What is a healthy digestive system and how should it digest food properly? I want to stress a point here. I’m talking about an entire system. That means, everything works off of everything else to create healthy digestion.
First, we start off in the oral cavity, the mouth. Perhaps you don’t think about digestion beginning in the mouth. However, starch digestion begins with your saliva, which contains amylase, the enzyme of carbohydrate digestion. If you chew your foods well (btw, most people don’t!) you begin proper digestion of carbohydrates in your mouth.
Carbohydrate digestion begins in your mouth.
Although protein and fat digestion take place further down the digestive system, it’s still vital to chew your food well. Chewing gives your body the best advantage to break down your food fully in order to obtain the maximum amount of nutrients from it.
Then your food continues down your esophagus into the stomach. Most people don’t realize that the stomach has a special mucous lining designed to withstand the extreme acidity of hydrochloric acid. Otherwise, the acid necessary to kill bacteria and begin protein digestion would burn right through the stomach.
It’s interesting that when you first start thinking about food, that’s when the stomach goes into action and starts producing hydrochloric acid. Once the food arrives, the stomach elongates and actually churns the food, mixing it thoroughly with hydrochloric acid, doing the important job of eliminating bacteria. Additionally, the stomach liquefies the food for easy passage into the small intestine. As I mentioned, the initial digestion of protein begins in the stomach.
The first part of the small intestine is called the duodenum. The pancreas and the gallbladder (along with the liver) will provide the enzymes necessary to continue the digestion of food. Both have ducts that empty their important secretions directly into the duodenum.
In the second stage of starch digestion, the pancreas secretes additional amylase. Also, the pancreas produces lipase, the enzyme that begins fat digestion. The second substance necessary to break large fat molecules into small ones is bile salt which is secreted from the gall bladder to mix with the lipase. Fat must be broken down into very small molecules to be absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream effectively.
Proteins are further digested by the enzyme protease, which is secreted from the pancreas as well.
Your small intestine is 21 to 22 feet long.
The small intestine is incredibly long when you consider it’s all crunched together in your abdomen. As your food travels down the small intestine from the duodenum into the jejunum and ileum (the other two areas of the small intestine), critical processes are happening constantly. Chemical reactions extract the nutrients out of your food so they can be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine, get into your bloodstream and are transported to provide nutrition for the cells and tissues and organs of your body. If the foods you eat are not properly digested, you don’t absorb them, so they do you no good. They’re just going out the other end! It is really important to remember that your small intestine is where most absorption occurs.
The ileum is at the far end of the small intestine. Attached to it is the appendix. For many years we thought “Oh we don’t need that. We can just cut that out.” Of course, if the appendix is diseased it needs to be cut out. We’ll talk more about that shortly. But the appendix actually performs an important function to support your immune system. It shoots out mucus as the food enters the large intestine (colon). The food is in a liquid form by now, or at least it should be. As the food enters the large intestine, this mucus helps to deal with any residual bacteria that may still be in the food mixture.
The liquified food then moves up the ascending colon, across the transverse colon and down the descending colon. Throughout the colon, there is a muscle contraction called peristalsis that happens to create the movement. As the colon elongates, it is removing the water content of the food and creating a solid bowel movement.
Your colon houses the majority of the good bacteria necessary for healthy digestion.
In the colon is where the largest percentage of the good bacteria, the bifidobacteria, can be found. This is your sewer system if you’d like to look at it that way. The bifidobacteria must be plentiful here, as it’s the main friendly bacteria in your colon that keep you healthy. The functions of friendly bacteria are tremendously varied, and beyond the scope of this talk, however, we’ll explore that interesting topic soon.
To see my video of this process, please check me out on Facebook.
In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at what happens when the digestion process doesn’t occur as I’ve described. Oh yes, problems occur.