An Easy Guide to Understanding the Digestive System
Food is not only for pleasure, although eating a visually beautiful and well prepared, nourishing meal is an immensely pleasurable experience. You also need food to fuel your body for energy, growth, and repair. To understand how your food choices are affecting your health, let’s take a closer look at digestion.
This blog is an easy guide to understanding the digestive system.
Your digestive system converts the food you eat into their simplest forms. One
simple way to describe the digestive process is in terms of the following five stages:
Ingestion, Digestion, Absorption, Assimilation, and Elimination.
Ingestion refers to the taking in of food through the mouth.
Digestion is the process in which the food you eat is broken down into a form that can be absorbed and assimilated by the body. Digestion consists of two types of processes:
Mechanical (chewing, grinding, churning, mixing) and
Chemical (aided by the action of hydrochloric acid in the stomach as well as digestive enzymes and bile.)
Chemical digestion starts in your mouth with the effects of saliva released from your salivary glands, although most of the chemical digestive processes occur in the stomach and small intestine, where partially digested food is subjected to stomach and pancreatic juice.
Saliva contains a digestive enzyme called amylase (or ptyalin) which helps to
start the breakdown of carbohydrates (starches).
In the digestive tract, proteins are broken down or digested into amino acids,
fats are converted to fatty acids and sugars (carbohydrates) are broken down into glucose molecules.
These small nutritional building blocks are then absorbed through the walls of
your small intestine. Absorption mostly takes place in the jejunum and ileum,
although alcohol is readily absorbed through the stomach. Your small intestine is lined with tiny finger-like projections known as villi and microvilli that act to greatly increase the surface area of the small intestine, making absorption much more efficient.
These digested ‘food’ molecules such as amino acids, fatty acids, and others are then directly absorbed into your bloodstream as the nutrients are carried to each and every cell in your body where they are then assimilated into the cells. Through assimilation, your cells can then use these molecules for fuel, to carry out repairs, facilitate growth, and other functions. Then, in the final stage, elimination, what cannot be used is excreted either through urination after being processed by the kidneys or defecation if the material is solid waste.
Before we leave our overview of the digestive system, let’s give a shout out to
your liver, as it is the major organ responsible for detoxifying your body. The liver is the largest organ in your body, weighing in at an impressive forty-two to fifty-six ounces in the average adult, and acts to clean and filter your entire blood supply. Your liver is of vital importance as it functions to separate the nutrients needed by your cells from the waste chemicals that need to be purged from your circulation. Your liver converts amino acids into proteins, produces bile to assist in the digestion of fatty foods, and takes the energy from sugar into its cells as glycogen, where it is stored for future release when energy is required.
Our modern environment is filled with toxins, found in our foods, pesticides,
fertilizers, herbicides, solvents, plastics, and more. These toxic chemicals make their way into our bodies and can act as ‘endocrine disrupters.’ They are called that because your body reacts to these chemicals in the same way it would react to a hormone, either intentionally taken or naturally produced by your body. So not only is keeping your liver healthy important, it’s also wise to eat organically as much as possible, limit alcohol intake, avoid smoking, and stay away from the use of harmful chemicals.
- Maday Labrador