Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on August 30, 2021
Myth: It Takes Years to Digest Gum
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It might seem like gum could stick around in your gut for a long time. After all, it doesn't dissolve in your mouth like other foods, and your stomach can't break it down if you swallow it. But there's no truth to this claim. Gum doesn't gum up your insides. Your digestive system moves it along just like everything else, and it comes out in your stool in a few days.
Myth: Spicy Foods Cause Ulcers
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Hot sauce lovers, rejoice! People used to think that too much spicy food would give you an ulcer. But we now know that most of these sores in your stomach lining happen because of an infection with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or because of pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Foods with a lot of heat may cause stomachache in some people but they don't cause ulcers.
Myth: Heavy Lifting Causes Hernias
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It's one, but not the only, cause of these injuries. You might also get them from long-lasting constipation or a cough. Hernias happen when there's both pressure and an opening or weakness in muscles lining the inside of your belly. An organ or fatty tissue then bulges out through the opening. They're most common in the groin, belly button, or upper part of the stomach.
Myth: Only Alcoholics Get Cirrhosis
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It's true that alcoholism is the most common cause of cirrhosis, a condition in which healthy liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. But there are other causes, too, such hepatitis B and C. And although drinking too much almost always causes some liver damage, it doesn't always lead to cirrhosis.
Myth: Nuts Lead to Diverticulitis
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In the past, doctors told people with this condition, in which pouches in the wall of the colon get inflamed and infected, to avoid nuts, corn, popcorn, and food with small seeds, like strawberries. The fear was that pieces of these foods would lodge in the pouches and cause pain. But new studies suggest the opposite -- that people who eat a high-fiber diet have a lower risk of the disease.
Myth: Beans Cause the Most Gas
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Beans may not be the "magical fruit" you thought they were. Dairy products cause more gas than other foods, particularly as we age and our bodies are less able to absorb the sugar in milk (lactose). To ease the problem, look for lactose-free products or take the over-the-counter medicine lactase before you eat dairy foods.
Myth: No Dairy for Lactose Intolerant
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People with lactose intolerance differ in how much dairy they can handle. While one person may get symptoms from one glass of milk, others may be able to drink up to two. Some people can enjoy yogurt or ice cream, but never straight milk. Aged cheeses, such as Swiss and cheddar, are often better choices. It's usually a matter of trial and error to find out which dairy foods -- and how much -- are "safe" for you.
Myth: Smoking Relieves Heartburn
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Another reason to kick the habit. Smoking may actually add to heartburn. Nicotine can relax the muscle at the top of your stomach that keeps acid from splashing back (reflux) into your esophagus. More acid reflux means heartburn.
Myth: Aging Causes Constipation
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People are more likely to have constipation as they get older, but the aging body itself is not to blame. Older adults often take medications that can make the digestive tract sluggish. They're also less likely to get enough exercise, eat well, and drink enough fluids, all of which help keep things running smoothly.
Myth: Fiber No Help With Diarrhea
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At first, it doesn't make sense that fiber, which is so well-known for improving constipation, could also aid with the flip side: diarrhea. But it's true. The nutrient helps keep the stool from being too hard or too loose. It works by either pulling more water from the colon to loosen stools (for constipation) or absorbing some of the fluid in the intestine to firm them up (for diarrhea).
Myth: You'd Know If You Had Cancer
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Colon cancer often has no symptoms until its later stages, which makes early detection so important. In general, most people at average risk should start getting tested at age 50. Routine colorectal checks should include fecal tests each year, a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, a CT scan of the colon every 5 years, or a colonoscopy every 10 years. Talk to your doctor about which one is right for you.
Myth: Colonoscopies Are Terrible
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The dreaded colonoscopy is actually not as dreadful as you might think. The procedure, which doctors use to diagnose and treat problems in the colon and rectum, typically only lasts about 30-60 minutes, and you get medicine to put you to sleep while it happens. But it's the prep for the test that might make people squirm. You have to empty your colon with the help of a liquid diet and a laxative drink a day or so beforehand. Talk to your doctor to see what your options are.
Myth: Heartburn? Sleep Sitting Up
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There's no medical backing to the claim that people with heartburn must sit up in bed to avoid symptoms. You might get some relief by raising your head and chest 4-6 inches with blocks under your bedposts. But that's as upright as you need to go.
Myth: IBS Is All About Your Diet
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Although foods can trigger irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, changes to the diet are generally not enough to stop the condition. Sometimes just the act of eating can cause the pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation the disease is known for. And stress and anxiety can add to the problem, too. A food and symptom journal can help you identify your specific triggers.
Myth: Stress Causes IBD
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While stress can make many health conditions worse, the cause of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is unknown. IBD includes both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, conditions in which the lining of the small or large intestines gets inflamed. Genes seem to play some role in who gets the disease, as do changes in the body's immune system, possibly from bacteria or a virus.
Myth: Celiac Means Ongoing Pain
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The best known celiac disease symptoms include bloating, gas, and diarrhea, but many people with the condition never have any of these problems. Doctors can misdiagnose the condition -- an intolerance to the protein gluten -- when they look only for the classic signs. Other symptoms can include: anemia, osteoporosis, depression, growth problems, and a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.