I was once told by an old professor that you weren’t a mature, i.e. “old” physician unless you understood your patient’s statement ” I had a good bowel movement”. Certainly bowel irregularity is a very common problem as we age. Diet, medications, activity all play a role in the function of our digestive track. On top of that, the entire process runs on the autopilot control mechanism of the nervous system. Who hasn’t had stomach upset or diarrhea associated with stress. Today’s health letter gives a few tips on keeping things going a little smoother.
A sizable percentage of people lack the enzyme needed to digest milk sugar. If poorly formed stool and flatus are an issue, consider holding milk products for a time and seeing what happens. Hopefully you won’t have to moderate any cheese or ice cream treats. For me, an enzyme deficient individual, it is a conscious decision to suffer a bit for that yummy cheese. Milk sugar enzyme supplements are available over the counter and do work in some cases.
Medications can influence the digestive track. A complete review of your medication list with your doctor is an essentially part of any evaluation. Common over the counter medications for indigestion or heartburn can produce diarrhea. Antibiotics are a real problem when it comes to digestive health. Antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria. Reducing the number of healthy bacteria in the bowel can lead to diarrhea and the emergence of harmful bacteria that are normally crowded out by all the good guys.
Activity is important for regular bowel function. Who hasn’t developed constipation after a long car ride or flight? Regular exercise is as important to the bowel as it is for your heart. Taking along a gentle laxative in that overnight bag is always a good idea.
Cheers to your health,
Paul Koberna, MD