The truth behind 4 common digestive health myths

A gastoenterologist debunks some common myths about how our digestive system works

We’ve all read those stories or seen infomercials about how someone had two months’ worth of meat stuck in their intestines and needed to get it flushed out. Or that some celebrity “cleansed” for a week to fit into a dress for an awards show. Are these stories for real? Rajesh Joseph, M.D., gastroenterologist with Norton Gastroenterology Consultants of Louisville, debunks some common myths about how our digestive system works.

Myth 1: Meat takes longer to digest than vegetables.

False, mostly. Eating a big hunk of meat may make you feel like you’ve got a rock sitting in your stomach, but the fact is meat doesn’t take any longer to digest than vegetables or other foods. However, eating a lot of fat can slow down digestion of your whole meal, and since meat and animal products generally have higher fat content than other foods, there could be a connection.

Myth 2: Your colon needs to be cleansed or detoxed every once in a while.

False. The job of the colon, or large intestine, is to be the detoxifier for the body. It contains bacteria that naturally detoxify food wastes. The liver also helps with eliminating toxins from the body. In addition, the colon sheds old cells about every three days, so toxins cannot build up within the colon over time. Therefore, the body doesn’t need any extra help from gimmicky products to rid itself of waste. In fact, some cleansing products can be unsafe and lead to dehydration, vomiting, nausea, cramps and more serious complications.

Myth 3: Stress causes ulcers.

False. There is no clear evidence that stress causes ulcers. The vast majority of stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, and nearly half of all adults have this bacteria. H. pylori is treatable by antibiotics. The thing is, if you have an ulcer and you have a lot of stress in your life, the stress could be making the ulcer worse. Stress also can cause an upset stomach, nausea or diarrhea, so it’s easy to get confused about which came first — the ulcer or the stress.

Myth 4: Your stomach needs probiotics.

False, sort of. Look at how the yogurt aisle in the grocery store has grown over the past few years and you’ll realize a lot of people are on the “active yogurt cultures” bandwagon, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yogurt has many health benefits, as long as you choose brands that are not packed with sugar. Those active cultures are bacteria, which may help keep the digestive system in good working order. Is it necessary? Well, no. But there is some evidence showing it can help calm a stomach irritated by antibiotics, which kill off the naturally occurring “good” bacteria needed for healthy digestion. The bacteria found in yogurt, called Lactobacillus acidophilus, also can be taken as a dietary supplement. If you think you could benefit from taking a probiotic, talk with your physician to see if it’s worthwhile.


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