Many of us are unaware of the importance of a healthy digestive tract. All we know is that it is the channel by which our body receives nourishment to keep us going each day. But are we cognizant that many of our practices can adversely affect our digestive system? An unhealthy gut could cause disorders like diabetes, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and much more. Care of our gut should be given its due and steps should be followed to maintain or restore its health. Doing so would eliminate the occurrence of a wide range of diseases.
The gastrointestinal tracts work 24/7 to make us feel happy and healthy. It is responsible for digesting food, allowing nutrients to be absorbed into the body, and eliminating waste. Just imagine what happens if the system breaks down. This will most certainly lead to major health consequences.
The digestive system allows water and nutrients to flow into the body while preventing toxins and antigens to enter. But when the system is distressed, it becomes helpless, allowing dangerous substances to go into the body. Usually, the culprit for the breakdown concerns the foods eaten, and this is where proper nutrition comes in. A healthy diet will make the gut stronger and perform its guardian role. Consequently, this will improve the body’s health and well-being.
The workings of the digestive system
It has always been a misconception that the process of digestion starts in the stomach or the mouth. Taking the analysis further, the process starts in mind. When an individual is feeling stressed, his body will elevate the production of cortisol and other stress-hormones which will slow down the process of digestion.
The digestive system is one of the most physically involved systems in the body and does take a lot of energy to function. When an individual is subjected to stress, the body goes into a fight or flight mode. This means that the energy produced by the body is focused on survival and the digestion of food is set aside. This is how stress can affect the digestive process. Let us take a detailed look of our digestive process.
Mouth. The initial and physical digestion of food starts in the mouth. Aside from the mastication of food, other processes like the prevention and elimination of bacteria, fungal, and parasitic overgrowth are involved here. And to optimize this initial stage, one should chew food until the consistency of the liquid, if possible. The physical transformation is not all due to grinding but also on the action of digestive enzymes that the mouth secretes during mastication. Such enzymes are found in saliva and can break down carbohydrates.
It is never a good habit to swallow big particles of food as the enzymes in the stomach may have a hard time breaking them down, the next organ in the process. Chewing food properly will stimulate the stomach to produce digestive enzymes and acids, preparing it for the further and better digestion of the liquefied food.
Stomach. After the mouth, the stomach comes next. Once the chewed food reaches this organ, they are mixed with digestive acids and enzymes. HCl is a very corrosive substance and surprisingly, can be manufactured in the human body. It comes from bile from the gallbladder and the cells in the stomach walls and together with enzymes, are tasked to break down proteins into amino acids. In this form, such acids will be ready for absorption in the small intestine, the third stage.
There is a very good reason why foods need to be chewed properly, especially proteins. Undigested proteins can cause or lead to more serious illnesses like cancer. It is a logical assumption that the ability to digest our food will depend upon the strength of our stomach acids.
The acids produced by the stomach also protect the body from parasites, fungi, and unwanted bacteria. Some foods like refined sugars and alcohol are absorbed into the blood stream directly through the walls of the stomach. This should serve notice to people on why they are obese or overweight.
Small Intestine. After the stomach, the small intestine. This is where digested foods are absorbed into the bloodstream. On the average, the small intestine is about 25-feet in length, and its section is lined with microvilli. These are numerous minute elongated projections set closely together on a surface, typically increasing its surface area for the absorption of substances. Digestion is continuous in the small intestine. Digestive enzymes from the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are released to assist in the further breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and especially fats.
When digestion is finally completed, the processed foods/nutrients are absorbed and are sent to the liver through the portal vein for filtering. From there, the food is transported to the cells of the body through the bloodstream where it will be finally used by the cell, converting it into energy. Food converted into energy is used to rebuild and repair body tissue.
What is left of the small intestine are the undigested matter and is the bulk of the “poop” which will be discarded in the next stage of the process.
Large intestine. This organ is also referred to as the colon. It is roughly about 6-feet in length and a whooping 3-inches in diameter. Although it is the repository of near-future “poop,” it is still essential for its functions. This organ produces vitamins and for recycling water in the body. Unbelievably, the colon is the residence of trillions of bacteria cells, some are harmful, but most are beneficial.
The causes of gut distress and elimination imbalances
Often, digestive stress and elimination problems are rooted in the foods we eat. Even healthy foods for some could prove unhealthy for others. Here are some substances in foods that can cause digestive issues:
Casein and other immunoglobulins. These are found in dairy products.
Fructose. These are sugars found in fruits. People who have problems digesting fructose will also experience the same with other types of complex carbohydrates.
Gluten. Also, other similar prolamine proteins. All these are found in grains like barley, rye, and corn.
Lectins. This is a protein. The most irritating type is found in seeds like grains, beans or legumes and nuts.
Some of these compounds can stimulate mast cells to produce histamine, which then mimics a food allergy which causes an increase in intestinal inflammation and permeability. They can also imitate symptoms of respiratory allergies which will cause throat irritations, sneezing, sniffles. For other people, these foods can stimulate the T-cell response of the immune system which will create or worsen autoimmune symptoms such as pain in the joints and skin rashes like eczema.
Some people may not be able to produce the right digestive enzymes to process these compounds, and this usually can cause any of the following disorders: an upset stomach, constipation, bloating, nausea, gas, and diarrhea.
Surprisingly, some of these foods in question can contain substances that can cause some addiction and can create a feeling of “highness.” Your stomach may not be tolerant to casein, but right after drinking a glass of milk, you get a sudden rush of “feeling good.” But that would be short-lived because, after a while, you get an upset stomach
Taking care of gut health
It would be beneficial to learn about gut health to be able to do what is right to promote digestive health. Many disorders can be traced to gut issues, and it is therefore imperative to get acquainted with what to do and what not to do, to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Have at least 12 twelve hours between your breakfast and dinner. The lining of the stomach is composed of only one layer of cells which need to be replenished every 72 hours. The stomach involves itself in heavy work during digestion and consequently will sustain damage to its lining.
Leaving the stomach to concentrate on repairs and replenishing for twelve hours from dinner to breakfast will immensely help. But don’t fast for the sake of the stomach as hunger may send the body into shock. This may also overburden the liver.
Keep the body hydrated. Drinking enough water is good for the body. The entire gut is like a water slide in an amusement park which should be kept slippery. Ditto with your guts and you can make this happen by continuously hydrating yourself. Hydrate with water and not with sweet drinks as these would only encourage unbeneficial gut bacteria in the colon.
Also, be wary of the effects of raw foods to the gut because these foods take a lot more energy for the body to break them down. If one has good gut health, having raw foods is fine. If not, this could trigger problems.
Take care of the gut. When someone feels uncomfortable, he would always lay the blame on the gut and come to resent it. It’s best to have an attitude where one believes there is a problem somewhere and find ways to solve it. The gut may be having some issues, and only the person can make it right. With such a mindset, the problem becomes easier to manage.
Make gradual changes. When confronted with a digestive problem and the remedy requires being more careful with food intake. But it’s not recommended that one give up on all the foods that can cause the disorder. It is best to find out what foods are causing problems and staying away from them. Focus on finding them out first, then eliminate them gradually.
Increase fiber, but not just that. Foods with high fiber contents are recommended for those with constipation problems. However, a condition known as slow transit constipation makes matters worse when the fiber is taken to counter constipation. Instead of relief, the fiber solution can lead to more gas, bloat, and pain.
If increasing fiber intake leads to worse scenarios, stop. Try eating fruit-based fiber first as it’s easier to digest compared to other fibres like those found in bran. If it doesn’t work, seek medical advice. Eating regularly should go hand in hand with eating the right foods. Bowel movement is triggered by food consumption. Those who miss meals are more prone to experiencing constipation for the simple reason that their systems aren’t getting that needed stimulus.
Try some liver. Most of us hate liver without knowing its value to gut health. This meat is loaded with vitamin A and vitamin D which are essential in protecting the mucous membrane that lines the gut. To diminish its not-too-pleasant taste, try sneaking liver into hamburgers and other ground-meat recipes.
Also, eat fermented foods. Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics, re-inoculating the body with good bacteria that thrive in parts of our gut system. Include as often as possible in your meals such side dishes like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and fermented pickles.
Chew food very well. Digestion is a natural process that requires a lot of energy and the improper chewing of food will result in more energy consumption as the food passes from mouth to the intestines. Take your time when eating. Small bites will be easier to liquefy. Chew until the food’s flavor is gone, then swallow before the next bite. Liquefied food, through chewing, puts fewer demands on the stomach when processing it further.
Stay away from processed food. Eating the right foods is a key to gut health. What happens when one consumes foods that contain harmful chemicals, genetically engineered ingredients, additives, and harmful sugars? All these will have a negative impact on those good gut bacteria that inhabit the gut linings. In moderation, such foods are tolerable, but frequent consumption will put your gut health at risk.
Protect the gut lining. A condition is known as “leaky gut” is common to many people with poor digestive health but are unaware of its existence. One afflicted with this will manifest physical holes in the linings of their intestines, and these allow proteins to get into the bloodstream. The immune system of the body will treat them as antigens, and this could only mean trouble. So, eating healthy can help one protect his gut lining.
If you move your bowels once or twice daily, that is healthy elimination. The first movement should occur just after waking up in the morning and to be more precise, before sunrise. The second movement should occur later in the day or just after an afternoon or evening meal. Balanced stools should have the following characteristics:
- well-formed and have the consistency of ripe bananas
- maintain their shape after passing out
- light-brownish in color
- float when eliminated in a toilet bowl containing water
- slightly oily
- not sticky and the anal orifice is easily cleaned
- only have a mild odor
But do not be frightened if your stool does not conform to all these. Most of us do not, especially with the kind of stresses and routines, we are exposed to every day. Leading fast-paced, eating wrong foods, multi-tasking, eating on the run, and more play significant roles in our digestive and excretory health. And this is precisely the reason why we need to explore venues to maintain health in our body systems and this case, the one that is involved in digestion.