Do you suffer from Digestive Issues – and don’t even realize it?

So much depends upon a healthy, happy digestive system. Our digestive system is the gastrointestinal tract which includes: the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. It also includes the accessory organs of digestion: the tongue, salivary glands, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. The process of digestion involves the breakdown of food into very small components that can be absorbed and assimilated into the body. From the process of breaking down and absorbing the nutrients in food the body gets the necessary components and energy to live.

There are several steps in the process of digestion.

The first and probably the most overlooked is preparing to eat. Our bodies prepare for food by secreting various enzymes and gastric acid in anticipation of food. When we see and smell food, remember or imagine what it may taste like, the salivary glands do their thing, secreting fluid that includes enzymes that breakdown starch and kill microorganisms like viruses and bacteria. The stomach starts to secrete gastric acid and other enzymes to prepare for the arrival of food. These enzymes and gastric acid are crucial to the rest of the digestive process.

The next step in the digestive process is chewing. So simple. We need to chew our food. A lot. Not chewing enough means the food we eat may not get broken down enough once it enters the rest of the digestive tract.

Once food is swallowed and hits the stomach gastric acid secretion increases which kills micro-organisms and causes the release of other enzymes that help us breakdown and absorb protein and other nutrients. The food stays in the stomach a while, roughly 2 hours, and then gets dumped into the duodenum, the first part of the intestines. If we are not secreting enough gastric acid the digestive process can be inhibited, micro-organisms may overgrow in the gut, and reflux may occur. Not enough stomach acid can lead to malabsorption of nutrients while too much acidity can lead to issues like reflux, ulcers, and pain.

The duodenum is where a lot of digestive action takes place. The pancreas, gallbladder and liver secrete digestive enzymes and bile in response to the acidity of broken down, partially liquified food from the stomach called chyme. If the chyme is not acidic enough the pancreas, gallbladder and liver may not get enough stimuli for secretion. The secretions of these organs are vital to the digestive process and many issues may arise if this process is inhibited including malabsorption, malnutrition, and irritable bowel syndrome. Much of the breakdown of food to an absorbable form happens in the duodenum.

After the broken food or chyme leaves the duodenum it enters into the rest of small intestine called the jejunum and then the end section called the ileum. The jejunum is the primary area for absorption and the ileum absorbs the rest. Some issues that can arise in these areas are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), leaky gut, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth.

From the small intestine, the chyme passes through the ileocecal valve into the large intestine. The major function of the large intestine is to absorb water from the remaining indigestible chyme and then form what is left into feces and eliminate it. The large intestine is also where most of the gut bacteria live. The gut bacteria ‘eat’ some of the indigestible bits of the chyme and produce some nutrients for us. The bacteria play a critical role in not only our gut health but our overall health and wellbeing.