Over the next few weeks I am going into delve deeply into the digestive system. Many people suffer from digestive disorders. I will discuss what organs and processes are involved in eating, absorbing, digesting and finally excreting foods. Why is this important? If we understand how it works we may pay more attention to it and that in itself may help improve digestion. This is important for anyone with digestive issues but equally for us all as the saying goes you are what you eat but actually it goes further you are what you absorb!
The first organ involved in the digestive process is the brain. Soon as you start thinking about food the body starts to prepare itself for food. Digestive juices, saliva, enzymes and digestive hormones activate ready for the incoming food. A saying I hear on Australian Masterchef a lot is you eat with your eyes. Seeing food can also stimulate these juices as well as smell, taste and texture.
* Top tip*
- One simple way to optimise digestion is to think about food before eating also cooking, setting the table are all good ways to send signals to your brain it is time to eat soon.
The mouth chews and breaks down your food to a mush so your stomach doesn’t have to! Saliva helps soften the food and also contains an enzyme called amylase. This enzyme is involved in breaking down carbohydrates. It also contains lipase which helps break down fats. Amylase is released and activated in the mouth, lipase on the other hand is not activated until food reaches the stomach. Saliva aids chewing and swallowing, it cleans the mouth, buffers PH of food, it is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal and it helps deliver important nutrients to the teeth. For the best digestion, healthy gums and teeth are essential.
- Chew your food!
- Drinking a lot of fluid when eating may hinder the action of saliva so try to drink fluids around eating and drink minimal amount when eating.
- Focus on good oral hygiene.
This is a part of the body that I can NEVER pronounce! It is a tube that starts from the mouth and leads to the stomach. Peristalsis is involved in this part of digestion, this is when food is pushed down towards the stomach. The oesophagus has a sphincter at the bottom, if working as it should it stop any food or stomach acid coming back up. It is closed most of the time but is open to allow food to travel down to the stomach. When people are bothered by heartburn type symptoms it may be because the sphincter is not working efficiently enough.
- Slow down when you eat.
- Don’t overeat at one sitting.
- Eat at a table.
- Try not to lie down immediately after eating.
- Don’t wear tight clothing around the middle.
- Avoid foods that may affect the tone on the sphincter: citric juices, spicy foods, tea, alcohol, mint may be a culprit or very high fat meals.
Next week I will discuss the stomach, the inner lining of the digestive tract and the small intestine.