iStock_000034818664_LargeMost of us take our digestive system for granted. We shovel food into our mouth and don’t even realize the amount of processing that takes place for us to absorb nutrients from the food we’re eating.

So, let’s get to know our digestive system a little better.

According to Human Body Book[1], the digestive system is one long tubule that begins at the mouth and ends at the anus.

It’s funny, back in the old days (when I was growing up), if one of us kids cursed or said something inappropriate, the adults would tell us we had a “potty mouth.” The literal translation of that is… “you’re talking crap, kid!” Since the mouth and the anus are intimately connected via one long tube, that makes perfect sense.

One easy way to tell if someone is having digestive troubles is foul smelling breath. It’s not like the pungent odor of garlic and onion that you can smell on someone after they’ve eat a fresh bowl of Kimchi, it’s much different than that. The odor is more like this – if you haven’t emptied the kitchen trash in a while, when you finally get around to opening the lid and taking that garbage out, you’ll get a putrid nose-full of decaying matter. That’s the smell I’m talking about! Some people’s breath actually smells like that, and it’s not good.

The digestive tract is approximately 30 feet of tubing. The process of digestion begins in the mouth, where food is crushed and mixed with saliva. The chewed food, or bolus, continues down the throat, through the esophagus and into the stomach where it is mixed with gastric juices (hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes) and churned into chyme by muscle contractions (peristalsis). The stomach lining secretes mucus to help protect itself from the harsh acids that are secreted to break down your food.

After the stomach, chyme is received by the small intestine in very small doses (about a teaspoonful at a time), more digestive secretions are added from the Liver/Gallbladder (bile), and from the pancreas (lipase, protease and amylase) that helps break down lipids, proteins and carbohydrates, plus the small intestine’s own secretions (bacteria and mucus), that extract the nutrients we need.

Whew! As you can see, there’s a lot going on in the digestive system and we’re only halfway through the process.

Some of those nutrients from the chyme are passed into the lymph and others are passed into the blood and carried to the liver for detoxification and storage. The liver stores minerals like iron, copper and the fat-soluble vitamins A, B12, D, E and K, as well as sugar (glycogen), and blood.

Almost all of the nutrients vital for bodily functions are absorbed via the chyme’s route through the small intestine. The remaining chyme is passed into the large intestine where it combines with mucus secretions and bacteria (stored in the appendix) for final absorption of minerals, salts, vitamins and re-absorption of water. At this point, the liquid digestive waste products are changed into solid form that the body excretes via the anus. Finally… a poop!

Holy crap! That certainly was a journey.

Most of these processes happen organically without us having to do anything. But, many folks can have trouble with digestion, either at the beginning of their food’s journey or at the end.

There are many ways we can support the process of digestion to help us absorb everything we need and easily excrete what we don’t.

Here are 5 Easy Ways to Support Your Digestive System:

  1. Chew Your Food! Digestion begins in the mouth NOT in the stomach. Most folks simply bite and swallow without chewing. We’re not designed to eat that way – sharks and lions may be, but humans are not. We need to chew food and masticate it with our enzymes to start the process of digestion. You can read more about that here: Take Human Bites!
  2. Do NOT Overeat! Leave your stomach 20% empty so it has room to easily churn your food into chyme. Think of it this way, if you fully pack a washing machine with clothes and don’t leave any room, some of those items may never get adequately washed. Let your stomach have some room to churn and turn and do what it needs to do.
  3. Eat Probiotic Rich Foods – Repopulate your digestive system with probiotic rich foods to enhance absorption of nutrients. Some traditional probiotic rich foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, pickles, yogurt, and kefir. Eat em’ for gosh sakes!
  4. Drink Bone Stock – It would be wise for anyone suffering from any “wasting” diseases or mal-absorption of nutrients to incorporate bone stock into their diet on a daily basis to help heal the gut. Bone stock contains easily absorbable liquid aminos, collagen and nutrients that can give your system the energy it needs to heal.
  5. Strengthen the Intestines – One of the best ways to strengthen the intestines is to eat seasonally. Eating seasonal foods supports your body with exactly what it needs to thrive within each season. Heavy, denser foods throughout the winter support the integrity of the bones and intestinal valves, while lighter foods in the spring and summer can ease up the load on digestion and give some pep in your step. You can read more about that here: Seasonal Eating for Optimum Health

There are many other ways to support the health of your digestive system, including using astringent, toning and demulcent herbs, to increase functionality of the intestines. You can learn more about that in my LIVE online lecture and cooking demo that will show you how to Support and Heal Your Gut!

Remember, without good digestion, you won’t absorb the nutrients needed to support your body.

[1] The Human Body Book, by Steve Parker, DK Publishing 2007, pgs 170-190