Okay, we know that you eat food and your body breaks it down and then you poop it out… but what’s really happening from esophagus to large intestine? Understanding the process is essential in figuring out how to improve your own digestion—which can have a noticeable & positive impact on your overall health.
How Digestion Really Works
Long story short: your digestive system is a group of organs that extract nutrients from food, breaks them down into carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins & minerals—units that can then be absorbed by your bloodstream and carried to all the cells in your body. Fiber and other non-essential compounds that didn’t make it out at nutrients, are pooped out.
Long story long: There are three major phases of digestion—cephalic, gastric & intestinal. Cephalic occurs in the mouth, gastric in the stomach, and intestinal in the (you guessed it) intestines. “Complementary” digestive organs include the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Food doesn’t move through them, but they do cook up some essential chemicals that allow digestion to happen.
What happens in the Cephalic Phase of digestion?
Main role: break food & carbs down into manageable pieces.
Did you know that this phase actually starts before you’re even chewing? It begins with the sight, smell, thought, or taste of food that triggers the production of saliva. Saliva houses an enzyme called amylase, which begins to digest starch molecules in your food. From chewing and salivating, the food is ready to depart down the esophagus into the stomach.
What happens in the Gastric Phase of digestion?
Main role: protein breakdown.
During the gastric phase of digestion, your stomach produces hydrochloric acid (stomach acid!) to “uncoil” protein molecules, making way for the enzyme pepsin to really get in there and break it down properly.
Gastric digestion isn’t all acids and enzymes, your stomach muscles also play an integral role in this phase. The muscles in the wall of your stomach relax and contract, acting as a little blender to make sure your foods are mixing with your juices really nicely before descending into the small intestine.
What happens in the Intestinal Phase of digestion?
Main role: carbohydrate & fat digestion, as well as finishing off protein digestion.
Here’s where your pancreas comes in, as it secretes bicarbonate to actually reduce the acidity as it comes from your stomach. When your food is successfully neutralized, the liver & pancreas release enzymes and bile which have specific instruction to break down starches, fats, sugars & protein peptides.
Muscles on the small intestine walls contract to ensure the food particles get all blended up with the enzymes and digestive materials, and propel it all towards the large intestine. During its travels, the intestine walls absorb nutrients and pass it into the bloodstream. As mentioned previously, your bloodstream then delivers nutrients to every cell in your body.
Last but not least: food that couldn’t be broken down or absorbed continues into the large intestine, which does some hail mary absorption and last-minute water retention before it’s all pooped out.
Why A Well-Functioning Digestive System is Important
A well-functioning digestive system is essential in getting all the nutrients you need for growth, repair & daily function. When your system isn’t working properly, side effects range from gas & bloating to serious nutrient deficiencies.
How to Improve your Digestive System
Eat real food, and do it mindfully
Processed food, though super-craveable and perfect for a stressful day, is pretty bad for you, and can trigger digestive disorders. Try to stay away from preservatives, trans fats, and fake sweeteners, in order to protect against digestive diseases and improve your digestion.
Something as simple as eating slowly can help you avoid things like indigestion, gas and bloating. Taking it slow will probably force you to chew more, which allows you to produce more saliva. Together, more chewing and more saliva helps your body digest the food without as much effort.
Get plenty of fiber
Diets high in fiber help keep you regular, and have been shown to protect against digestive disorder. If you’re not sure that you’re getting enough fiber through the foods that you eat, GOGO makes it very easy, with just two delicious prebiotic fiber gummies or one scoop of prebiotic fiber with probiotics each day.
Pay attention to healthy fats
To improve your body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, you need to ingest an adequate amount of good fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are great, because they also help reduce inflammation, which has been shown to help prevent IBS.
Drink lots of water
Staying hydrated is the easiest thing you can do to improve overall health and bodily function. It also keeps things moving along, which can help you avoid constipation. If you hate drinking water, dry natural flavor drops or find fruits and veggies that have a high water content, like watermelon and cucumbers.
Try to manage your stress
Easier said than done, I know, but find a way to control those feelings of stress. Stress has been linked to IBS, ulcers, constipation, and even diarrhea—reducing it can improve digestive symptoms and help your whole body feel and perform better.
Additionally, eating when you’re stressed, emotional, or anxious can have a negative effect on digestion. Try to relax and pay attention to when you’re actually hungry (and full!) in order to help your digestive system stay on track.
Get your body moving
Similar to water, exercise and body movement can also keep everything moving inside, which helps with constipation. Regular physical exercise can also help reduce inflammation, which may help reduce inflammatory bowel symptoms.