Thankfully, there are experts like Austin Chiang, MD, MPH, a triple board-certified, trained gastroenterologist and advanced endoscopist, chief medical officer of Medtronic, and founding president of the Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM). Dr. Chiang talks about gut health with his many followers on TikTok and explores topics like misinformation around gut health, colorectal cancer awareness, and important screenings.
We talked to Dr. Chiang about six bad poop habits gastroenterologists wish people wouldn't do, as well as some ideal behaviors to adopt in your daily routine.
1. Sitting on the toilet for too long
"In the bathroom, I would say that sitting too long on the toilet could predispose someone to develop hemorrhoids. If the reason for sitting too long is constipation, that may need to be evaluated by a professional," says Dr. Chiang. If you're not sure what "too long" means, here's a guideline: You shouldn't sit on the toilet for longer than five minutes, Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, pelvic floor therapist and founder of FusionWellnessPT.com, previously told Well+Good. Ideally, you should be able to go poop within a minute or less when on that porcelain throne.
2. Not moving throughout the day
Dr. Chiang's advice in the bathroom also extends to other areas of your life. Basically, try to get up and move a bit throughout your day. Being sedentary for long periods can affect your gut motility—or how fast and efficiently food and waste move through your gut and colon. So, if you work a desk job, getting up to walk around for a few minutes every hour or so will help out with your digestion and may come with even more health benefits.
3. Throwing moderation out the window
Generally speaking, Dr. Chiang says it's a good idea to stop smoking, if you do, and limit your consumption of alcohol and processed foods. Of course, it's important to note that everyone's diet and choices are different, so moderation is key when it comes to these things.
4. Ignoring blood in your stool
"Being mindful of one's symptoms and not delaying care is probably the biggest thing for me to emphasize," says Dr. Chiang. A sudden change in bowel movements may warrant an evaluation to make sure that something serious isn't going on. Why? Brushing off blood in the stool as hemorrhoids may cause someone to miss something more serious like colon cancer, says Dr. Chiang.
5. Skipping important screenings
"Keeping in close contact with one's doctors and actively asking for the latest evidence is also a way to remain proactive with one's care," says Dr. Chiang. It's not a secret that health care in the U.S. is expensive and sometimes downright inaccessible. It's not your fault if, time and time again, your insurance fails to cover a test or you can't get the treatment you need. However, as best you can, it's important to see a provider if you have concerning symptoms—as they can help you to manage chronic conditions, and determine when you may need colorectal cancer screenings.
"Remember, everyone who is an "average risk" (without a family history or predisposing conditions) individual needs to get screened starting at age 45," says Dr. Chiang. Staying on top of these screenings is the best way to catch cancer early or prevent it altogether, he says.
6. Eating foods that worsen specific GI conditions
If you have a gastrointestinal condition, you likely have specific knowledge of what to eat and what not to eat to keep the symptoms in check. It's best to follow the specific health advice you've received about these conditions to avoid symptom flares or worsening of your condition, says Dr. Chiang. For example, eating dairy when you are lactose intolerant can lead to some pretty uncomfortable symptoms, but overall won't harm your health. However, eating gluten when you have Celiac disease can not only cause painful symptoms, you can actually damage your colon, too. One other example? People with acid reflux disorders shouldn't eat right before lying down to sleep. Otherwise, you may make your heartburn symptoms worse and potentially up your risk for long-term effects, says Dr. Chiang.
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