Recent research has shown the importance of gut health and how it’s connected to overall—even mental—health. Thus, addressing gut problems and maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria can do more for you than just relieve you of an upset stomach. Below are some of the common myths that may be preventing you from creating a healthy gut.
Myth 1: You should have a bowel movement every day.
We all know that bowel movement should be regular but “regular” doesn’t necessarily mean daily. “Normal” encompasses a broad range and can run the gamut from three times a day to three times a week.
Most people have their own version of “regular,” pooping the same number of times per week and usually at a similar time of day. If you feel uncomfortable and think it’s because you need more frequent bowl movements, then take a look at your diet (are you getting enough fiber?), lifestyle (are you getting enough exercise?), and age—not for nothing is prune juice popular among older people. (It’s worth noting that constipation may not be due to the aging process itself but a combination of factors such as reduced physical activity and medication.)
Don’t feel like you have to take extraordinary measures, like taking laxatives regularly, to have what daily bowel movements. Track your own movements over a few weeks so you can determine your own “normal.”
Myth 2: You can just wait for diarrhea to go away on its own.
Diarrhea may be caused by such things as an infection, menstruation, or stress, and may be self-limiting, meaning it will run its course. But there are instances wherein you have to take action and seek medical attention. According to the Digestive Health Center of Huntington, you should see a doctor if:
- You have a fever over 38.5C.
- You have severe stomach pain, bloody diarrhea, or black stools.
- Your stools are soft and yellow, or are gray, white, or greasy.
- You’re taking antibiotics or new medication.
- You’re having more than six bowel movements with loose stools each day.
- You are dehydrated. Symptoms include weakness, thirst, dizziness, dry mouth, and decreased urination.
- It has lasted for more than 48 hours (24 hours for babies).
Whatever the cause, make sure to drink plenty of fluids to replenish what you’ve lost.
Myth 3: Spicy foods cause ulcers.
Research published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition shows that spicy food—particularly capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili—does not cause ulcers; in fact, it even helps prevent and heal them.
According to researchers, “Capsaicin does not stimulate but inhibits acid secretion, stimulates alkali, mucus secretions and particularly gastric mucosal blood flow which help in prevention and healing of ulcers.”
Perhaps some spicy foods can cause discomfort in those who already have ulcers but they aren’t the real bad guy. The real culprit behind ulcers can be an infection courtesy of the bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or the use of pain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
So, if you have ulcers or are worried about getting them, you don’t have to kiss your hot sauce goodbye; instead you should get checked to see if you have an infection from H. pylori or if your medications are having adverse effects on you and seek treatment accordingly.
Myth 4: Your colon needs to be cleansed.
Colonic irrigation is a process wherein a tube is inserted into the rectum and the colon is flushed out with water, supposedly ridding your colon of toxins. But experts stress that your body already has a self-cleansing system: your kidneys and your liver.
A 2001 review concluded that there is no evidence to prove that colon cleansing can improve health. While there may be rare instances when you’ll need a colon cleanse, like before a medical procedure, it’s generally not something you have to do.
But what about the weight loss? You may initially drop a few pounds but this is just water weight and stool. If you’ve also been having trouble with your bowel movement, a colon cleanse may offer some relief; you may feel lighter but this is just temporary. It’s important to address the real root cause of your constipation and address that.
Myth 5: You’re gassy and bloated because of beans.
You may be feeling extra gassy after eating some beans but something else may more likely be the cause of your tummy troubles: dairy products. Up to 95% of Asians are said to be lactose intolerant, meaning their bodies can’t properly break down the sugar called lactose in dairy. And dairy is present in quite a vast array of products that most people don’t even give it a second thought to, from the evaporated milk in your halo-halo to ice cream to cheese, so the symptoms may be sneaking up on you.
Another possible trigger: gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat (and thus wheat products like flour and bread). Gluten intolerance can cause bloating and all sorts of other tummy troubles.
Instead of immediately eliminating beans, dairy, or gluten from your diet, it might help to keep a food diary. Track your symptoms and determine possible triggers. Once you know what’s making you gassy or giving you any other type of tummy trouble, you can adjust your diet accordingly.
Does this mean that you have to give up ice cream completely? The answer to that would vary from person to person. While some people will immediately react to a milk, they may still be able to eat yogurt.
Your food diary can also be helpful to determine just how intolerant you are. Then you can consider lactose-free products or gluten-free products, depending on what you have an intolerance for. (Luckily, these products are becoming increasingly popular and are more readily available on the market.)
Creating a healthy gut isn’t a cookie-cutter process; while our bodies are inherently the same, there are still nuances from person to person. So it’s ultimately about knowing the general guidelines, getting to know your own gut, and doing what’s best for you.