It has become routine in popular culture to reduce stomach and digestive issues to crude jokes about flatulence or having “bad guts.” Comedic scenes, including one made famous by John Witherspoon in the “Friday” film series, depict people chowing down on all manner of foods, and then running full speed with their stomachs in turmoil to the nearest bathroom. Witherspoon’s “Pop” character uses the refrain, “Get out of the way, y’all know I’ve got these bad guts!” all the way to the commode. While it is good for a quick giggle, the implications of poor digestive health, are no laughing matter.

An estimated 60 to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases, many of which began as minor and avoidable ailments in childhood. Most concerning about these numbers is the seeming disconnect between what we ingest and how it either nourishes or depletes our overall health. In 2018, for instance, thousands of young adults were treated in emergency rooms across the nation for stomach complaints after consuming Frito-Lay Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

The seasoning of the product — maltodextrin, salt, sugar, monosodium glutamate, yeast extract, citric acid, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, and Yellow 5 — can lead to severe abdominal pain, ulcers, erosions, peptic ulcer disease, and gastritis, according to a Medical Daily report. And despite the warnings, schools in California, New Mexico and Illinois have had to ban Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Takis, and other spicy snacks from their campuses because students could not get enough of them.

“I loved the fact that the Cheetos were super-hot, and my friends and I would wash them down with Coke or root beer every day during 11th and 12th grade. We laughed about how it tore our stomachs up,” 19-year-old Tabitha York told the Informer. “Last year that belching and burning in my stomach turned into acid reflux that was so bad it made me breathless like I had asthma.”

York said eating spicy foods seemed a natural progression to adulthood in the same way adults drink whiskey or other hard liquors that “burn going down.” She also said she never connected the burn with potential long-term damage to her digestive system.

“When I saw that Chadwick Boseman had died from colon cancer, it made me take pause because it was reported that he didn’t find out until it was Stage 3. That made me think that maybe there were warning signs – like my burning stomach or constipation – that most of us ignore that delayed his seeking help,” York said. “It was life-altering for me to comprehend that I could shorten my life by not taking my digestion seriously.”

This may be easier said than done for most Americans if recent research on colorectal screenings is considered. With advanced screenings readily available, a Transnational Behavioral Medicine study found that nearly half of the home screening kits for colorectal cancer issued by physicians are ever returned for evaluation.

“The nation seems to have an aversion to discussing poop. We watch some of the most gratuitous and explicit things on television and can talk a blue streak about most things, but feel uncomfortable getting real about the color, consistency, frequency, and smell of our poop,” homeopath Duonne Adams said. “Your poop indicates the fitness of your organs and bodily systems. It offers insight into weaknesses and failures in your body that are life-threatening. It’s time to stop whingeing and start winning.”

The very real connections between what we eat, how well we digest food and eliminate waste, and our overall health, are the focus of “Gastronomics: A Washington Informer Quick Guide to Good Digestive Health.” Let’s end the ‘bad guts’ punchlines in 2021!

Read, Learn, Grow (and Heal)!

Dr. S

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Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman

Dr. Shantella Sherman is a historian and journalist who serves as the Informer's Special Editions Editor. Dr. Sherman is the author of In Search of Purity: Eugenics & Racial Uplift Among New Negroes...

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