Healthy Digestive System

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How do you keep a healthy digestive system to avoid the 7 signs of an unhealthy gut? These include an upset stomach, a high sugar diet, fluctuating weight changes, sleep disturbances, skin irritation, autoimmune conditions and food intolerances? There is plenty of information and much to digest.

Did you know that in an average adult, the digestive system is 9 meters long which is more than 5 times the average height! There are three digestive stages. Here’s what you can do to stay on tract and keep each one healthy.

Healthy Digestive System: Cephalic Stage (Your Mouth)

The cephalic stage begins with secretions in response to the sight and smell of food. This stage includes the mechanical breakdown of food by chewing, and the chemical breakdown by digestive enzymes in the saliva of your mouth. So, how can you optimize your cephalic stage within your healthy digestive system?

Health experts recommend chewing your food slowly and thoroughly. For soft foods like fruit, 10-15 chews will suffice. For vegetables, meat and nuts, 30-40 chews are advised. Eating more slowly reduces digestive problems, increases nutrient absorption and helps maintain a healthy body weight by reducing hunger. For your next few meals, count how often you chew each bite of food.

In addition to proper chewing, it is important to keep your mouth healthy. See our article with best practices for oral hygiene and the resulting benefits for healthy digestion.

Healthy Digestive System: Gastric Stage (Your Stomach)

The second stage of digestion occurs in your stomach. Food is further broken down by mixing with hydrochloric acid (HCL), sodium chloride and enzymes. Given that HCL is corrosive to eyes, skin, organs and metals, it is rather amazing we safely contain it in our bodies to aid in digestion and destroying invading microorganisms. If you are wondering how we prevent HCL from damaging our bodies, read more here.

So, how can you keep your stomach healthy? 

  1. Eat a healthy diet. Your body digests it better.
  2. Avoid smoking, excessive caffeine and alcohol. These damage your digestive tract and cause stomach ulcers and heartburn.
  3. Avoid swimming in ponds, lakes and rivers with contaminated waters. Despite the protective nature of HCL, there are still bacteria that thrive in highly acidic environments. Avoid those, including Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections which can cause ulcers, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite and bloating. It is transmitted through saliva, vomit, feces and unsanitary contaminated food and water. If necessary, treatment is possible with antibiotics, but those then damage your healthy microbiome
  4. Stress less. Stress and anxiety increase the tension in your stomach muscles, resulting in excessive stomach acid production and leading to acid reflux.

Healthy Digestive System: Intestinal Stage

From your stomach, food passes gradually over 1-5 hours into your ironically named small intestine. It turns out your small intestine is about 7 meters long and the primary center for food digestion. 

Initially, your small intestine must reduce the acidity of partially digested food (chyme) from the stomach using mucus from Brunner’s glands and gall bladder bile. Then, chyme spends about 4 hours in your small intestine. Your pancreas and liver provide digestive enzymes to break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Bile from your gallbladder dissolves fat. The intestinal wall absorbs vitamins, nutrients, and water into the bloodstream.

The remaining substances move to the large intestine where bacteria ferment and further break down residual proteins and starches. Your large intestine includes your colon, rectum and anus. The passage of the digesting food in the colon is a lot slower, typically taking from 30 to 40 hours until defecation. High fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables can process faster, taking less than a day from ingestion. Meats and fats take longer. 

A healthy digestive system typically uses up about 5-10% of the energy you receive from food, although this varies by consumption of fat (0.3%), carbohydrates (5-10%) and protein (20-30%).

So how do you keep your intestines healthy?

  1. Beginning at age 45, the American Cancer Society recommends men and women undergo colon screening tests. See our article, Colonoscopy or Colonosco-poo on the risks and benefits of intestinal screening.
  2. Keep a healthy microbiome. You rely on thousands of symbiotic gut bacteria to protect against germs, break down food into energy and produce vitamins.
  3. Stay hydrated. Although it is a myth that you need to drink 8 glasses of water per day, getting sufficient fluid intake is necessary for good health.
  4. Get regular daily exercise to help move food through your digestive process. Strangely, there is no generally accepted number of times you should poop. A range of 3x per day to 3x per week is considered normal!
  5. Consider toilet-based urine testing from Olive Diagnostics with a device which attaches to the toilet rim. Users are alerted with early detection of issues like diabetes, urinary tract infection (UTI) and kidney stones.

Healthy Metabolism

The word metabolism refers to the sum of all chemical reactions that occur in living organisms, including digestion and the transportation of substances into and between different cells, called intermediary (or intermediate) metabolism.

Catabolic metabolism is the conversion of the energy in food to energy available to run cellular processes. Anabolic metabolism is the conversion of food to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and some carbohydrates; and the elimination of xenobiotic metabolic wastes.

Many factors influence your metabolic rate – including age, gender, muscle-to-fat ratio, amount of physical activity and hormone function. For more, see this fascinating article on the impact of aging on healthy metabolism. Hint: It is very important to maintain muscle mass and strength.

The End (of This Article)

This concludes today’s article. As your reward for digesting this reading material, add Everybody Poops 410 Pounds a Year: An Illustrated Bathroom Companion for Grown-Ups to your on-the-toilet reading collection.

Also, you are likely aware that after eating, you feel some fatigue as blood flows to your digestive tract. This process reaches its maximum effect 20–40 minutes after a meal and lasts for 1.5–2 hours. Use this time to take a glorious siesta! A 2007 Spanish study of over 23,000 people found that those who napped occasionally and those who napped consistently received 12% and 37% respective benefits of low coronary mortality. Proper sleep also aids in having a healthy digestive system.

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