Digestive system myths – fact or fiction?

Posted on 30 May 2014

We spoke to Dr Naayil Rajabally, a gastroenterologist at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, about common digestive system myths that people seem to lap up every day.

IBS can be managed through diet alone.
False: The exact cause of IBS is still unknown and is thought to be multifactorial. Diet is thought to play a role in triggering IBS symptoms. Other hypothesised factors include gastrointestinal infections, hormonal influence and medications. So although dietary manipulation can aid IBS patients, very often medication is needed to provide relief to IBS symptoms.

If you are lactose intolerant you can’t eat any dairy.
False: Lactose intolerance is caused by the deficiency of an enzyme called lactase. This may be genetic or environmentally induced. Lactose, which is a sugar found in milk and dairy products, requires lactase to be broken down and absorbed from the small intestine into the blood stream. In lactose intolerance, this does not happen and lactose passes to the colon intact. Bacteria present in the colon then ferment the lactose, producing gaseous compounds that cause flatulence, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and abdominal rumblings. The lactose content of different dairy products varies and lactose intolerant people may still be able to digest lactose depending on their degree of lactase deficiency. They can also take lactase enzyme supplements or live yoghurt cultures containing lactobacilli that are able to digest the lactose in other dairy products.

Bowel regularity means a bowel movement every day.
False: There is a spectrum – generally three bowel motions a day to three times per week is considered normal. More importantly, you should observe whether there has been a deviation in your normal bowel pattern. Stool should be soft, cylindrical and easy to pass. The frequency may vary from time to time.

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