5 digestive health myths, busted

From fad diets to old wives’ tales and everything in between, it can be hard to know what’s true and what’s not when it comes to digestive health. Here, our experts bust 5 common myths to set the record straight.

1. If you don’t have a bowel movement every day, something is wrong

While there is no exact number, as a broad rule, having a bowel movement anywhere from 3 times a day to 3 times a week is considered ‘normal.’ The most important thing is to take notice of your regular bowel pattern (time of day, number of times per day, consistency) and seek help when you’re seeing pattern changes that last longer than a week.

2. It takes 7 years to digest gum

Although gum is designed to be chewed and spit out, it generally isn’t harmful to swallow your stomach. Gum, if swallowed, doesn’t necessarily sit any longer than food in your stomach and moves relatively intact through your digestive system. On very rare occasions, large amounts of swallowed gum combined with constipation can block intestines, so it’s best to spit it out after the flavor’s gone. 

3. Don’t swim at least a half hour after eating

A tale that emerged after it was included in the 1908 Boy Scout handbook, there is no truth to this common myth. You don’t need to wait 30 minutes or more to swim after you’ve eaten. Because digestion diverts some blood flow from your muscles to your stomach, the concern was that swimming might somehow inhibit this blood flow and cause severe cramping.

4. Ulcers are caused by spicy foods

While it’s true that spicy foods may sometimes aggravate ulcer symptoms, they do not cause ulcers. Typically, ulcers are caused by chronic use of anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, stress, or smoking. Ulcers can happen anywhere along the digestive tract and are curable. But left untreated, they can lead to serious, even life-threatening complications. If you think you may have an ulcer, it’s important to talk to your doctor.

5. If your stomach rumbles, it means you’re hungry

A rumbling stomach sometimes signifies hunger, but not always. Your digestive system can make sounds, known as borborygmi, when air or fluid moves through the intestines. Because stomach rumbling can also occur when muscles contract to move contents forward in the GI tract, these sounds may happen when the stomach is full or empty.

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