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What is the digestive system?
Did you know the digestive system can span up to 30 feet in length in an average adult? Or that you can eat upside down and it will still work the same? The digestive system is truly amazing and is made up of many different parts. Firstly, there is the gastrointestinal tract or GI. This is the passage that food takes from your mouth to your anus and is made up of a number of hollow organs including the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (which contains the cecum, colon and rectum) and anus.
The solid organs that make up the digestive system are the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Other aspects of the body that play a part in digestion is your gut flora (or microbiome) as well as parts of the nervous and circulatory systems such as hormones and blood. All of this goes into digesting the food we eat, showing just how complicated and amazing the human body really is!
What does your digestive system do?
Your digestive system has a vital role to play in the body; it works to take the essential nutrients out of the food and drink we consume and then disposes of the leftover waste as stool. This includes vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrate and water, all being filtered and broken down into small pieces that are easy for the body to absorb. These are then taken around the body by the circulatory system and used to fuel every single cell for energy, growth and cell repair.
What is your gut flora?
Human gastrointestinal microbiota, also known more simply as gut flora, are lots of tiny microorganisms that live within the digestive tract - tens of trillions of them in fact! That may sound bad as in most cases we associate bacteria with something negative, but in this case, the gut flora is very beneficial to the health of the body. The main function of this good bacteria is to digest foods that the stomach and small intestines have not been able to, promoting healthy digestive function. They additionally help with the production of Vitamins B & K, and with protecting the immune system.
Symptoms of an unhealthy digestive system
If your digestive system is not functioning properly, it can lead to a number of different digestive issues ranging from mild to serious. If you think you may be suffering from some sort of problem with your digestive system you should visit your doctor for a diagnosis, however, here are some signs to look out for:
- Stomach or abdominal pain
- Stomach ache
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
What causes digestive issues?
There are a wide range of factors that can lead to problems with your digestive tract. Some are easy to change and are based on lifestyle, whereas others may need medical treatment or are something you just have to live with. Here are some of the most common causes of digestive issues:
- A lack of exercise
- Poor diet (including too much processed, fatty foods, salt and sugar)
- A lack of fibre
- Eating or drinking too fast
- Excessive alcohol
- Illnesses (such as irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhoids and Crohn’s disease)
- Food intolerances (usually to gluten or lactose)
How to look after your digestion
In order to take proper care of your digestive system, you need to do what you can to counteract the causes of issues. Whilst some you can’t avoid, such as food intolerances, there are plenty of things you can do to support a healthy digestive tract. This includes:
- Eating lots of fibre
- Having a balanced and healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Taking probiotics and prebiotics
- Regularly detoxing and cleansing the digestive system
- Reducing or quitting smoking and alcohol
- Using digestive health supplements
Food for healthy digestion
One of the biggest factors that affects the health of our digestive system is the food we put in it. Many foods, especially processed meals, can make it worse, but don’t worry as there is also a variety that can do it some good!
The Best Foods For Healthy Digestion
Good bacteria that boosts the natural levels in the intestinal flora. Found in yoghurts, kefir, kombucha, miso and kimchi.
A special type of dietary fibre that feeds the good bacteria in the gut. Found in garlic, onions, bananas, chicory root and oats.
Full of fibre which helps bulk out stool. They also feed the good bacteria in the gut.
Traditional calming ingredient used to help with feelings of nausea.
Natural source of fibre to help keep food in the digestive tract moving.
Helps with stomach discomfort, nausea and bowel movement issues.
This vegetable is rich in fibre which helps keep the digestive system regular.
A good source of insoluble fibre. Found in vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.
A very gentle ingredient that helps to soothe and calm the digestive tract.
Contains a digestive enzyme called papain that helps break down protein fibres.
Traditional Ayurvedic ingredient to help detox and cleanse the digestive system.
A source of fibre that forms a gel-like substance which acts like a prebiotic.
Binds to toxins in the digestive tract to flush them out and promote good digestive health.
Natural anti-inflammatory to help with bloating, indigestion and gas.
Contains pectins, a type of soluble fibre that helps increase stool volume.
As your digestive system plays such an important role in your body and its proper function is essential to your survival, why would you not want to take good care of it? Whilst there are some causes of digestive problems that you can’t do anything about, there are many simple lifestyle changes you can make to care for your digestive health. Plus, there are a whole range of yummy foods you can add to your diet to help and even natural digestive supplements if you want an extra boost!