Archive for November, 2010
Friday, November 26th, 2010
The interplay between our sense of smell and our digestive systems begins even before we start eating…and continues long afterwards.
Something smells nice
The smells of food being prepared trigger the brain to send signals to the gut to receive the anticipated meal – the mouth waters and down the length of the gut enzymes are prepared that will be needed to digest the meal.
Over 90% of wind from the bowels is made up of five gases – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane: the remaining 10% contains small amounts of other gases, but the tiny quantity of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) makes the biggest stink, a characteristic ‘rotten egg’ smell. It’s not just smelly, it’s actually as toxic as hydrogen cyanide. (Luckily, beneficial bacteria in the gut detoxify most of the H2S generated by digestion, so human gas is not actively dangerous, just unpleasant!)
Smells in the bowl
Bacteria in the large intestine are to blame for making wind and stools smell unpleasant. But while certain foods and drinks may make you emit more gas, others definitely make waste more smelly. Preservative-rich highly processed food and also high protein foods such as red meats, are rich in sulphur compounds which can produce nasty hydrogen sulphide gas.
Smells of danger
Fatty stools that are difficult to flush away – steatorrhoea – smell particularly bad. They could indicate an excessively fatty meal, but occurring frequently they could also show difficulties breaking down and absorbing fat that may have a number of causes. It could signal a disorder of the pancreas, which normally produces lipase, a fat-processing enzyme; or of the liver which manufactures bile salts.
Friday, November 19th, 2010
Antibiotics are a well known and widely used medication, used to treat bacterial infections. However, whilst any particular antibiotic is specific for bacterial cells, it cannot be made specific to only harmful bacteria, so as well as killing the harmful bacteria, many antibiotics also kill off some of the beneficial ones that help keep our digestive system healthy. When we take antibiotics, approximately 60% of the bacteria in our gut flora are killed by the antibiotics, whether they are good or bad.
As a result, the number and species of gut bacteria is altered in our gut flora. A reduction in levels of native bacterial species also disrupts their ability to inhibit the growth of harmful species such as Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) and Salmonella. The C. difficile infection can particularly affect elderly people whose immune systems are weakened by underlying illness, and C. difficile infections have become very common in hospitals and nursing homes in the last ten years.
Some bacteria in the human gut make vitamins such as vitamin K and some of the B vitamins. If they are destroyed, the body does not receive these vitamins and, if antibiotic therapy continues over an extended period, vitamin deficiency can result. Also, the body’s ability to ferment carbohydrates is reduced and may cause antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
Of course, this does not mean we should not take antibiotics! Doctors only prescribe antibiotics if it is necessary; millions of courses are prescribed in the UK each year, and they are very effective in helping to kill the bacteria that cause infections.
However, if you have to take a course of antibiotics, some doctors recommend that you eat plenty of natural yoghurt or probiotics, containing live Lactobacillus bacteria during your treatment. These bacteria help to replenish the stocks of friendly bacteria in the large intestine and may lessen some of the effects of the treatment.
Whilst taking antibiotics, you may also benefit from eating foods containing ‘prebiotics’, such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and artichokes. These foods help the friendly bacteria to multiply in the gut. You may also like to take a daily probiotic; this will help to top up the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Thursday, November 11th, 2010
Don’t be embarrassed by rumbles and growls from down below—celebrate! They’re signs of a digestive system functioning properly. Here, we decipher exactly what those common digestive noises actually mean…
Burping—or eructation—is air escaping from the stomach or oesophagus. We swallow air with each mouthful of food or drink. Most gases are absorbed into the blood and passed out in breath. But some bubble out in a burp. Burping three or four times after a meal is about normal. Aerophagy, or chronic repetitive burping caused by air being sucked repeatedly into the gullet, has little to do with eating but may be linked to anxiety.
Borborygmus (plural borborygmi)—or a stomach rumble —is the noise made by gas and fluids moving around the gut. If you’ve not eaten for a few hours, stomach contractions slosh digestive juices into the intestines and this, combined with intestinal movements, makes gurgling sounds.
Noises after eating
Partly-digested food entering the small intestine is processed by bacteria that break it down further. A by-product is gas that can cause a gurgling or popping sound from the abdomen. The more noise, the more gas in the gut —but this is a normal part of the digestive process.
The intestines collect pockets of gas from the gut bacteria’s degradation of food. Up to two litres of wind—scientific name flatus— escapes through the average anus daily. Noises occur as the air is forced out of its exit point under pressure, making buttock flesh vibrate a little along the way. Normally wind escapes 14—23 times a day although some foods (brassicas—cabbage, parsnip, turnip, swede, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) are enthusiastically fermented by bacteria in the large intestine causing extra emissions.
Friday, November 5th, 2010
On the 31st October 2010 the clocks went back by an hour, which gave us all that lovely extra long lie-in. But rather than lying in bed, why not use the extra time to make a delicious breakfast that will keep you going until lunch time?
The age old of saying that ‘breakfast is most important meal of the day’ is not far wrong. Although all our meals are important, there are many reasons why a breakfast is one of the most important.
The word breakfast literally means ‘break the fast’. By the morning, our bodies have gone without food for a number of hours, but a healthy breakfast provides the nutrients and energy we need to start the day. Breakfast may also help you to control your weight, there is some evidence that those who regularly eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight than those who don’t.
So what is a healthy breakfast? There’s enough variety of breakfast options to tempt even the fussiest of eaters. Check out the list below for some healthy breakfast tips.
- Wholegrain cereal is a great start to the day and provides energy, B vitamins, protein and fibre and can be topped with fresh fruit and flaked nuts. Try to chose semi-skimmed or skimmed milk or even low fat yogurt with your cereal.
- Make a simple porridge, it’s quick to make and warming for those chilly winter mornings. A bowl of porridge releases its energy slowly to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
- For a change from your wholemeal toast, why not try a toasted muffin or bagel.
- Poached eggs and mushrooms on granary toast.
- A seeded bagel topped with grilled plum tomatoes.
- Having at least one portion of fruits or vegetables at breakfast can really help you to achieve your 5-a-day. So add a handful of fresh fruit to your cereal and porridge, slice a banana up on your toast or wash it all down with a smoothie or a glass of orange juice.
- The occasional full-English breakfast can be included in a healthy diet. Removing excess fat from the bacon and poaching rather than frying the eggs will help you to lower the saturated fat content.