How the Digestive System Works

Have you ever wondered how the digestive system works? How does your body break down food and absorbs essential nutrients? What about the friendly bacteria in your belly? Digestion is a complex process that involves organs such as the liver, pancreas, small intestine, and stomach. Your digestive system helps absorb and transport all the nutrients your body needs in order to live. It also eliminates the waste and toxins. Sounds interesting, isn’t it? Let’s find out more about the digestive system and how it works!

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Why Is Digestion Important?


The role of your digestive system is to turn the food you eat into energy. When you eat meat, bread, vegetables, fruit, grains or any other foods, your body can not use them as fuel right way. They must be processed and broken into macronutrients before being absorbed into your bloodstream and used for energy. Digestion makes these things possible.


After the nutrients are extracted from food, the waste is excreted. Digestion not only contributes to nutrient absorption, but also removes undigested food and waste from your body. The digestive system basically breaks down foods into vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, carbs and other nutrients that are essential to your survival. This complex process has two main components: chemical and mechanical digestion. The physical breakdown of food into small pieces is known as mechanical digestion. When enzymes break down food into smaller substances that are absorbed into the bloodstream, we’re talking about chemical digestion.


The way we process food has evolved significantly since the beginning of mankind. However, it remains the only way for humans to obtain the energy needed for breathing, moving, thinking, and living. Your digestive system works closely with the circulatory and excretory systems to process the nutrients in food. If something goes wrong in your belly, the whole body will be affected. That’s because all of the systems in your body are interconnected. Thus, it’s important to take care of your digestive system and eat whole, natural foods that support good health.


How Is Food Digested?


When you eat a cookie or an apple, it doesn’t go right into your stomach. Digestion starts in the mouth. As soon as you take first bite, your salivary glands make saliva to break down food. The muscles in your mouth send the cookie to your upper esophagus. A few moments later, food goes into your stomach. Here it gets broken down into smaller pieces. This process is known as peristalsis.


Your stomach produces enzymes and acid to turn the food into a liquid or paste. Once this process is complete, the food goes to your small intestine. This organ is made up of three components: the ileum, jejunum, and duodenum. Its shape resembles that of a long tube. The small intestine keeps breaking down food using bile from your liver and enzymes produced by the pancreas. The ileum and jejunum help your body absorb nutrients during digestion. The duodenum contributes to the breakdown of food in your stomach. The enzymes secreted by your pancreas break down fat, protein, and carbs from the goods you eat.


The liver plays a key role in digestion. This vital organ produces bile and helps cleanse the blood coming from your small intestine. Bile helps you digest fats. During digestion, bile and pancreatic juices mix with other fluids secreted by your small intestine. A few hours later, food moves to the ileum where all of the remaining nutrients are absorbed into your body. The last pieces of food in your stomach are basically a combination of chloride, electrolytes, waste, and water. These substances pass through your colon before emptying of the stomach occurs. They are expelled in the form of feces through bowel movements.


The digestive and urinary systems are connected. Many times, excess toxins are eliminated in the urine. This happens when your digestive system can not break down certain foods. Your stomach has a total volume of 1.6 fluid ounces when it’s empty, but it can hold over 64 fluid ounces after you eat.


What’s Up With Your Gut?


Your body doesn’t handle digestion all by itself. The friendly bacteria in your large intestine turn undigested food into acids, gases, and vitamins. They also ensure good digestion, enhance nutrient absorption, and help your body break down the drugs and chemicals ingested. Bacteria also help your body convert extra calories to fat.


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Maintaining your digestive system healthy should be a priority. Constipation, diarrhea, food poisoning, stomach ulcers and other common problems affect digestion and nutrient absorption. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly supports digestive health. If you notice any chances in bowel habits or experience stomach pain and cramps frequently, seek medical help. Irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis, diverticulitis and other serious problems can affect your digestive system as well as your overall health.