Gut Health & The Digestive System
The media are picking up on the latest nutrition buzz words and gut health is one of them that I am starting to see more regularly all over social media, in magazines and on the TV. So what is gut health and what makes up your digestive system? Why should we be taking note of this ‘buzz word’?
Food is now more available than ever, no longer do we need to hunt and gather our food, we can just nip into the kitchen and make ourselves a snack, grab a coffee and a cake on the run or head into town for lunch. Most people eat because they are hungry, because it is breakfast time, lunch time or dinner time. However, not many people consider the need to eat is to ensure we gain the essential nutrients our cells need to function properly, keeping us alive and well.
Digestion is essentially turning our lunch - that sandwich, wrap or salad into the nutrients we need to support every cell in our body. In summary the digestive system breaks down our food, extracts the nutrients and water and then eliminates anything we don’t require.
So let’s do a quick and dirty dive into the digestive system….
We start in the brain which provides the instruction to your body (your glands) to get ready for digestion. Think of a dog, at the thought or sight of food they start to drool, the digestive enzymes in their saliva ready to kick into action once that food enters the mouth. What you can’t see is the additional digestive enzymes that ready to rock in your stomach!
You can control the digestion in your mouth helping your body by chewing your food thoroughly so you can increase the absorption of nutrients. Food from the mouth is covered in saliva (and enzymes) then passes down your throat (known as your oesophagus) to the stomach.
If you don’t chew your food properly, your stomach has more work to do, having to provide enzymes and gastric acids to help breakdown the food, kneading it to support digestion. Chew your food and reduce the likelihood of indigestion by helping your stomach using your teeth! Take your time, enjoy your food!
The Small Intestine
The food leaves the stomach and heads into the small intestine. It is joined by the pancreatic and bile juices loaded with enzymes to break the food down further. Once the carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals have been broken down they are absorbed through the small intestine wall into the blood. Micro cells called villi absorb the nutrient molecules into the blood and they are carried away to the liver before travelling in the blood to feed all the cells in our body!
The Large Intestine
Any undigested food and dead cells from your digestive tract continue down the large intestine (or colon) where water is absorbed and faecal matter is formed. The large intestine is a major detoxification organ and it is important to eat a lot of plants to keep this organ clear. You need to fibre within plants to help move the waste out of the body, if you don’t eat a diet high in plants then you could have waste products in your large intestine for days!
So there it is, a quick and dirty run down of the digestive system. So how does this all link to gut health? Well, plant based diets are essential to gain the variety of nutrients we require and the fibre in our diet to keep our body happy and the waste in our large intestine moving so we can excrete it from the body.
Have you heard the term ‘gut feeling’, that term has more relevance that you probably realise. More and more research is confirming that our gut is also known as the second brain. The gut walls contain over 100 million neurones and it produces over 90% of the good feeling serotonin in your body. Serotonin is a chemical that our nerve cells produce and is known as the happy chemical as it regulates our mood and low levels of this chemical have been associated with depression.
If your small and large intestine are not absorbing nutrients properly and excreting the waste products our body does not need, inflammation and damage to our digestive tissues occurs and our second brain cannot function properly!
It is true, what you put in is what you get out. Feed your body the food it needs to thrive! You are what you eat, if you feel sluggish and tired have a look at your diet, make a few changes to move away from junk food and overly processed foods to nutrient rich fruits and vegetables and then see how you feel! Keep hydrated and control the one thing you can to help you become the best version of you!
‘Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live’. - Jim Rohn