From those burning, churning feelings that erupt whenever we eat our favorite foods, to the bloating that keeps us from zipping up our jeans, to the gas that can make us the most unpopular person in the elevator, our stomach can be the cause of some major inconveniences, if not some outright health concerns.
Still, experts say most folks know painfully little about how their stomach and their digestive tract operates -- one reason that solving tummy troubles can seem much harder than it has to be.
By Amy Engeler
At 3 a.m., with all the houses dark up and down her winding suburban street in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Jo-Ann Frey, 37, lights a candle so she can see well enough to dust her furniture. Careful not to turn on any lights or make noise that might wake up her family, she drifts from room to room with her candle and cleaning supplies, waiting until she feels sleepy enough to climb back into bed. That feeling doesn't come -- and when she hears the alarm in the bedroom go off...
"There are some very popular misconceptions concerning stomach health, most of which can really lead people astray on how to effectively deal with certain problems," says Mark Moyad, MD, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.
David Greenwald, MD, agrees. "Sometimes what seems like a complex, difficult or even frightening problem really is a simple one, with a simple solution, if you can separate the myths from the facts," says Greenwald, an associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
To help set the record straight, Greenwald, Moyad, and NYU director of pediatric gastroenterology Joseph Levy, MD, helped WebMD prepare the following gut-busting challenge. Try to separate the myths from the facts to see how much you really know about how to keep your tummy healthy and happy.
1. Myth or Fact: Digestion takes place primarily in the stomach.
Answer: Myth. The major part of the digestive process takes place in the small intestine. The stomach takes in the food, then churns it and breaks it into tiny particles called "chyme." The chyme are then released in small batches into the small intestine, where most digestion occurs, he says.
Contrary to popular belief, Levy says, foods do not digest in the order they are eaten. "Everything lands in the stomach where it's all churned together, and when it's ready it's released into the small intestines together," he says.
2. Myth or Fact: If you cut down on your food intake, you'll eventually shrink your stomach so you won't be as hungry.
Answer: Myth. Once you are an adult, your stomach pretty much remains the same size -- unless you have surgery to intentionally make it smaller. Eating less won't shrink your stomach, says Moyad, but it can help to reset your "appetite thermostat" so you won't feel as hungry, and it may be easier to stick with your eating plan.