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Turning Food Into Energy — August 2019

Turning Food Into Energy — August 2019


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Keeping Your Digestive System Healthy

Do you ever wonder how the blueberries or chicken you eat get broken down into fuel for the body? The digestive system is made up of organs that each have different roles in processing proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and liquids. Each organ works to break food into smaller parts and move nutrients to where they can be absorbed. Spoiler: the next section describes the digestion process; skip if you don’t want the details!

The Digestion Process

Digestion starts when you put food in your mouth. It immediately mixes with saliva which has an enzyme that breaks down starches. Once food has been chewed, your tongue pushes it into the throat, which leads to the esophagus. The brain signals the muscles of the esophagus to push the food downward into the stomach. The muscle of the stomach mixes food and liquid with stomach acids.

From the stomach, food moves into the small intestine. Digestive juices produced by the pancreas are secreted into the small intestine to break down protein, fats and carbohydrates. The liver produces another digestive juice called bile that helps digest fats and vitamins. Helpful bacteria also do their part to process carbohydrates.

The walls of the small intestine absorb digested nutrients to give us energy and allow for growth and cell repair. The liver plays an important role by using the raw materials absorbed by the small intestine and triggers the release of chemicals the body needs to function.

What enters the small intestine is semi-solid and what comes out of this 22-foot organ is liquid. The leftover (waste) liquid enters the large intestine or colon, a 6-foot tube that connects to the rectum. As the liquid moves through the large intestine, water is removed and a stool is formed, which is excreted from the body through the rectum and anus.

Image courtesy of NIDDK, NIH

Keeping It Healthy

Even if you’d rather not have a mental image of how food moves through your body, you may wonder what you can do to keep things moving well without discomfort! Experiencing stomach upset, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea and gas occasionally is normal. But when they happen often, your life can be affected, in a bad way.

Diet and lifestyle habits are key to a healthy digestive tract. First the bad news: foods high in carbohydrates, saturated fats and additives are linked to an increased risk of developing digestive problems ranging from bloating and heartburn to ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But the good news is that if you eat a healthy diet of “real food” and avoid processed foods, you can improve your digestion. Pick whole foods like vegetables (legumes are veggies too!), fruits, nuts, fish and chicken. Avoid packaged food which tends to have highly processed ingredients, unhealthy fats and excess salt. Try eating and drinking mindfully — chewing slowly and enjoying each bite and sip. Pay attention to when you are hungry, and when you are full. Overeating can make you feel bloated and sluggish because the digestive system is overloaded. Undereating can cause nausea and malnutrition.

While some medical conditions require that you limit high-fiber foods, most people need fiber in their diets for good digestion. Soluble and insoluble fiber keep things moving along. The soluble fiber in oatmeal, legumes, apples, citrus, nuts and seeds help add bulk to your stool. Insoluble fiber in carrots, cauliflower, legumes, potatoes and whole grains act like a broom to move waste through the digestive tract. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found that people who eat a high-fiber diet have a reduced risk for developing ulcers, reflux, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and IBS.

If you suffer from constipation, you may not be drinking enough fluids. Experts recommend drinking 50 to 66 ounces of non-caffeinated fluids a day. If your water bottle holds 12 oz, then you need to drink and refill it 4-6 times a day, maybe more if you work outside in warmer climates or are exercising vigorously. You can count herbal teas and flavored seltzer water towards the goal. Vegetables and fruits that are high in water, such as cucumber, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, melons, peaches, and strawberries, can help meet the daily requirement too. Caffeinated coffee, tea and sodas count against the goal because caffeine causes fluid to be drawn out of the body. While fruit juices and other drinks are technically fluids, they aren’t always the best option because of the added sugar. Even natural sugar from concentrated juices can add up in the calorie department.

Stress, that thing that motivates us to get stuff done, can also affect digestion. Experiencing regular stress sends signals to the brain and diverts blood and energy away from the digestive system. Chronic stress is associated with stomach ulcers, IBS, diarrhea and constipation. There are many techniques for managing stress. Pick one or more that work for you, such as meditation, relaxation training, yoga, talk therapy, acupuncture and exercise.

Speaking of exercise, it is one of the best ways to improve digestion. Besides helping to relieve stress, anxiety and depression, it can speed up digestion. One NIH study showed that cycling, jogging or other moderate exercise increased gut “travel time” by almost 30%. Other studies showed that 30 minutes of daily exercise (including walking) can lessen constipation and reduce inflammation associated with IBS.

Some habits just aren’t great for your overall health, but they specifically wreak havoc with digestion. Smoking and drinking alcohol increase the risk of developing acid reflux and other digestive issues. Eating late at night and then lying down often leads to heartburn. Our bodies need time to digest what we eat and staying upright keeps food moving in the right direction. Try to allow 3 hours after eating before lying down.

Medicines & Digestion

Prescription and over-the-counter medications can affect your digestion. Antihistamines, iron and narcotic pain killers (opioids) can cause constipation. Taking too many laxatives can also have the surprising effect of constipating you. Some medicines like antidepressants can cause constipation or diarrhea; medicines affect people differently.

Other medicines that may cause diarrhea are antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole) and chemotherapy drugs.

Regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib) can contribute to  heartburn.  

Burps, Gas and Bloating

A 7-year old’s favorite topics can be burping and passing gas! But having to burp or pass gas at the wrong time can be embarrassing. You can reduce burping and feeling bloated by eating and drinking slowly, avoiding carbonated beverages, and skipping gum and hard candies (allows more air in through your mouth). To relieve symptoms of bloating, avoid or limit broccoli, baked beans, cabbage and cauliflower.

Passing gas is normal; it’s a sign that bacteria in the bowel are helping with digestion. If it happens more than about 18-20 times a day or is a concern, try limiting the vegetables listed above; dairy products (ask your provider if you could be lactose-intolerant); and starches like wheat, oats, corn and potatoes. Rice is less gas-producing.

Be sure to mention any digestion concerns you have to your provider. If you have severe abdominal pain, blood in the stool or vomit that looks like coffee grounds, seek medical attention right away. KnovaSolutions can provide detailed information about digestive concerns, including how to manage chronic conditions. We’ll also help you adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Call us at 800/355-0885, Monday to Friday, 8 am-8 pm, Mountain Time.

Click here to view/download the full newsletter. We encourage you to leave a comment or question below and a KnovaSolutions nurse or pharmacist will reply.

The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider.  If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.


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Work-Life Integration — July 2019

Work-Life Integration — July 2019


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A 21st Century Take on Work-Life Balance

The concept of work-life balance was introduced in the 1970’s as baby boomers struggled to balance their careers, families, friends and hobbies with staying healthy. The idea is to ‘balance’ your work with your private life. Work-life balance means focusing on your job when at work and making time outside of work to enjoy family and friends, as well as engage in other activities you enjoy.

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Medication Benefits and Risks — June 2019

Medication Benefits and Risks — June 2019


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Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?

Taking medicine is part of a daily routine for many people. Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC)medications treat disease and improve health in many ways. Lowering cholesterol, fighting infection, controlling blood sugar levels, reducing pain—these are just some of the helpful effects. Along with the benefits of feeling better and getting well, medicines also pose the risk of unwanted side effects or unexpected adverse events.

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Food for Thought — May 2019

Food for Thought — May 2019


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Healthy Food and Other Ways to Feed Your Brain

Our brains never rest. They hold down a highly specialized 24/7 job. As one of our largest and most complex organs, the brain contains more than 100 billion nerves that communicate through synapses, or connections, to control thinking, breathing, memory, sleep, hearing, digestion, feelings, heart rate, and so much more. Think of your brain as your body’s command center; it controls everything! Weighing just 3 pounds, the brain has a hefty job.

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Is Breaking News Breaking You? — February 2019

Is Breaking News Breaking You? — February 2019


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How to Stay Informed while Minimizing Stress

Almost two-thirds of all Americans say that the daily news causes them stress, according to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey. Feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless, irritable and worn out are some of the symptoms of “headline stress disorder,” a phrase coined by psychologist Steven Stosny.

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Managing Your Weight — January 2019

Managing Your Weight — January 2019


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For a Healthy Body and Mind

Carrying excess weight takes a toll on every part of the body. It affects walking, breathing, sleeping and mood, and can have a negative impact on quality of life. Being overweight can also increase the risk of developing serious medical conditions. The risk might rise from the stress the heart and joints suffer from carrying extra pounds. Or it may be due to complex changes in hormones and metabolism (how the body uses calories and fat).

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Over-the-Counter Medications — December 2018

Over-the-Counter Medications — December 2018

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Taking These (and Supplements) Safely

Over-the-counter medications (OTC) are easy to find at the store. They offer relief from common health problems like stuffy noses, seasonal allergies and achy muscles. They also can help prevent problems like constipation and nausea. You may feel empowered to solve a health issue without having to see your primary care provider for advice or a prescription.
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Complementing Your Medical Care — October 2018

Complementing Your Medical Care — October 2018

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With Approaches That Benefit Your Health

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 30 percent of adults use healthcare approaches developed outside of mainstream western medicine. These approaches are called complementary and alternative —terms that are often used interchangeably. However, it is important to note that they are different.

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Calcium and Vitamin D — September 2018

Calcium and Vitamin D — September 2018

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Essential Nutrients that Work Hand-in-Hand

No matter our age, our bodies need calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth, as well as other important functions. However, without enough vitamin D, calcium can’t be absorbed by the body. What happens then? The body draws from calcium stored in the bones, which weakens them and can lead to osteoporosis, a condition where bones become fragile, brittle and prone to breaks. Maintaining calcium and vitamin D levels in a healthy range over your lifetime can help prevent the risks of weak bones, teeth and other potential issues.

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Common Medical Conditions — August 2018

Common Medical Conditions — August 2018

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Can They Be Prevented or Reversed?

Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. One in two adults has a chronic disease and one in four has two or more, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

When it comes to our health, there are things we can’t control and those that we can try to influence. We can’t change our genetic makeup, gender, race or age—some of the factors that can make us more likely to develop a chronic medical condition. However, many health conditions are caused by lifestyle factors that we do have some ability to manage—our diet, exercise, stress management, weight and smoking habits.

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Ah, Summertime! — July 2018

Ah, Summertime! — July 2018

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How to Enjoy It While Staying Safe

Picnics, roasting marshmallows, swimming, camping, fishing—you name it—these are the treasures of summer. With longer days and schools closed, summer often means vacation time. But even if your summer doesn’t include a vacation, you’ve likely shed some layers and are spending more time outdoors. Being outside is a great way to reboot and revive the mind. To make the most of this more relaxed season, remember to take a few precautions to keep you and your family safe.

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Working Smart — June 2018

Working Smart — June 2018

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Finding Your Way to Workplace Wellness

Fulltime workers spend, on average, more than one-third of their day, five days per week at their place of work. We rely heavily on the fruits of our labor: skills, confidence, camaraderie, and most importantly, an income. Since our work life is so important to our livelihood, it makes sense to work smart. Workplace health and wellness includes activities and policies designed to promote the well-being of employees, support health behavior in the workplace, and decrease the risks of injuries. Employees can experience greater job satisfaction by making some key adjustments in the workplace.

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The Path to Emotional Wellness — May 2018

The Path to Emotional Wellness — May 2018

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How to Improve Your Resiliency

Your mental health and wellness affects practically every aspect of your life—how you think, feel and act at home and work, with family, friends, colleagues and the general public. People who are emotionally healthy tend to go about their day with a sense of purpose. They engage in enjoyable activities and balance them with their work and family life. They have fulfilling relationships and have a positive outlook.

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Why It’s Important to Have a PCP — April 2018

Why It’s Important to Have a PCP — April 2018

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And What to Do When Your PCP Isn’t Available

Your primary care provider (PCP) is that professional you see every year or so for preventive screening or more often if you are managing ongoing health concerns. S/he’s also the one you call when you get sick or develop concerning new symptoms. But, what if your PCP isn’t available? Your options depend upon the circumstances.

Wait, Back Up!

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Is Personalized Medicine for You? — January 2018

Is Personalized Medicine for You? — January 2018

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Evolving Field of Medicine Offers Promise

Healthcare providers have always sought to individualize care for their patients. But now, advances in medical research allow providers to study a person’s genes, offering another tool to guide decisions about preventing, diagnosing and treating disease. Personalized medicine, also called precision or individualized medicine, is an evolving field where providers use genetic testing to understand how a person’s disease risks are unique. Used alongside information about family history, symptoms and environmental factors, genetic testing can help providers prevent illness and/or determine which treatments will work best.

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How Walking Can Extend Life — December 2017

How Walking Can Extend Life — December 2017

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Even Minimal Walking Offers Health Benefits

You don’t have to run or bike intensively to get the health advantages of regular exercise. A new study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) showed that 120 minutes or less of moderate-intensity walking each week can add longevity to your life. 120 minutes? That’s less than 18 minutes a day!

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Confusing Cancer Terminology — November 2017

Confusing Cancer Terminology — November 2017

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Making Sense During Difficult Times

Almost 13 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer every year. People may experience unexplained pain, weight loss, fatigue and other symptoms followed by screening tests, imaging, and maybe biopsies before getting the dreaded diagnosis. Learning that you or a loved one has cancer is overwhelming and stressful.

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It’s Not Just Flu Shot Season — October 2017

It’s Not Just Flu Shot Season — October 2017

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Time to Review Your Vaccination Status

Vaccines are among the most cost-effective prevention services around. They do more than protect you from getting preventable diseases; they also reduce the spread of disease. If you’ve been vaccinated for an infectious disease (measles, chickenpox, hepatitis, influenza, etc.), you greatly reduce the risk of getting that disease and the chance of spreading it to others who are not immune.

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Suffer From Low Back Pain? — September 2017

Suffer From Low Back Pain? — September 2017

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A Look at Alternative/Complementary Therapies

The U.S. spends $90 billion a year on back pain! That’s more than the combined cost of care for high blood pressure, pregnancy AND depression. Back pain is one of the top reasons people see their doctor and the leading reason people miss work. Lost time and productivity is estimated to cost another $10-20 billion.

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