4 Myths About Your Digestive Health

Written by Bob O'Grady on . Posted in Blog

Have you ever heard that the gum you accidentally swallow sits in your digestive tract for the rest of your life? What about that spicy foods wear down your stomach lining?

There are a lot of myths floating around about what’s good and bad for your digestion, and some of them have been around for decades. Below, we’ll debunk a few of those myths and tell you what can actually impact your digestive health for the better.

Myth #1: You Can’t Digest Gum

Let’s start with one of the most pervasive, interesting, and longest-lasting digestive legends. Kids in elementary schools across the country believe that if they accidentally swallow gum, they’re stuck with a lump in their stomach forever. They—and you, when you were little—probably pictured a ball of gum growing bigger and bigger with each stick of gum they swallowed, a lump that stayed tucked away in their digestive system for decades.

Fortunately for adults everywhere, this enduring myth isn’t even remotely true. Gum doesn’t sit in your stomach, and it definitely doesn’t accumulate over the years. Your stomach can’t break gum down, but swallowed gum moves from your stomach into your gastrointestinal tract just like all the other food you eat.

Still, you probably shouldn’t swallow gum when you can just spit it out instead. In very rare cases, gum can cause intestinal blocks. Plus, while sugary gum won’t hurt your stomach, it can hurt your teeth. Stick to sugar-free gum that stimulates saliva and keeps your mouth clean, and don’t give young kids gum until they understand to chew it, not swallow it.

Myth #2: Stress Causes Ulcers

This myth has made it into everyday parlance—most of us have probably said something akin to “this is giving me an ulcer” when we’re stressed, or we’ve at least heard those around us say it. This idea probably comes from the fact that stress sometimes causes stomach pain.

Your stomach might hurt when you’re stressed, anxious, or sad because it’s full of nerves. In fact, your stomach has more nerves than any other organ in your body except for your brain, which could explain why we still say you should “trust your gut.”

But while mild stress creates butterflies in your stomach and severe forms of stress cause diarrhea, vomiting, or other digestive problems, stress doesn’t usually cause ulcers. Bacterial infections do. Scientists have also linked painkillers that wear away at your stomach lining, like ibuprofen, to peptic ulcers.

Obviously, the less stress you experience in your life, the better, so work with a therapist or take up meditation to manage it—but don’t add to your stress by worrying that it’s giving you an ulcer.

Myth #3: Spicy Foods Hurt Your Stomach

Spicy foods also take the blame for causing ulcers, but in general, spicy food is actually good for your stomach. The heat jumpstarts saliva production in your mouth, and since the enzymes in saliva start your body’s digestive process before your food hits your stomach, spiciness can improve digestion. Plus, some studies suggest that spicy foods reduce inflammation in your body.

Of course, if you know you’re sensitive to spicy food, don’t force yourself to eat it in the name of good digestion. People with irritable bowel syndrome, stomach ulcers, or other common gastrointestinal problems might want to skip the chili peppers and tabasco sauce.

Myth #4: Don’t Eat Before Bed

Conventional Western wisdom holds that you should never snack right before you go to bed. But the real problem might lie with what you eat, not when you eat. For instance, many people eat late at night because they work until five or six and then head immediately to the gym. When they get home around eight, they don’t have time to cook something healthy, so they quickly heat up a microwave dinner.

If you don’t have lots of time to eat after work, you also tend to eat your food faster instead of taking the time to savor it. As mentioned above, saliva is a crucial component of the digestion process. The more time you can spend chewing your food, the better you digest it.

Instead of telling yourself you can’t eat before bed, try giving yourself the time to eat healthy foods for dinner most days of the week. If you have time, try preparing a few meals on your day off, freezing them, and thawing them when you need a quick dinner late at night.

Also, if you get hungry right before bed, don’t feel guilty about eating a healthy snack. You don’t need to let your growling stomach keep you up all night—try a food with tryptophan, which is a soporific. Both eggs and turkey have tryptophan. Avoid sugary foods that will keep you awake, and definitely avoid caffeine.

Keep Your Stomach Happy

Now that you don’t have to worry about the myths above, you can focus on more important things: facts about your digestive health. To have the best possible digestive health, eat healthy foods and vegetables and implement a high-fiber diet. Exercise regularly to promote good digestion.

If you suffer from stomach pain, know that you’re not alone—hundreds of thousands of Americans experience chronic conditions that make digestion difficult. If you want to learn more about digestive health and treat your pain, let Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates help.