Q: Would you comment on recent advancements in medical procedures?
A: One of the major developments occurring in the field is imaging of the colon. For instance, there is now what is called virtual colonoscopy, where the entire colon can be visualized by means of a CAT scan. We do not know yet the full utilization of this method because it is still under research. There are also new methods of using laser therapy and other therapies to prevent damage to the esophagus from acid, and changes in the cells that eventually can lead to cancer.
Major developments have also happened in our understanding of ulcers. Now that we know the major cause of ulcers is bacteria, we can treat the bacteria and thus eliminate the underlying cause of ulcers in many people. There is also improved understanding of how the gastrointestinal tract contracts, and moves food through the intestines. This is important because eventually it will lead to a better understanding of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and hopefully to better therapy.
Q: What can Americans do to ensure that they have a healthy digestive system? What's the best dietary advice you can give?
A: Since the gastrointestinal tract's main function is to take food, break it down and absorb it, let's talk a little bit about what's the best food to put into the gastrointestinal tract.
There has been tremendous research done on what a healthy diet is. This is a very complex area. But a healthy diet has been found to prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of certain cancers and maintain general health. There are four principles of a healthy diet: 1) Avoid consuming too many calories, which results in weight gain and obesity; 2) Cut fat intake to no more than 20 percent of total calories; 3) Consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables; and 4) Make sure that there is an adequate amount of fiber in the diet.
Let's elaborate a little bit on these four principles. First of all, people should not overeat. Overeating makes you feel full, creates a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms and, of course, is the underlying cause for obesity, which is a major health problem. So everybody should define the number of calories they need in order to maintain a healthy weight, and try to stick to them by having a reasonable eating plan and not overeating.
With regard to how much fat one should consume, numerous studies have shown that diets containing about 20 percent of total calories in the form of fat are healthiest.
The third principle is fruits and vegetables. Clearly, Americans do not eat an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are sources of many compounds that can maintain health. We recommend that the average person consume at least five to eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The average American eats about half the recommended amount.
The average American also consumes only half the recommended amount of fiber. A typical American diet includes about 12 to 14 grams daily, and we recommend that about 25 to 35 grams of fiber be consumed.