Stomach Pain Facts & Myths

    A man in a plaid shirt making a large bubble with his gumTummy trouble is never a fun thing. Aches and pains can keep you from enjoying your meal, going to work and in general are unpleasant interruptions in your daily life. But because your stomach can’t speak (well, verbally), it’s sometimes hard to interpret exactly what could be wrong – especially with all the different conditions, foods and myths floating around out there.

    1. If I swallow gum, does it really take seven years to digest?

    It’s doesn’t seem that hard to believe that gum could hang around for a long time in your stomach, since, unlike other foods, it doesn’t dissolve in your mouth when you chew it. However, gum really doesn’t stick to your insides and cause any digestive problems. Instead, your digestive system moves gum along, just like everything else that’s passing through, and eliminates it within a few days.

    2. Does spicy food cause stomach ulcers?

    For a long time, it was thought that eating spicy foods increased ulcer risks. But science finally caught up to this myth; it’s now understood that the majority of stomach ulcers are caused either by an infection with a bacterium called Helicobacterpyloiri (H.pylori) or by use of pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen (NSAIDs). That said, spicy foods may certainly aggravate an existing ulcer in some people, but they do not cause them.

    3. Should I just avoid beans, since they cause so much gas?

    Despite the many jokes about beans and flatulence, beans are not the main culprit of gas. Dairy foods actually have that honor, particularly if you’re lactose intolerant – which many of us in the Black community are. Also, the human body becomes less and less able to absorb lactose as we age. So if you find yourself “tooting” after eating dairy, you’re not alone. Look for lactose-free products or take the over-the-counter enzyme lactase before you eat dairy foods.

    4. If I’m lactose intolerant, does that mean I should avoid all milk products?

    Again, around 75% of African Americans are lactose intolerant. But all of us are inundated with messages about how important dairy products are to our overall health. People with lactose intolerance differ in their ability to tolerate particular dairy products – while one person may get symptoms from a single glass of milk, others may be able to drink up to two. Some people can tolerate yogurt or ice cream, but never, ever straight milk. Aged cheeses, such as Swiss and cheddar are often universally better-tolerated dairy choices. It’s often a matter of trial and error to find out which dairy foods – and how much – are safe for you.

    5. Does fiber only help with constipation?

    On the surface, it doesn’t seem likely that fiber, which is so well-known for improving constipation, could also aid with the flip side – diarrhea. But it can. Eating fiber-rich foods helps regulate the stools so that it’s not too hard or too loose. Fiber in the body works by either pulling more water from the colon to loosen stools (for constipation) or by absorbing water into the colon to firm up stools (for diarrhea).

    6. Can smoking really help relieve my heartburn?

    Contrary to the popular belief about a calming smoke, cigarette smoking may actually contribute to heartburn. Nicotine can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle between the esophagus and stomach, allowing the acidic contents of the stomach to splash back (reflux) into the esophagus. This increased acid reflux is the basis of heartburn.

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