Your gut plays an important role in your health. Here’s where you can discover exactly what goes on inside your gut.
You may think that your gut or gastrointestinal (GI) tract consists mainly of your stomach and intestines but there is far more to it than that. The truth is, your GI tract begins at your mouth and ends at your anus. Its key role is to absorb the nutrients from food that is consumed. These nutrients are then sent into your bloodstream to be distributed throughout your body. Generally, it takes about six to eight hours for food to be digested and eventually excreted, as waste, from your body.
An insider’s look
Ever wondered what happens inside your gut after you’ve consumed some food? Here is an insider’s look at what takes place in your GI tract after you’ve had a meal.
Your eyes and nose
Your eyes and nose are not part of your GI tract but they play a role in helping your GI tract prepare for what is to come. The fragrant smell and appetizing sight of food is enough to make you salivate, even before you take that first bite. This is a sign that your digestive tract is preparing to work and start digesting food.
Once you take your first bite of your food, your salivary glands will produce saliva. Saliva helps to lubricate food and it also contains enzymes that help to chemically digest your meal. Your nervous system is responsible for controlling the release of saliva. Your body produces about one litre of saliva everyday.
With every bite you take, your teeth will break down the omelet. At the same time, your tongue mixes saliva with it and this makes it easier for you to swallow food which will enter your oesophagus.
The oesophagus is a tube which connects your mouth to your stomach. The muscles in the walls of your oesophagus, contracts and releases when food is present. This will create waves along your oesophagus, pushing food down to the end of this tube where the esophageal sphincter is located. The esophageal sphincter allows your food into the stomach when there is pressure. At the same time, it also prevents food in your stomach from re-entering the oesophagus.
Your stomach is shaped like the alphabet ‘J’ and it is located in between the oesophagus and your small intestines. Your stomach’s role is to digest the food that you eat and to store food until your small intestines are ready to receive it. The muscles in your stomach will start churning food with the help of gastric juice produced by the lining in your stomach. Gastric juice, the acidic liquid which is responsible for breaking down and digesting the food.
The outer layer of your stomach is made out of muscles and tissues. The inner lining, on the other hand, contains glands that secrete chemicals such as enzymes, hormones and acid. When food is digested, it is absorbed into the walls of your stomach and enters the bloodstream to be transported around your body.
Once, it is broken down, food enters your small intestines. The first section of your small intestines, the part that will first receive food, is called the duodenum. The next two sections of your small intestine are known as the jenunum and ileum.
When food enters your small intestine, it is mixed with bile from your gallbladder and pancreatic enzymes from your pancreas. The role of the former is to break down fatty food while the latter breaks down and digests food, in general.
Your small intestine contains small blood vessels known as villi. The villi’s unique feature is to promote nutrient absorption in your body. According to United Kingdom’s health education website, Patient.info, most of the important nutrients needed by your body is absorbed along your small intestine.
Just like the oesophagus and stomach, your small intestine will contract and release its muscles, allowing the food to pass through it until it reaches the ileum, which is located at the end of your small intestine, right before your large intestine.
After being absorbed mostly by the small intestine, the remaining food then enters the large intestine. By this time, it typically consists of water, sodium and waste products such as plant fibre and dead cells from your digestive tract.
The large intestine also contains bacteria which helps with the last stage of nutrient absorption. Your large intestine absorbs mainly water and when combined with the balance of ‘food’, it leaves a soft substance which becomes faeces. Food which cannot be digested such as waste substances and germs, will move towards your rectum. When the walls of your rectum are stretched, receptors around it will signal to your spinal cord, that there is a need for a bowel movement where waste is secreted as stools or faeces.
Now that you understand the vital role of your gut, why not make an effort responsibility to ensure that you eat only good quality, natural and unprocessed food? This will ensure that your gut is able to absorb lots of nutrients for lasting health.
Most people believe that bacteria are bad for your health. However, did you know that your gut is made out of millions of bacteria? According to WebMD, bacteria are the most abundant microbes (an average of 1000 different types) in your intestines and they help with your overall digestive system.
Bacteria line your intestines and help you break down your food and nutrients. As a matter of fact, taking care of the bacteria in your gut by eating a low sugar and high fibre diet, can help to improve your overall gut health. When you do this, you can look forward to a strong immune system, lower inflammation levels and improved overall health.
Probiotics and prebiotics are two types of bacteria which are believed to help with your gut health. Probiotics, which can be found in certain foods, such as sauerkraut and miso soup, are live microorganisms that can promote good health when consumed in appropriate amounts. Prebiotics (which can be found in raw garlic and onion) on the other hand promotes the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
Your second brain
Ever wondered why people always told you go with your ‘gut instinct’ when you’ve got a tough decision to make or why the term ‘butterflies in your stomach’ is used to describe nervousness? The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a complex system, made out of about 100 million nerves that are located in the lining of your digestive tract. The ENS is also called your ‘second brain’ because it comes from the same tissues as your Central Nervous System (CNS), which controls the activities in your body such as voluntary and involuntary use of your muscles. Although your ENS does not influence your decisions or control your nerves to play the piano, for example, it is linked to your endocrine, immune and neural systems.
In a study conducted by Harvard University, it was found that patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), saw improvements with their symptoms when they meditated and reduced stress. In other words, stress appeared to be a risk factor for IBS. The study of brain and gut connection is still ongoing, as medical researchers continue to discover more links between these two important systems in our body. However, in a nutshell, good gut health plays an important role in your overall physical and mental health.