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healthy digestive system

5 Signs You Have A Healthy Digestive System

Our bodies have so many systems that are working 24/7, many of which we are blissfully unaware of, like our heart pumping blood to our organs or our brain firing neurons to our muscles. Others, however, we’re reminded of all the time. Take our digestive system, for example: Every time we eat something, experience a stomach ache, or have a bowel movement, it’s a reminder that our digestive tract is working hard.

“Our digestive system’s main function is to process what we put in our mouths so that nutrients—water, carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals—gain access to our circulation and from there to our cells,” explains David Clarke, M.D., President of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association, Clinical Assistant Professor of Gastroenterology Emeritus at OHSU. “Additionally, the system works to keep toxins and harmful organisms confined to, and then eliminated from, our bowels along with other indigestible waste.” 

Luckily, the GI tract has this function pretty down pat, so most of us experience bowel movements that fall under the range of normal. Normal, however, varies significantly from person to person, with the average ranging from about once every three days to three times in one day. “The frequency depends on many factors, including how much water is consumed and the amount of fiber in the diet,” says Dr. Clarke. When our bowel habits fall out of the normal range, a slew of symptoms tends to follow, including cramps and aches, constipation, or loose stools to name a few, he explains.

If you’re wondering if you’ve got a healthy digestive system, look for these key signs to rest assured that everything is working in proper order. 

1. Your bathroom Habits Are Regular

Everyone’s got their own frequency, but take note if you’re going number two fewer or more times than every other day. It may not indicate a problem within the digestive tract, especially if you’ve always kept the same pattern, but be wary of sudden changes.

Infrequent bowel movements may be the result of poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and dehydration, according to Matan BenDavid, M.D., upper gastrointestinal surgeon and co-founder of Exero Medical. “More concerning causes can be related to infectious causes, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer, so if there are persistent symptoms, consult a physician.” 

Read More: 7 Possible Reasons Why You Just Can’t Go 

2. Your poop is a normal color and consistency

When it comes to color for people with a healthy digestive system, normal can range from anything between brown and green. However, frequent black or bloody stool can indicate bleeding along the GI tract, warns Dr. BenDavid. “Additionally, pale or foamy stool may indicate a biliary obstruction.” Any of these signs should warrant a prompt investigation by a medical professional. 

3. You feel ’emptied’ after a bowel movement

If you’re still feeling full after going to the bathroom—like you’re ‘backed up’—this isn’t a good sign, according to Elinor Zhou, M.D., gastroenterologist at Mercy Medical Center, Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease. “It’s likely a sign of constipation and can indicate that you do not have enough fiber and hydration in your diet,” she says. “If adding fiber and fluids to your diet does not help, an over-the-counter constipation medication, such as Miralax, can be helpful.” 

Psyllium husks may help, too. They are the most common of the soluble and insoluble fiber blend supplements. This form of fiber has been shown to help alleviate constipation and contribute to a healthy digestive system. 

If you find yourself relying on constipation meds frequently, however, she recommends seeking the help of your primary care provider or gastroenterologist for further recommendations. 

Read More: Should You Take A Fiber Supplement? Here Are Your Options

4. Your glucose levels are in check

When following up with your primary care provider as part of routine blood tests, blood sugar and a lipid profile are usually examined. “A good fasting glucose level and lipid profile indicate that your diet with your gastrointestinal system are working well from a metabolic point of view,” says Dr. BenDavid. “A high glucose level may indicate diabetes or impaired fasting glucose levels, while a very low glucose level with hypoglycaemic events may be related to dumping syndrome, mostly seen in people who had surgical alterations to their upper gastrointestinal tract, or to insulinoma, a mostly benign tumor in the pancreas.” 

5. You don’t suffer from bouts of diarrhea 

Bouts of diarrhea can be due to multiple reasons, including lactose intolerance, other food component intolerances, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel disease, to name a few, explains Dr. Zhou. “You shouldn’t suffer from it but rather discuss these symptoms with your medical provider, who can further investigate and may consider a referral to a gastroenterologist if the reason is unclear,” she says. 

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