What really goes on in your 30 feet long digestive system?
How does the body transform raw food substances into energy?
What kind of chemical reactions and mechanical processes are required to break down these substances?
These are very important questions to think about to understand which part of your digestive system needs attention and how to heal it.
Four Steps of the Digestive Process:
a) Ingestion – The process of chewing and grinding food taken into the mouth and the swallowing of food down the digestive tract.
b) Digestion – The breakdown of food into smaller particles for easy assimilation.
- Mechanical: Churning of stomach, wavelike motions that move food down the esophagus and intestines
- Chemical: Substances that break down food particles into smaller molecules to prepare it for absorption. This includes enzymes and digestive juices (hydrochloric acid, HCl). Without adequate amounts of digestive juices and enzymes, food cannot be broken down and absorbed efficiently.
c) Absorption/Assimilation – Moving small food particles through intestinal walls into cell bodies to produce energy.
d) Elimination – Excretion of all metabolic waste products.
Components of the Digestive System
Each component of the digestive system is critical to the entire digestion process.
“Proper digestion is like a good recipe; it needs the right mix of all the ingredients. That means your system needs enough enzymes to help break down your food, the right amount of stomach acid to help those enzymes work and good healthy bacteria to keep that process going and support our immune systems.” Kyley Hunt, BKin, ND
Digestion begins the moment food enters your mouth.
Your saliva contains enzymes that break down plant and animal starches into smaller food particles before entering the stomach. Hydrochloric acid (ie. stomach acid) is released to activate enzymes to breakdown food particles into smaller, more easily digestible molecules for absorption in the small intestine.
The stomach’s contents are squeezed and churned in the order in which food is consumed. However, if food is poorly chewed, large lumps of food will stay longer in the stomach until it is churned into small enough pieces before it passes to the next stage of digestion.
Did you know?
Spices, coffee and teas are stimulants that speed up the emptying of stomach contents. When taken in excess, stomach cells and stomach walls are at risk of irritation and intestinal wall damage.
Absorption/Assimilation | Where the action happens.
The small intestine is where absorption and assimilation occurs.
Here, pancreatic juices and bile are excreted.
Pancreatic juices are responsible for releasing enzymes that break down proteins, fats, and starches, while bile is responsible for the further breakdown of fats. When the body is not secreting enough pancreatic juices or bile, this often leads to digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Disease, the cause of excessive bloating and gas or constipation.
The small intestine’s microscopic projections contains microvilli (brush border enzymes) that increase the absorptive surface of intestinal lining by 600x. Hence, the process of absorption is highly dependent on the condition of this intricate and delicate intestinal lining.
Aside from the large intestine’s main role in elimination, it is also in charge of the production and absorption of certain vitamins. Bacteria in the large intestine break down undigested materials and act on food residues to produce vitamin K and biotin.
Large strains of microbes make up a host of gut bacteria that keeps our immunity in check. However, when our gut flora is out of balance, digestive disorders such as chronic constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel disease can occur. A diet high in complex carbs promotes beneficial fermentative gut flora, while a low fibre diet increases putrefactive bacteria (causes bloating).
When it comes to elimination, your bowel transit time can tell you a lot about your digestive health.
A well functioning colon will deliver from one to three bowel movements per day – from food consumed in the last 24 hours. Delayed emptying may lead to reabsorption of cholesterol and the buildup of toxins and carcinogens in the colon.
How To Check Your Bowel Transit Time | The Beetroot Test
An easy way to test your bowel transit time is by drinking beet juice or eating beets. Note the date and time of ingestion and count how many hours and days it takes for you to see red po*p.
You might be wondering, “what is a good food transit time?,” and the answer is varied but generally speaking 12 to 24 hours is ideal.
Source | Digestion: Inner Path to Health by David W. Rowland