Happy new year… it’s a phrase we trot out without really thinking about it. But if your body had a say, what sort of things might it be asking for to make it “happy” this new year?
As gastrointestinal doctors, we deal with the outcome of many poor lifestyle choices, which can lead to both short-term and long-term digestive damage. So, if you’re serious about having a happy new year, maybe it’s time to change some of your bad habits and develop some healthy new ones instead.
Here are some of our suggestions for top healthy new year habits (as voted for by your tummy!):
1. Quit smoking
We often hear about the damage to lungs caused by smoking but the habit is also linked to a number of digestive problems. It increases the risk of cancers of the stomach, oesophagus, mouth and pancreas. It may also increase the risk of colon, rectum and liver cancer.
Smoking is linked to common disorders of the digestive system such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), heartburn and peptic ulcers, and it increases the chances of developing Crohn’s disease, colon polyps and pancreatitis.
2. Cut back on alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can upset your finely balanced digestive system and cause stomach discomfort and diarrhoea. It can also cause or exacerbate stomach ulcers.
3. Avoid overeating
It is better for your digestive system to eat smaller more frequent meals.
4. Go to the toilet when you need to
Ignoring the urge to go for a poo can lead to discomfort and constipation. The symptoms of constipation are going for a poo less than once every three days, straining on the toilet, having poo that is hard and difficult to pass or feeling like your bowel hasn’t emptied properly.
When the rectum is full and needs to be emptied, your body will send a message to your brain telling you that you need to go for a poo. Ignoring this urge for a short while won’t generally do any harm but if you get into the habit of doing so your poo can become very hard and difficult to pass.
This is because the longer a poo is held in the rectum the more water is absorbed from it. Passing hard poo can lead to fissures (tears in the anal canal). In some cases, repeatedly ignoring the urge to go to the toilet may lead to a loss of sensation in the rectum making it difficult to know when you need to go to the toilet and leading to chronic constipation.
5. Go for screening
Bowel cancer screening is automatically offered on the NHS to people over the age of 60 in England and Wales, 50 in Scotland.
Private bowel cancer screening can be undertaken at any age. It is important to attend for screening if you are offered an appointment or if you have any concerns (such as noticing blood in your poo, changes in bowel habits or unexplained tiredness).
It can detect bowel cancer early when the chances of successful treatment are highest. Screening enables your doctor to identify and remove growths in the colon (polyps) which can become cancerous over time if left untreated. It may save your life.