Many people are very confused when it comes to terminology around our digestive system. Understanding the basics of the digestive process will help you make necessary changes- information is power! So please bear with me if this paragraph seems a bit technical. I’d like you to become familiar with the 5 most important steps of digestion:
Digestion in the Stomach
The Small Intestine
The role of Liver and Pancreas
The Large Intestine and Elimination
Most clients I see, for instance, are unaware that the digestive system does not only include the digestive tract (the hollow tube that runs from mouth to anus), but also the liver and the pancreas, which play a vital role in the digestive process.
Obviously this is a simplified process and there is much more happening in between those steps but leave it up to the professionals to know all the details!
Digestion starts in the mouth…
…where our teeth mechanically break down large pieces of food. There are also some simple carbohydrate-digesting enzymes present in our saliva that start the digestive process.
The stomach, a highly acidic environment, is the next stop
Food is churned around and further broken down. The high acidity serves to kill off any pathogens that might have been lurking in our food but also to aid protein digestion. Digestive fluids containing pepsin and hydrochloric acid begin to break down proteins into individual amino-acid components.
On to the small intestine
Once this process is finished, the acidic, partially digested food stuff called “chyme” travels to the small intestine. It is called “small” because of its diameter and certainly not based on its length, which averages fifteen to twenty feet when stretched out. If spread flat, it covers a surface the size of a tennis court!
As opposed to the stomach, the environment is alkaline in the small intestine.
Given that it is unable to produce its own digestive fluids, it completely relies on the liver and pancreas to fulfil this important task
As soon as the chyme from the stomach enters the intestine, the liver releases bile salts serving as acid buffers while the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes. These help to digest dietary fats and carbohydrate and make them ready for absorption by our body. This happens in the billions of tiny finger-like folds called villi, which are located in the intestinal walls. Because they are slightly porous, they absorb nutrients and carry them in the blood to our liver for screening. It takes about three to five hours for the food that leaves our stomach to turn into a thin, watery nutrient soup.
When all nutrients have been absorbed, water, bacteria and fibre make their way to the large intestine, also called colon
In comparison to the small intestine, its diameter is larger but it is only three to five feet long. As the watery mix from the small intestine slowly moves through the large intestine, most of the water and remaining nutrients get absorbed through the colon wall into the bloodstream. During this process, the leftover waste material gets harder until a solid mass, our stool, is formed.
The large intestine contains trillions of bacteria. Friendly bacteria, called flora, have many important functions and are crucial for our well-being, as we will find out later on. Imbalanced gut flora, which means that the good bacteria are increasingly crowded out by the less beneficial or even pathogenic ones, is a major cause for many digestive disorders.
Unfortunately, most people resort to medication
Year after year, drugs for digestive illness top the pharmaceutical bestseller list worldwide. This is largely due to our food and lifestyle choices, for instance a diet high in processed foods and therefore deficient in essential nutrients, lack of fresh air, sunlight and exercise, the side effects of other medication, cigarettes and alcohol, but also excessive stress. A common scenario is a combination of some or all of these factors.
I love this video that summarizes and expands on what I’ve just explained above:
Go here if you’ve missed Part 1 of this series!