Maintaining a healthy digestive system, or gut, could be the key to better health. When the gut – made up of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines – works properly, it absorbs nutrients from food, eliminates waste, communicates with the brain and supports healthy immune and nervous systems function.

But an unhealthy gut, if left untreated, can cause digestive diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These affect 60 to 70 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Signs of an unhealthy gut include an upset stomach, diarrhea and/or constipation, sudden weight gain or loss without lifestyle changes, disrupted sleep and constant fatigue.

“In general, a person has a healthy gut when the bacteria inside the gastrointestinal tract work together without causing symptoms or discomfort,” says Dr. Kelly Lara, M.D., a general surgeon with Northwest Healthcare’s Northwest General Surgery at Houghton.

“Gut health is a popular and complex topic that can seem overwhelming,” he says. “Luckily, for most people, simple lifestyle habits accomplish a lot.”

Dr. Lara recommends:

• Consume probiotics: Eat probiotics from naturally fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut to help create a healthy balance of gut bacteria.

• Eat well: Avoid highly processed foods and eat more fruits, vegetables, lean protein and fiber. A few great foods are apples, broccoli, salmon and quinoa.

• Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help improve gut health by increasing good bacteria and reducing stress.

• Hydrate: Drinking enough water is a simple way to improve gut health and prevent constipation. Eight glasses per day is the minimum, but you may need more on hot days.

• Reduce stress: Try walking, meditating and spending time with loved ones to help reduce stress and decrease inflammation in the gut.

• Make an appointment for a screening colonoscopy. Beginning at age 45, regular screenings are key to preventing colorectal cancer and to finding it early if it does develop.

“If you adopt these habits consistently, your gut will thank you,” Dr. Lara says. “However, if you still have digestive issues, make an appointment with a Gastroenterologist who can help figure out an individualized plan for your best health.”

To learn more about what Northwest Healthcare offers to help keep your gut healthy, visit

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About Northwest Healthcare
Northwest Healthcare is an integrated healthcare provider committed to delivering Tucson and surrounding communities with high quality, accessible healthcare. Northwest Healthcare includes Northwest Medical Center, Oro Valley Hospital, Northwest Medical Center Sahuarita, Northwest Medical Center Houghton, Northwest Emergency Centers in Vail and Marana, Northwest Urgent Cares, Northwest Women’s Center, Northwest Primary & Specialty Care, Northwest Tucson Surgery Center, Tucson Surgery Center and Northwest Transitions, an inpatient rehabilitation facility. To learn more, visit

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Lucretia Free