Why are my favorite foods and drinks starting to bother me?

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Remember the days when you could eat and drink whatever you wanted without consequences? Unfortunately, those days tend to fade for most of us as we get older and digestive issues start to creep in.

Foods and drinks you used to consider favorites may start to give you stomach pain, cause bloating or prompt uncomfortable bowel movements. Constipation and reflux conditions become more common as our bodies age.

The issue may not be what you’re eating

There are multiple factors that influence our digestive health. The first to remember is that the bowels, also known as the small and large intestines, are muscles. This muscular tube runs from the lower end of your stomach all the way to the anus, squeezing materials through it the entire way. As you get older, your muscles tend to tire more easily. Your intestines are no exception.

If your favorite foods and drinks are starting to bother you, there’s typically more than one reason for it. Comorbidities such as diabetes and thyroid issues can throw off the gastrointestinal tract. Metabolic conditions such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and excess body fat around the waist can also be a factor.

In addition, middle-aged American adults are likely to take prescription drugs more often compared to their younger years. Pain medications, and especially opioids, have been linked to abdominal pain and nausea. 

 How do I know if digestive problems are a sign of something more?

If you are experiencing abdominal pain and symptoms such as diarrhea or bloating on a regular basis, the first thing to do is start a food journal. Write down everything you eat and drink and the time you ingested it. This will help to pinpoint which foods are causing your stomach issues. You may need to eat less of your favorite food, or cut it out of your diet altogether. 

Sensitivity to a specific food item can point to a simple intolerance. For example, adults who used to drink milk without any problems may develop greater sensitivity to dairy products that contain lactose. That’s simple enough to identify and take action to eliminate or reduce from your diet. But if there are multiple foods and drinks that seem to cause stomach problems, it’s highly recommended that you see a doctor.

Patients should not hesitate to seek medical care if their abdominal issues persist, especially if the symptoms are incapacitating and interfering with your daily life. Serious symptoms that are clear red flags include vomiting, intractable pain, bleeding and unexpected weight loss. 

The symptoms may be signaling a deeper underlying health problem. Your doctor can run tests to determine what’s happening and recommend customized treatment plans. 

What can I start doing right now to ease my stomach issues? 

If you want to be healthy, you have to maintain healthier eating habits. Personal lifestyle choices play a dominating role when it comes to gut health. The first thing you can do to ease your stomach issues is to drink more liquids. For optimal hydration, be sure to drink plenty of water along with liquids that contain electrolytes. 

Getting enough fiber is also important. American adults tend to underestimate their fiber intake, but we should be eating between 25 and 35 grams every day. Fiber can temporarily cause bloating, but it eases constipation and keeps the digestive tract operating smoothly. Fiber also promotes heart health and helps the body manage cholesterol. 

I personally recommend prunes and carrots as excellent sources of fiber. Green kiwifruit is another food to try. A recent study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found patients who ate kiwifruit experienced fewer side effects such as cramping and bloating that can occur with prunes and fiber supplements. 

Getting at least 15 minutes of exercise per day can also help your digestive system. A sedentary lifestyle, along with increased stress levels, can cause the bowels to become “lazy” and stop functioning as well. When it comes to your gut health, taking preventive measures is always the preferable option. 

Gokul Bala is a gastroenterologist who focuses on esophageal, neurogastroenterology and motility disorders at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.