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    5 Things to Know About Digestive Health

    The best way to get probiotics is in food, not from a pill.

    Walk into any health or vitamin store and you'll see the shelves loaded down with probiotic pills and powders. Their labels promise to solve your belly woes by restoring your balance of healthy gut germs. But be warned. The FDA does not require the makers of probiotic supplements to prove their products are effective, Crowe says. "They may be a promising idea, but there's no way to know if what you're spending your money on is going to do any good," she says.

    Instead, Crowe says spend your money on foods that are rich in probiotics, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchee. These naturally have a germ called lactobacillus, which can subdue diarrhea and other GI symptoms.

    IBS is not all in your head -- but your head has something to do with it.

    For many years, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) -- a problem in the intestines that can cause cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation -- heard from well-meaning family, friends, and sometimes even doctors that the condition was all in their heads, says Christine Frissora, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. But for the 10% to 15% of Americans who have the condition, it's very real. Today, doctors still aren't sure what causes IBS, but infections or too much bacteria in the gut are two possible culprits.

    That's not to say there's no link between your head and your gut when it comes to IBS, Frissora says. Stress raises your levels of a hormone called norepinephrine, which increases the bacteria in your gut and can mean more gas builds up inside your intestines. To control IBS symptoms, try some tricks -- like mindful meditation or talk therapy -- to keep your stress levels down.

    Your sugar-free gum may be giving you a stomachache.

    If you already have a digestive issue like IBS, artificial sweeteners, like those in sugarless gum and candy, may make your symptoms worse. They are part of a group of foods called FODMAPs, which includes sugars such as fructose, lactose, and sorbitol. Try avoiding them to see if it eases gas, bloating, and other GI problems. While you're at it, Frissora says, keep your belly happy by limiting caffeine and alcohol to one cup of coffee or one alcoholic drink a day.

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    Reviewed on December 16, 2015

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