“You are what you eat” is true in every sense of the expression. The nutrition you get from the food that you eat provides sustenance for the composition and function of every single cell in your body. The types of food that you eat generally influence the quality of life that every cell of your body will carry on. To elaborate the expression, “You are what you digest, absorb and transfer to cells.”

The vitamins and minerals in food provide energy and other nourishment to our body’s cell that will help them to operate. Hence, food is our body’s source of fuel. However, in order for any food or liquid to turn into fuel or building blocks, it needs to be digested into small particles that can be easily absorbed and used by our body. Henceforth, this is where digestion comes in.

What is digestion?

Digestion is an important body function wherein our body process food through chemical and mechanical means. Throughout the course of digestion, food is mixed with saliva and then divided into smaller molecules, stored and nutrients are absorbed then finally transported throughout the body.

Let’s take a look at a detailed, step-by-step digestive mechanism of our body:

The word digestion often brings one to think only of the digestive tract. However, believe it or not, digestion actually first occurs in our brain. When we feel hungry, the brain sends signals to the rest of our body to go and get some food. In return, the major organs of the digestive system are then initiated so that the whole digestion process starts.

The mouth, the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, the anus comprise the major digestive organs. These parts en masse is called the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract which stretches out to 26 feet. To aid in the whole process, accessory organs such as the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder also active.

The mechanical process of digestion starts off when we chew and swallow our food, our senses are stimulated and salivation happens. Basically, saliva is produced to lubricated our food to help in swallowing.  Also, saliva contains important enzymes called amylase and lipase responsible for carbohydrates and which also digest fats. Saliva locks into our food and aids in drawing out nutrients that involves our tongue, teeth, and taste buds. Food mixed with saliva is called a bolus and this product is now ready to be swallowed.

The next organ the bolus passes through is the pharynx. Air also passes through the pharynx and to avoid the food going into the trachea, a cartilage flap named epiglottis automatically closes. Also, a fleshy part that dangles in our throat called uvula involuntarily closes when to block the bolus from entering your nose.  From the pharynx, a series of contractions called peristalsis assist the bolus towards the esophagus and into the stomach. The esophageal sphincter closes up to secure the food to our stomach and prevent stomach acids to backflow to the esophagus. At this point, the food is now in the fundus, the upper part of the stomach. It is transformed into what is called chyme, a thick semi-fluid bulk of partially digested food formed by stomach juices. Moreover, enzymes released such as pepsin and pepsinogen which is responsible for protein digestion, a process that only happens in the stomach. Glucagon is released to control glucose levels in our body and serotonin, the “happy chemical”, is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. Absorption of vitamins and minerals, as well as alcohol, also happens.

After around an hour to four hours, the stomach completely empty and chyme travels to the small intestine. This is where food absorption mainly takes place. There are three parts of our small intestine: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. The duodenum balances out the acidic nature of chyme. Enzymes such as lipase and amylase is secreted to allow more nutrient absorption and the gallbladder is now recruited. The gallbladder produces bile to the small intestine to disintegrate fat allowing easy absorption.  Next, the neutralized chyme passes the jejunum and ultimately winds up in the ileum where further absorption of nutrients occurs. The final organ is the large intestine. By now, the main functions of digestion and absorption is already finished. The large intestine essentially takes in liquids and other nutrients such as sodium, potassium, vitamin K, gasses and acids. Since most the water is drawn out from the food, the final byproduct will now be a semi-solid feces. This is the end of the digestion process.

Why is digestion important?

Apart from providing us with nutrients and vitamins, the digestive system works to protect us from harmful cells entering our body through the help of antibodies present in our gut lining. As it happens, a huge part of the immune process surprisingly happens in the GI tract. Our gut helps to regulate the immune response, detoxify the body and drive out foreign cells that are unwanted. Furthermore, it functions to excrete waste through the enteric nervous system, known as the second brain. So it’s safe to safe that the digestive tract is very important to a lot of our bodily functions.

Since our body absorbs 92 to 97% of the food we eat, a condition that affects our digestive system greatly affect our overall health status. This includes celiac diseases, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), food poisoning and diarrhea which all results to flattening of the gut lining. Because of this, absorption is difficult. Therefore, it’s important to address these conditions to achieve optimum health.

How does digestion influences your health and fitness?

Maintaining optimal gut health aid a lot in having a good overall mental and physical condition. As previously discussed, the gut secretes good hormones that affect our emotion and helps a lot with the immune process. When our digestive system functions well, we tend to be more active and therefore we plan on doing exercise regularly. Increased levels of hormones responsible for happiness such as serotonin and endorphins are noted. A wonderful cycle of a good digestive function equals to more energy continues.  This results to fast metabolism and increase absorption of nutrients. Exercise could relieve symptoms of digestive diseases and prevent gut problems.

If someone is under a tremendous amount of stress, it’s not unheard of that one complaint of upset stomach and digestive difficulties. Because of the correlation between emotion and digestion, stress and emotional upset symptoms should not be left unnoticed and should be properly managed.

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