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You may be surprised to know that digestion doesn’t begin in the gut. To find out what the digestive process really entails, let’s journey down a healthy digestive tract for a closer look. We’ll start in the mouth, where digestion actually begins.
From the moment you begin chewing—or even thinking about food—saliva is automatically produced and begins the process of breaking down your food. Thoroughly chewing your food will result in better digestion. Eating fast and barely chewing your food can result in gas and bloating.
The Blender within You
Next, you swallow your food, a voluntary action that moves the food into the upper esophagus, and then peristalsis (involuntary contractions of the esophagus) delivers the food into the stomach. The stomach acts like a large blender, churning and mixing food and liquid with its own digestive juices (stomach acid and enzymes) that help break down difficult-to-digest proteins and fats.
How Your Body Absorbs Nutrients
The stomach then empties its contents into the small intestine where nutrient absorption takes place. In the upper small intestine, stomach acid is neutralized and digestive enzymes are released to help further digest the food. In the major part of the small intestine, macronutrients from food (fats, carbohydrates and proteins) are broken down into smaller units and absorbed through the wall of the small intestine, and carried throughout the body along with micronutrients (water, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) via the bloodstream. These materials will either be stored for later use, or undergo further chemical change for use in the many different processes of the body.
Beneficial gut bacteria, or probiotics, in the small intestine play an important role by producing digestive enzymes that help break down food that the body cannot digest on its own. Probiotics also help promote healthy immune function. That’s why it’s so important to balance your digestive system by taking a daily probiotic. Probiotic supplements have been shown to help replenish the good bacteria and help maintain a healthy digestive system.*
The Elimination of Toxins and Waste
The part of the food you eat that is not digestible (including fiber), along with worn out cells shed from the digestive tract and some unabsorbed toxins, constitutes waste products. These products are propelled by peristalsis (involuntary contractions) into the large intestine (bowel, or colon). Next they are dehydrated, turned into stool and mixed with trillions of bacteria that help protect the health of the colon by promoting regular elimination before being expelled from the body.
Now that you know these basic facts about your digestive system, it’s important to continue your digestive journey by paying closer attention to your own digestive health and being aware of the positive steps that you can take toward vibrant digestive health.