How are your bowels?

I only ask because, according to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 60-70 million Americans have digestive health issues each year, meaning that many of you are currently irregular, constipated, gassy, bloated, gurgling, cramping and/or queasy. More than just a case of the butterflies, these digestive system problems are putting a serious cramp in people’s lives. Whether you have a sluggish or spastic colon, before reaching for the Pepto, consider these tips, which will have you feeling regular before you know it

Ramp up the fiber in your diet. Look for whole grains (particularly in breakfast cereals like All-Bran) and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, including most legumes, broccoli, peas, carrots, apples, pears, strawberries and bananas.

Try probiotics, which are foods or supplements containing live microorganisms thought to be beneficial “friendly” bacteria. Probiotics are commonly found in foods like yogurt (such as Activia) and miso.

Avoid foods that cause the problems to begin with, such as processed, greasy, fatty, fried foods and sugar, which are more difficult for your stomach to break down.

Eat smaller meals. Large meals cause your digestive system to work too hard. Give yourself a break and spread out your intake to as many as six meals a day. Eat healthy snacks between meals, too.

Eat slowly. Pace yourself and savor your food instead of shoveling and guzzling. You will also likely feel full before your plate is clean.

Hydrate. Drink plenty of water with every meal and throughout the day. Lack of water causes dehydration, which taxes the digestive system and can be dangerous if fluids are not quickly replenished. The 8 x 8 daily rule is still the standard (eight 8-ounce glasses).

Exercise. It’s pretty much a cure-all, folks, so get used to seeing that word in these columns. At least make a habit of taking a walk, especially after a big meal if you happen to over-indulge.

Lose weight if the scale is tipping toward an unhealthy number. Too much weight is a sure sign that you are not eating right or exercising, and both are known to improve your digestive health.

Elevate your mood. Anxiety, stress and depression can all bring on gastrointestinal problems, so find ways to avoid negative emotions.

Give complementary therapies a shot. Acupuncture is widely known to improve digestion. Supplements like aloe leaf, which has been found to act as a cleansing, detoxifying agent for the digestive tract, can also be beneficial. And there are those who swear by the benefits of colon hydrotherapy, which flushes the large intestine with filtered water.

Always consult a physician with your medical questions and concerns.    

For more information, go to  www.nih.gov.

Lisa Snider is a local freelance writer. For more, go to www.LisaSnider.com.