A Healthy Gut Matters
April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s get into the details on how to lower your risk and optimize your health. Our gut health is the driving factor in all functions and mechanisms within our body. The digestive system is responsible for the movement of both solids and liquids into your gastrointestinal tract. Food is then broken down for the nutritional benefits needed for our body to properly function.
Where Digestion Begins
Digestion begins in the mouth, where food is chewed up and moistened with saliva so that it moves with ease into our esophagus. Saliva also contains digestive enzymes which aid with breaking down carbohydrates in the mouth. The esophagus is located inside the throat, and is responsible for the peristaltic movement that allows the food to get pushed down into the stomach. The process and components that are essential for proper digestion include: the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, colon AKA large intestine, rectum, and anus. Our body is interconnected and designed to run like a well-oiled machine.
Decreasing the Risk
Our ability to swallow our food is a process that we rarely think about, unless there is an issue that decreases our ability to consume our food. Achalasia (A rare disorder affecting the ability of esophageal muscles to work together), GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease AKA GERD, and esophageal strictures (restrictive bundles of esophageal tissue) all affect the ability to swallow. Reflux, smoking, and obesity are risk factors that increase the incidence of esophageal cancer. Eliminating these risk factors to the best of our ability allows us to thrive.
Health Disorders that Increase the Incidence of Esophageal Cancer
The continual exposure of acid within the esophagus is a contributing factor that increases the risk of esophageal cancer. Achalasia is a disorder that occurs when the nerves within the esophagus become damaged leading to dysphagia. Dysphagia, or the inability to swallow, is amongst the list of symptoms that progressively worsen with time. Achalasia is rare and at this time there is no cure for it. The goal of treatment is to manage the uncomfortable symptoms associated with it.
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a valve/door within the esophagus that closes once food moves beyond the esophagus to allow the stomach’s acid to start breaking it down. Acid reflux or heartburn takes place when food and stomach acid flow back into the esophagus as a result of the LES failing to completely close. Consistent occurrence of this back-flow may lead to the development of Barrett’s esophagus–the alteration of the cells that line the esophagus, which are precancerous. Individuals with Barrett’s esophagus are at greater risk for esophageal cancer.
Healthcare providers will diagnose esophageal cancer by assessing symptoms in addition to performing diagnostic tests. Success of treatment is contingent upon the timing of discovery, stage, and grade.
The Wrap Up: Lifestyle Changes
Fortunately, several of these risk factors can be eliminated with lifestyle modifications.
Refrain from using tobacco and alcohol.
Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
Avoiding overuse of Proton Pump Inhibitor Medications (PPIs) for longer than 3 months.
Decreasing intake of foods that cause excessive bloating, which can push acid back up the lower esophageal sphincter and up into the esophagus.
Avoid emotional or stress eating by incorporating stress relieving techniques into your daily routine.
Integrate regular exercise and regularly move your body.
Decrease foods that cause intestinal hyper-permability, AKA leaky gut including: high saturated fat in high fat meats; dairy; and coconut or palm oil, large amounts of refined sugar, grains, and other refined carbohydrates.
We hope you continue to Heal with Each Meal!
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