Digestive Function - A Brief Overview
The digestive system is 9 metres or 30 feet long and consists of the mouth, stomach, pancreas, small intestines, liver, gallbladder and colon. Its primary role is to convert the food we eat into usable nutrients and at the same time remove toxic waste and by-products from the body. We don't tend to pay much attention to what goes on in the digestive tract unless something goes wrong or specific symptoms appear. This is understandable as the Autonomic Nervous System unconsciously controls digestion.
A quick snapshot of digestion shows the process starts when we begin to chew our food and saliva is produced. Saliva contains the digestive enzymes, amylase and lipase, that start the process of breaking down carbohydrates and fats. An antibacterial enzyme, lysozyme, is also present in saliva and it destroys bacteria. In the stomach, acids are produced to denature and breakdown food, in particular proteins. From the stomach, the food travels into the small intestine, where the pancreas secretes an array of digestive enzymes to further breakdown the food. Bicarbonate is also secreted and neutralises the stomach acid, thus allowing the digestive enzymes to function optimally. In the small intestines, the microscopic food particles are absorbed through the intestinal villi and enter the bloodstream. In the blood, these particles travel to the liver, which converts the inactive vitamins and amino acids into their active forms. The liver also secretes bile into the small intestines, which helps to breakdown fats, remove toxins and enhance bowel motions.
From the small intestine, the remaining food; mainly fibres, water and waste products move into the colon where excess water is reabsorbed and faeces are formed. Individual bacteria convert the prebiotic fibres, which are found in various foods including; fruit, vegetables and legumes, into short-chain fatty acids. These acids, in turn, provide nutrients for the beneficial bacteria that inhabit the colon and the cells that line the colon walls.
Robust Digestion - The Key to Long-Term Health
The digestive tract is not only a place where the body absorbs nutrients from food and eliminates waste. It is home to the second-largest nervous system outside the brain; the Enteric Nervous System. Millions of nerve cells line the intestinal tract and continuously send information to the brain. With this information, the brain can alter chemical processes which affect not only digestive function, but also energy, sleep patterns, thoughts and moods. How well would the brain function if the gut was toxic and inflamed? Would the brain receive the correct messages from these nerves, or would the communication be somewhat off-kilter? Mood disorders, Autism, Parkinson's disease and possibly Alzheimers disease all have origins in the gut and faulty communication between the Enteric Nervous System and the brain.
Enterochromaffin cells are quite rare and make up less than 1% of the total intestinal surface. However, these unique cells produce over 90% of the body's feel-good, happy brain chemical, serotonin. Besides improving moods, anxiety and depression, serotonin enhances gastrointestinal motility and secretions, while alleviating nausea and improving visceral hypersensitivity or pain.
Good gut health is paramount as 70% of the body's immune system calls the digestive tract home, and who thrives in a dirty, toxic and unhappy home? Poor gut immune function is a leading cause of allergies, inflammation, reoccurring infections and autoimmune diseases.
Within the intestinal tract lives a conglomerate of over 1000 different bacteria species, collectively known as the microbiome. These bacteria live in a symbiotic relationship with us and when we get sick, so do they and respectively when they get sick, so do we. Keeping the digestive tract robust and healthy, positively affects the microbiome. This, in turn, improves immune health, reduces allergenic reactions, eliminates Dysbiosis and has positive effects on mental health, cardiovascular health and weight management. Interestingly, magnesium deficiency alters the gut microbiome and leads to depressive like behaviour.
Signs and Symptoms of Poor Digestive Health
The digestive system is excellent in communicating to us when it's unhappy, or when we've eaten something we shouldn't have and it's unwell. Below are some of the more common symptoms indicating substandard gut health.
|Abdominal pain||Crohn's disease||Loose, mushy stools|
|Abnormal coloured stools||Diarrhoea||Metallic, sour taste in the mouth|
|Bad breath||Flatulence||Painful bowel motions|
|Belching||Food Intolerances||Rancid stools or gas|
|Bloating||Frequent or urgent urination||Reflux or heartburn|
|Bloody stool||Gas – 30 minutes after food||Rumbling stomach|
|Colitis||Indigestion or fullness 2-4 hours||Skin Disorders|
|Constant worry||Inflammatory Bowel Disease||Strong body odour|
|Constipation||Irritable bowel syndrome||Tired after eating|
|Craving sweets||Leaky Gut Syndrome||Undigested food in stool|
What Causes Poor Digestion?
It can be difficult enough for the digestive tract to maintain a healthy balance. Still, when poor lifestyle habits, environmental factors and medications are also placed into the mix, it becomes overwhelming to preserve good health. Below are some of the more common causes of poor digestive health.
|Antibiotics||Food additives||Poor diet|
|Artificial flavourings||Heavy Metals||Protein Pump Inhibitors|
|Binge drinking||Ibuprofen||Recreational drugs|
|Birth Control Pill||Inadequate sleep||SIBO|
|Candida||Irritable Bowel Syndrome||SIFO|
|Coeliac Disease||Junk food||Stress|
|Constipation||Low fibre diet||Vitamin A deficiency|
|Diarrhoea||Mould||Vitamin D deficiency|
|Daily alcohol||NSAID's||Zinc deficiency|
How To Supercharge Digestive Health
A healthy digestive system relies on a nourishing diet, adequate nutrient absorption and a robust ability to remove waste.
- The diet should be high in fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grains, herbs, nuts, seeds, legumes, pulses, beans, organic eggs, grass-fed meats and wild-caught seafood.
So it's time to ditch the sugar ladened, white flour, preservative rich, artificially coloured, nutrient dead, junk food.
Foods found in nature provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients that not only nourish the digestive tract, but the whole body.
- Stress or eating on the run, reduces blood flow to the digestive tract, which in turn, diminishes stomach acid and digestive enzyme secretion and lowers absorption of nutrients.
To improve digestive function and nutrient uptake, slow down and take more time to eat. A few deep breaths through the nose before a meal stimulates the function of the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This is the body's calm and tranquil component of our nervous system and is responsible for healthy digestive function.
California Poppy, Chamomile, Passionflower and Skullcap are excellent herbs that help improve Parasympathetic Nervous System function. NatroVital NS Balance is an alcohol-free herbal tonic containing these and other herbs, which help reduce stress and strengthen the whole nervous system. Additionally, herbs such as; Dandelion Root, Fennel, Chamomile, Ginger and Turmeric help stimulate the production of stomach acid and digestive enzyme secretion. NatroVital Digestive Support is an alcohol-free herbal tonic, which helps maintain healthy digestion and the normal flow of stomach juices and digestive enzymes.
- We eat a lot of food and thereby should remove a fair amount of waste from the body, via the colon. In an ideal world, everyone should poop daily. If we don't, a backlog can occur, resulting in toxic waste festering inside and causing all sorts of health problems. There are a few, easy to rectify causes, that slow the passage of faeces through the colon, which can prevent daily evacuations.
- Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. When food arrives in the colon, it does so with a lot of liquid. One of the functions of the colon is to re-absorb water so the body can reuse it. If the body is dehydrated, then more water is absorbed. This reduces the ability of the faces to slide on through the colon and out the other side. The simple way to prevent this from happening is to drink at least 2 litres of filtered water per day.
- Fibre absorbs water and adds bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass along the colon. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, legumes, pulses and beans all contain fibre, so there's another reason to eat a more nourishing diet. If you have difficulty getting enough fibre, we recommend NatroVital's fibre-rich Intestinal Maintain and 2 litres of water per day. Take a scoop morning and night to help things move along.
- Beneficial gut organisms provide an abundance of health benefits such as; strengthening immune function, improving the health of the good gut bacteria, reducing intestinal inflammation and helping to repair intestinal damage. These organisms also manufacture vitamins such as; B2, B5, B12, K2, folate, biotin and choline, which the body uses to maintain health. The downside to having fewer numbers of these joyful little critters is that our health suffers and movement of the faeces through the colon is slowed.
Fibres, especially prebiotic fibres, which are found in plant-based foods, provide nourishment to increase numbers of these helpful bacteria. NatroVital Revitalise is a blend of prebiotic and resistance fibres, which feed a whole range of essential gut bacteria.
Probiotics also provide invaluable bacteria that quickly increase their numbers in the intestinal tract. NatroVital Multibac 10 is a comprehensive probiotic that contains 30 billion good bacteria from 10 individual strains, these guys turn up and get to work straight away.
To make it simple and help improve digestive health, we recommend Digestive Detox. This program improves digestive health by; eliminating harmful organisms, re-populating the good guys, improving digestive secretions, promoting healthy bowel motions, reducing gut-based inflammation, healing intestinal damage, improving magnesium levels and supporting long-term digestive health.
Hopefully this article, 'Simple Steps To Long-Term Digestive Health' has given you an insight into digestion and how to improve its function and long-term health. Please share on social media and leave a comment, we'd love to hear from you.
Thanks and have a great day!
The information provided in this blog 'Simple Steps To Long-Term Digestive Health' is of a general nature and intended for educational purposes only. We make no claims to diagnose, treat, prevent, alleviate or cure illnesses or diseases with any information or product stated. With any health issue, we suggest you consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any health treatment.
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