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GI North Blog

Caffeine According to the FDA, eighty percent of adults consume coffee everyday. With our days growing increasingly demanding, it’s no surprise that we have to have our caffeine fix daily! Caffeine is a stimulant found in products such as coffee, tea, cocoa, soda, and some medications. Caffeine makes us more alert, speeds up our metabolisms, and even enhances our moods. But, with all those benefits, too much caffeine can be harsh on your digestive system. Let’s look at it’s effect on your GI Tract.


Caffeine may get you going in the morning, but part of the effect of the drug is that it increases the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. Your heart beats faster and you get a boost of energy, but the blood supply to the intestines decreases. This reduction in supply of blood slows digestion.

Increased Peristalsis (We’ll explain further…)

Caffeine acts as a laxative and increases the muscle contractions (known as peristalsis) that move food through the digestive system. This effect can happen pretty quickly after you consume your coffee. Ever wonder why Great Uncle Herb was cranky if he didn’t have his coffee in the morning? You got your answer.

Increased Diuresis

Caffeine acts as a diuretic. Blood flow to the kidneys is increased, resulting in increased urine production. Increased urine can lead to dehydration, which in turn can contribute to constipation. Drink plenty of water to compensate for the loss of fluids.

Gastric Secretions

That just sounds bad, doesn’t it? Caffeine is acidic, increasing the acidity in your digestive system. In turn, your body produces more gastric juices. This can irritate the intestinal lining, leading to upset stomach. Excessive amounts of caffeine can cause ulcers and gastritis. Caffeine can worsen symptoms if you have gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

Keep in mind that reasonable amounts of caffeine in most healthy adults is considered safe. The FDA says that it’s safe to drink one to two cups of coffee per day (that’s up to 200 milligrams, not two supersized travel mugs-worth). Caffeine should be avoided if you have certain health problems including heart disease, hypertension, or disorders of the gastrointestinal system.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

Wheat Allergy Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you have most likely noticed the emergence of a wide variety of gluten free products. From pancake mixes, to bagels and muffins, to even pastas and sauces. It’s a highly sought-after group of food products due to the increased awareness of wheat’s affect on some people. But, not all digestive problems stemming from wheat are the same. Let’s look at the difference between having actual Celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity, and having a wheat allergy.

Both gluten sensitivity, or celiac disease, and a wheat allergy occur after consumption of wheat. The difference in these conditions, however, is what happens inside your body after you’ve eaten the wheat. Gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune problem, whereas an allergic reaction to wheat is a type of hypersensitivity.

Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity is a genetic predisposition to an autoimmune reaction against a specific protein found in wheat products like wheat, barley and rye. Once the protein, gliadin, is introduced into the body, an enzyme causes inflammation in the small bowel. The inflammation then prevents the villi in the small bowel from absorbing nutrients properly. Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are no longer absorbed properly. It is important to note that gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune disease, where a patient’s immune system attacks its own body.

The most common symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity are fatigue and diarrhea, however, to see more, click here.

Wheat allergy

Wheat allergy is a type 1 hypersensitivity that occurs when a person’s immune system actively attacks foreign allergens. In this case, the allergens are from wheat products. When a person consumes wheat, it is attacked by a wide variety of host cells such as basophils, mast cells, and immunoglobulins. Dryness, itching and inflammation may occur at the site of the reaction.

If you think you may have one of the following problems stemming from wheat, the best thing to do is consult with the doctors at GI North to determine what next steps will help you eliminate the uncomfortable side effects of eating wheat.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

IBS Physical activity may ease your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms and also prevent them from getting worse. IBS is marked by daily symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping and either diarrhea, constipation or both. While anxiety, stress and depression do not cause IBS, there is a correlation between the two. If stress causes IBS symptoms to worsen, then reducing stress can keep symptoms at bay.

Get Moving

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which reduce anxiety, stress and pain. Endorphins also help your digestive system work properly and may help with regular bowel function. If you’d like to begin an exercise regimen to combat your IBS symptoms, first talk with your doctor at GI North.

There are many forms of exercise that may be beneficial for IBS symptom relief and some of them may include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Cardiovascular exercise (rigorous walking, running, swimming,cycling, aerobics)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Prayer and meditation

Try exercising for no less than 30 minutes a day/ 5 days a week to relieve abdominal pain and cramping, and to regulate bowel movements. Again, talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

IBS About 20 % of the U.S. population suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and if you’re one of them, you understand how frustrating even a normal daily schedule can be. The persistent abdominal pain, cramping, spasm, bloating and gas production, combined with constipation, diarrhea or both, can have a great impact on your quality of life.

While there’s no cure yet for IBS, there are proven links between your diet and symptoms of IBS. Knowing what foods trigger your symptoms and what foods can ease the discomfort should keep your gastrointestinal problems minimized.

Each Person is Different

IBS sufferers fall into one of the following groups:

There are 3 types of IBS patients. They are divided into the following groups:

  • IBS-D – IBS patients/diarrhea predominant
  • IBS-C – IBS patients/constipation predominant
  • IBS-A – IBS patients/constipation alternating with diarrhea

Because each person is different, the types of foods that influence symptoms are different as well. That’s why it’s important to keep a food journal. Keeping record of what you eat and how it and other outside factors affect your symptoms can guide you on what you can and shouldn’t eat in order to minimize symptoms.

Foods that have been identified that may cause the most intense symptoms of IBS have been divided into the following categories:

For patients with gas and bloating:

  • Vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas and onions
  • Beans and nuts such as soybeans, peanuts, lentils, black and red beans, and garbanzo beans
  • Certain fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, figs and raisins

For patients with cramping and diarrhea:

  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese and ice cream
  • Greasy foods, fried foods, or meals that are too high in fat
  • Certain beverages such as coffee, caffeine, alcohol, diet and regular sodas
  • Insoluble fiber found in certain whole grains such as wheat, barley or rye
  • Artificial sweeteners, especially sorbitol and fructose, as these are poorly absorbed by the bowel

For patients with constipation symptoms the key is to actually consume more of the following:

  • More whole grains and cereals
  • More dried beans, nuts, peas, and seeds as tolerated
  • More fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Increased fluid intake, especially 6-8 glasses of water daily

By tweaking your diet and minimizing those “trigger foods,” you may be able to keep your IBS Symptoms under control, and experience a less stressful quality of life.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

Stress can affect your body and central nervous system in more ways than you think, so it should be no surprise that stress can impact how well your digestive system works.

Here’s Why

Acid Reflux When you’re under stress, your body begins transferring blood from your internal organs to the muscles as a way to cope with stress. When the blood leaves your digestive system in order to go to the muscles, your digestive process slows down, leaving food less digested and in the stomach longer than it should be. Undigested food is one of the primary factors leading to acid reflux.

As the digestive system slows and food builds up in your stomach, the level of gastric acid rises, building pressure against the mechanism designed to keep food from coming back up into your esophagus. That mechanism is known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). If the pressure is great enough, stomach acid will escape into the esophagus, because the contents of the stomach have put too much pressure on the LES.

When the gastric acid enters the esophagus it can trigger a number of acid reflux and stress symptoms such as heartburn. In chronic cases of acid reflux, the gastric acid can reach up into the throat; causing severe sore throat and bad breath.

Learn to Minimize Stress for Greater Comfort

While some of us may resort to drinking or eating “comfort foods” that are high in fat, the comforting results are brief. They ultimately will only exacerbate your acid reflux symptoms.

Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach and intestinal tract; and it kills a lot of the good bacteria in your system that are responsible for proper digestion. Alcohol relaxes you, but also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter. It stays open longer and allows more gastric juices to flow back up.

Instead of treating yourself to a couple of glasses of wine, or indulging in a plate of fried chicken fingers and fries, stop connecting food with comfort, and try taking time for yourself. Make sure you are relaxed before eating, and your digestive system will most likely work better when you do eat.

If you suffer from chronic acid reflux or poor digestion, we recommend you schedule a time to talk with our doctors at GI North. They specialize in treating acid reflux and other related digestive conditions.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

Probiotics After years of study, scientists do have evidence that probiotics are beneficial to our health. While probiotics are traditionally found in fermented milk products such as yogurt, food producers are adding probiotics to a variety of foods. These probiotic-enhanced foods are often known as functional foods and have exploded onto the food market. So, with new products entering the market daily that contain these healthy bacteria, could adding some functional foods to your diet be the ticket to a healthier digestive tract?

Probiotics and Their Benefits

Probiotics are live microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast in a person’s digestive tract that provide a health benefit to their host by reducing toxic and allergenic substances in the intestine and colon. In fact, did you know that the human body contains well over a trillion bacteria weighing more than 3 lbs. in all? There’s a new fact to impress people with.


Probiotics encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. They also reduce the inflammatory response to dairy products, helping with the digestion of lactose in milk. Also, Lactobacillus acidophilus helps you absorb B vitamins and vitamin K, along with fatty acids and minerals such as calcium.

Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast strain, helps control diarrhea. A particularly difficult strain of unfriendly bacteria, Clostridium difficile, upsets the balance of friendly and unfriendly bacteria in the colon after antibiotics have killed other microorganisms. Saccharomyces boulardii helps check the growth of Clostridium difficile.

Probiotics have proven benefits and could be just the solution your GI tract needs. If you have digestive problems, schedule a time with one of our doctors at GI North to determine if probiotics or other treatment can help relieve some of your symptoms.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

healthy food According to the New York Times, a new study indicates that women who consume omega-3 fatty acids from fish show a reduced risk for one kind of colon polyp.

While animal studies have pointed toward omega-3 fatty acids as possibly having anti-cancer effects, the results from human studies have been inconclusive. To gain more answers, researchers recruited 5,307 colonoscopy patients, 60 percent of them men, at two Tennessee hospitals over a seven-year period.

Of all the patients studied, 2,141 people had polyps, leaving 3,166 polyp-free controls. All patients were interviewed about diet, health habits and medical history.

After taking age, race, body mass index, smoking and other factors into account, the researchers found that women who consumed three or more servings of fish a week were 33 percent less likely than women in the lowest fifth to have adenomatous polyps, a type likely to become cancerous.

The researchers found no effect in men, and no effect of omega-3 consumption on hyperplastic polyps, which are more likely to be benign.

The American Cancer Society and the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) agree that screening for average risk individuals begins at age 50. Dr. Cofrancesco recommends routine colonoscopies if you are over the age of 50 or have a family member that has had colon cancer. If you are intimidated about having a colonoscopy, you can view our article: “Taking the Scary out of Colonoscopy.”

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

It's what’s Inside that matters

It's what’s inside that matters

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

Dr. Simon Cofrancesco This fascinating and rapidly growing area in medicine is about the ingestion of live bacteria -billions of them! These beneficial microorganisms are called probiotics, from pro and biota meaning “for life”. Naturally found in foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt, the Europeans have been consuming them regularly for centuries; however, their popularity in the United States is just now on the rise. Is this just a health trend or a truly viable treatment?

What Are They – Really?

Probiotics are “live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host” – us being the host. Most probiotic products contain bacteria from the genera Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, although other genera, including Escherichia, Enterococcus, Bacillus and Saccharomyces aren’t uncommon.

How Do They Work?

Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract serves to bridge the gap between “inside the body” and “outside the body”. Like all living creatures, as humans we play host to a multitude of microbes inside and outside our bodies – over 1000 different species of bacteria. They can be found in our mouths, in women’s vaginal tracts, throughout our gastrointestinal tract, and even on our skin. There are trillions of bacteria that normally reside in our GI tract, like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. It is the important balance of good vs. bad bacteria that helps to regulate our health in many ways. Their life cycle produces organic acids (lactic and acetic acids) that tend to lower the pH of the intestinal contents, creating conditions less desirable for harmful bacteria. Basically, these good guys – the probiotics – keep the toxin producing bad guys in check, and regulate our immune system in a positive way.

What Are The Benefits?

These live bacteria are safe to ingest since they are not disease causing and normally reside in our bodies. Probiotics are most frequently being used to treat common GI diseases like Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Ulcerative colitis and the side effects of Antibiotic Therapy. Studies also report that certain probiotics may play a role in: reducing the development of allergies in children, reducing hypertension, lowering cholesterol, easing Lactose Intolerance, treating and preventing vaginal and urinary infections in women, decreasing the risk of certain cancers and keeping healthy people healthy. In more serious cases, like C-DIFF, probiotic therapy can work in conjunction with traditional antibiotics. Over the past two years I have witnessed favorable results using Probiotics in the treatment of my IBS patients, and I recommend this treatment very often. There are rare exceptions where probiotics can be harmful, like people with severe immune dysfunction or the critically ill, so please consult your physician prior to any new regimen.

Europeans have practiced it for centuries and initial studies show that probiotic therapy works for the masses. Which strain is most effective or method of ingestion is best? We’re not sure. Many questions like these remain unanswered and additional studies are needed, but there is great promise that probiotic treatment will continue to grow and provide hope for those suffering from GI illnesses and other ailments.

Dr. Simon Cofrancesco is a gastroenterologist and physician owner of GI North, P.C., a gastroenterology medical practice located in Cumming, Georgia. Dr. Cofrancesco and his staff are dedicated to excellence in patient care related to gastroenterology. We value the trust patients place in us, and we work hard every day to earn & retain that trust. Dr. Cofrancesco is affiliated with Northside Hospital-Forsyth and performs procedures at the hospital. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Cofrancesco, please call 404-446-0600 or visit our website, here.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

To be completely honest, the prospect of having your first colonoscopy is worrisome. No matter how you look at the situation, the fact remains that you will definitely have a lighted tube (called a scope) inserted into your rectum in order for Dr. Cofrancesco at GI North to explore your rectum, colon, and large intestine. If that last sentence didn’t seem slightly invasive or make you the least bit nervous then congratulations, you’re a rock.

However, for the rest of us who still get a little scared when we hear the word colonoscopy, maybe there’s a way to ease those nerves and lessen the scary just a little. For instance, perhaps you could relax more if you knew about:

  • Colonoscopy details: Like the old NBC tagline, sometimes it’s easier to relax “the more you know.” If you’re the type of person that feels better about a medical procedure armed with all the detailed information, then Dr. Cofrancesco and the staff at GI North in Cumming, GA recommend reading their detailed colonoscopy page and the colonoscopy prep page.
  • Colonoscopies by the numbers: Simply saying something is routine isn’t comforting. Proving that something is routine is comforting. In his twenty-plus years of experience, Dr. Cofrancesco has performed thousands of colonoscopies. See… routine.
  • Colonoscopies and pain: Despite the fact that most residual pain from a colonoscopy does not occur from inserting the tube (it’s actually from inflating the large intestine with carbon dioxide gas), you can relax knowing that you will receive a sedative to keep you unconscious and unaware of any discomfort during the procedure.
  • Colonoscopies saving your life: Finally, maybe the only way to make you feel better about having a colonoscopy is putting the procedure in a larger perspective. The American Cancer Society estimates that colonoscopies have the potential to prevent 65% of colorectal cancer cases. 65%! Using this great screening tool, Dr. Cofrancesco not only examines your colon, rectum, and large intestine, but he can locate and remove pre-cancerous polyps as well.

Again, Dr. Cofrancesco and the staff at GI North in Cumming, GA understand that being intimidated by a colonoscopy is normal. But after you study the technical details, realize you can be sedated, and understand that this routine procedure can possibly save your life; maybe you will relax and stop being so scared of that lighted tube.

© 2012 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

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