. How do you prevent the flare-ups? (a) Increase your dietary fiber intake, choose more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes. For 2000 kcal/day, you want to take at least 28 g of fiber a day. (b) Consume adequate amounts of water. Based on 2000 kcal/day, it’s suggested that one consumes at least 2L fluids a day. (c) Physical activities can help move our bowel. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days. Older people may have physical conditions that limit their physical activity intensity, so constipation is more common in older population. When there is a flare up, you want to stay away from high fiber foods, eat more easy-to-digest foods and more fluids instead until recovery. 

Gluten-Free Diet for Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a type of autoimmune disease. It affects about 1% of the world population. People with celiac disease need to avoid foods containing gluten, as such foods lead to the damage of the small intestine lining. When they ingest foods containing gluten protein, the immune system treats it as a foreign substance and forms an immune response to attack the small intestine villi. The damage causes the villi to flatten and thus impairs nutrient absorption. Other symptoms are like abdominal cramps, chronic diarrhea, fatigue, gas, bloating, anemia, constipation, etc. Untreated celiac disease can lead to long-term health complications such as iron deficiency, mineral and nutrient deficiencies, pancreatic deficiency, GI cancer, infertility, gallbladder malfunction, nerve system disorder, etc. Currently there is no cure for celiac disease -the only prevention is to completely eliminate gluten from your diet. Foods with gluten include wheat (including a variety of wheat and wheat derivatives), rye, barley, gluten contaminated oats, bulgur, couscous, triticale, malt, brewer’s yeast, beer, etc. Please read the food label for ingredient content to make sure it is gluten free before consuming it. If you are not sure, don’t eat it. Say no to common foods like pasta, breads, pastries, cakes, cereals, wheat thickened sauces and gravies, beer, etc. Some foods are not made from wheat, but they still can be contaminated during processing with the same equipment that is used to process wheat products. Rice, corn, and starch vegetables are the common alternatives for wheat grains or products. By removing gluten from your diet completely, you may repair your villi and improve its optimal absorption function gradually. 

Physical Activities and Constipation

As I have mentioned before, elderly people are more likely to have constipation problems, which may be associated with decreased physical activity and slowed GI mobility. According to a Harvard study, the colon responds to physical activity. People who exercise regularly usually don’t develop constipation. Regular exercise can improve abdominal and diaphragm muscle tone, which can assist in the success of defecation. This especially helps in the elderly population. By exercising at least 30 minutes on most days of your week, you will improve not only your colon health but also other health benefits.

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