Taking Proper Care Of Your Stomach
Common Health Issues

Taking Proper Care Of Your Stomach

The fuel of the body is food. Digestion, that amazing chemical process by which food is broken down into simpler elements that can be absorbed into the bloodstream for use by the body, is carried out by the digestive, or gastrointestinal, tract.


The first action takes place in the mouth, where the process of food breakdown is begun by chewing and the secretion of enzymes by the salivary glands. Food then passes down a long muscular tube called the esophagus into the stomach.


The stomach rests in the upper part of the abdominal cavity. Discomforts that occur much lower in the abdomen are not really ‘stomachaches,’ but disturbances felt in the intestines or other organs. The stomach is rather like a wineskin in shape and, when fully distended after a large meal, has a capacity of about 2 liters.

The strong, muscular action of the stomach churns up the food and mixes it with digestive enzymes and acids that help break down food into forms that the body can absorb. Additional juices from the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder are mixed in when the food enters the duodenum, at the entry to the small intestine.



The small intestine is no longer but narrower than the large intestine. It is in the small intestine that the useful proteins, carbohydrates, and fats now converted to simpler substances, are absorbed through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. At the end of the small intestine about all that is left of the food is waste solids, which then pass through the large intestine and are eliminated.


Digestive Complaints

Hardly anyone has gotten through childhood, much less middle age, without discomfort of some kind in the digestive system. Even people who brag of having an ‘iron stomach’ have trouble with their digestion at some time.


The stomach is not made of iron, but it will function well if we treat it with respect. Hasty, inadequate meals, too many fatty foods, or tensions at the dinner table can lead to intestinal rebellion. Be careful about taking alcohol, coffee, or aspirin on an empty stomach; these often irritate the stomach lining and may create a preulcerous condition.


Indigestion and what is loosely called ‘heartburn’ (an irritation of the lower esophagus) are not caused by an ‘acid stomach.’ Acid is a natural and necessary part of the stomach’s digestive function; therefore, most ‘aids to digestion’ and ‘stomach sweeteners’ will do nothing to help and may do harm.

However, if heartburn is fairly constant, see your doctor. The condition is sometimes a symptom of an ulcer.


Aids to Digestion

You can help the process of digestion by eating foods such as whole grains, green vegetables, and fruits that provide ‘roughage’ necessary for well-functioning bowels. Every individual has his own rate of elimination; for some it is an everyday affair, but for others who are equally healthy, it may be twice a day or every other day.



Fussing about the regularity of bowel movements is totally unnecessary and, in fact, may actually make constipation worse rather than cure it, especially in children. Likewise, enemas taken to ‘clean out the colon’ can be both physically and psychologically harmful.


If constipation does occur, do not get into the habit of taking laxatives; their constant use may aggravate the condition by desensitizing the lining of the intestines. If you are occasionally constipated, it is safe to take mild laxatives such as one or two tablespoons of milk of magnesia.


Acute constipation is often troublesome for the elderly, for women after childbirth, and for people with hemorrhoids, and should be treated by a doctor. In rare cases, an obstruction in the intestine may be responsible.

It must be remembered that indigestion is not a disease, but a condition or group of symptoms that can be caused by any number of actual diseases. Even a skilled doctor often finds it a long and difficult task to determine the cause—and hence the treatment—of indigestion.


If a mildly upset stomach troubles you occasionally, you can try some of the following remedies at home:

  • A level teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda in a pleasant-tasting drink
  • A liquid antacid
  • A pharmacist’s preparation of rhubarb and soda


Constant and repetitive use of bicarbonate of soda, however, or of commercial antacid preparations that contain it, has a bad effect on people on salt-restricted diets. Furthermore, such dosing may obscure the real cause of the discomfort.


Be sure to see a doctor if you suffer persistently or repeatedly from any of the following symptoms: vomiting, excessive belching, fullness or burning sensation in the abdomen, cramps, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea.


And also see your doctor if you pass stools that are blood-streaked or unusually foul-smelling or if your bowel habits change markedly for a prolonged period of time.




The Digestive System: Linking Theory and Practice by T Hoyle

Chronic Abdominal Pain in General Practice by Cristina Sabo, Simona Grad and Dan Dumitrascu

Insights into Digestion and Absorption of Major Nutrients in Humans by Barbara Goodman

Anatomy and Physiology of the Stomach by David Soybel 


Rich Health Editorial Team

Health Research

Rich Health Editorial Team is made up of medical practitioners and experienced writers who provide information for dealing with health issues in a simple and easy-to-understand manner