Gastrointestinal health and physical exercise: two vital allies

May 29th marks World Digestive Health Day, a health speciality that is fundamental and in which diseases such as cancer have high incidence rates.

The goal of the World Digestive Health Day initiative is to promote a deeper understanding of the digestive system and a greater awareness of what we all have to do, not only to combat diseases and minimize the symptoms of the digestive system that affect the quality of life of approximately 1/3 of the population but above all to encourage the adoption of healthy eating habits and regular physical activity, which are the best contribution we can give to our digestive well-being.

The Portuguese Society of Gastroenterology (SPG) released the results of a national survey, which reveals that only 48.4% of people are aware of diseases related to the digestive system. However, 90% admit the importance that good digestive health contributing to a healthier life.


Prevention and early diagnosis

On this day, all actions and information should aim to remember the importance of prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of digestive system diseases to promote a deeper knowledge and improve the overall health of the population.

A healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet, regular exercise, preventing and correcting obesity, and regular gastroenterologist visits are the main principles for preventing diseases and ensuring good digestive health.

Early diagnosis is the most effective way to reduce mortality, particularly of cancer, and promote digestive health.

For example, the five digestive cancers (oesophageal, stomach, pancreas, liver, and colon cancer) have increased in people with obesity. In addition to shortening average life expectancy, obesity is a risk factor for several digestive system diseases, such as gastroesophageal reflux, constipation, and liver disease (cirrhosis), among many others. And in this battle, activity and physical exercise play an invaluable role.


The digestive system and the microbiome

The digestive system is composed of some of the most critical organs in the human body. It measures about 10 meters long and runs from the mouth to the anus, passing through the oesophagus, liver and gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, and small and large intestines.

Currently, one-third of cancers in Portugal are related to the digestive tract, which leads to the need for increasing adherence to colon screening, which should be performed starting at around 45/50 years of age. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there was a 90% drop in the performance of 'non-urgent' exams, causing a considerable delay in screenings, something that is now slowly being recovered.

The WGO, the World Gastroenterology Organization, runs awareness campaigns and draws attention, for example, to the role that the gut microbiome plays in global health, something that has only been talked about for a few years, "and how it performs a much nobler function than just aiding in digestion, and nutrient absorption.

The intestinal microbiome can help prevent and regulate infections throughout the body, from respiratory problems, metabolic diseases, inflammatory diseases, and urinary tract allergies, to diseases of the intestine itself, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

According to a study by Harvard Medical School and the Joslin Diabetes Center, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, most of the bacteria in the gut have a unique profile in each person, acting as our fingerprint. Our gut microbiome may have over a thousand different species of bacteria, but only 150 to 170 predominate in each person, which directly impacts health.

In recent years, the direct relationship between the gut and the brain has also been investigated, as well as the relationship that the microbiome has in the production of serotonin and other components essential to brain and mental health, enhancing diseases such as depression, for example.

A healthy diet combined with physical exercise, screenings, and pre and probiotic supplements is now an essential response in preventing and controlling the most severe diseases linked to the intestine. Don't forget: take care of yourself and move, every day!


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