A Brief Overview Of The Gastrointestinal System

In order to heal or restore your body, it is important to make some very important nutritional changes. These alterations in your diet will be helping your body to cleanse away toxins, heal damaged or compromised tissues, restore normal functioning of your vital gastrointestinal mucosa and enzymes and facilitate the action of the nutritional supplements, homeopathic, etc., that have been recommended for you. Your understanding, willingness, and commitment to make these changes will be important keys in helping you to create health and well-being.

Gastrointestinal System
Gastrointestinal System

In order to achieve these healthy changes, it can be very helpful to take a closer look at how your body is designed and how it functions. Understanding some of the profound and miraculous changes that occur within your body can help you to deepen your overall understanding of your health and your unique health care needs. These understandings can also help you to better comprehend particular treatment protocols recommended. Research has proven that patients who take an active role in their health care get positive results much more quickly and easily.

Your gastrointestinal tract is a very important part of your body. It is responsible for harnessing energy that enables you to grow, to heal, to restore, and to live. Its many functions include digesting foods, absorbing nutrients, assimilating nutrients, and transporting waste products through and out of your body. The integrity of your gastrointestinal system plays a primary role in maintaining and sustaining your body. If any of the vital functions of your GI system are limited or imbalanced in any way, the rest of your body is also compromised. Without the necessary components and nutrients derived from food and its digestion and absorption, health and vitality would not be possible.

There are many factors that can compromise an individual’s gastro-intestinal functioning. These include but are not limited to: poor diet, certain medications, food allergies, stress, and lack of breast-milk as an infant. Other factors can include lack of exercise, genetics, certain disease processes, inadequate enzymatic activity, chronic exposure to environmental toxins, and poor water.

Digestive Process

The actual process of digestion begins in your mouth. As food is eaten, your teeth and jaws grind the food into smaller fragments. This process is called mastication. While the food is being chewed, it is mixed with digestive enzymes secreted by your salivary glands. These enzymes are responsible for breaking down starches in the foods that you eat. Starches include such foods as grains, breads, and cereals. As you chew or masticate, the larger bites of food become smaller fragments that are more easily broken down by the enzymes. It is for this reason that taking time to chew your food slowly and thoroughly is vital. Swallowing large chunks of food puts more stress on your stomach and other areas of the GI system that must work over-time which wastes energy to break down the food.

The food then moves down a long tube called the esophagus. Sometimes called the “food pipe,” the esophagus has wave-like contractions called peristalsis that propel the food toward the stomach. No digestion takes place in the esophagus.

The food then moves into the stomach. Strong contractions by the stomach churn the food. Cells in the walls of the stomach begins secreting digestive enzymes. These enzymes are called hydrochloric acid (HCI), pepsin, and protease. These substances are responsible for breaking down the food into even smaller fragments. The pH of the digestive enzymes are very acidic (1.0 – 3.0). The reason these enzymes are so acidic is to break down complex proteins, such as chicken and fish, into substances called amino acids. These amino acids can then be absorbed more easily into your bloodstream. The type of foods that you eat and the integrity of your digestive enzymes determines how long the food remains in your stomach. A piece of fruit, for example, is very easy to digest and may remain in your stomach for only 20-30 minutes. A steak, on the other hand, is a very complex food and may remain in your stomach for several hours. It takes a lot more time, energy, and enzymes for your stomach to break down complex foods.

The food, now called chyme, then moves out of the stomach and enters the portion of the small intestine called the duodenum. There are three major parts of the small intestine; the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. The first portion of the small intestine, the duodenum, is perhaps the most important part of the small intestine. Within this area many vital absorption processes occur.

Once the acidic chyme moves into the duodenum, cells in the walls of the duodenum begin to secrete a mucosy substance designed to alkalinize the pH of the chyme. The delicate walls of the small intestine, unlike the stronger walls of the stomach, cannot tolerate acidic enzymes and sub-stances. To protect itself, it secretes the mucus that within a brief period of time raises the pH. It is important to note that stress can inhibit the release of this alkalinizing substance. When this occurs frequently, burning, pain, and ulcerations can occur in this area. As the process of alkalinizing the chyme is occurring, enzymes secreted from the pancreas and liver are also being secreted.

The pancreatic enzymes include amylase, protease, lipase, etc. These are responsible for breaking down complex foods, including fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into their basic elements. The liver produces bile that is stored in your gall bladder. The gall bladder secretes the bile into the small intestine. The bile has a detergent-type action that breaks down the fats into small fat globules to aid in fat digestion. Bile assists in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, F, and K and helps to assimilate calcium. Bile also converts beta-carotene to vitamin A. It promotes intestinal peristalsis as well, which helps to prevent constipation.

As the food particles move through the jejunum and ileum, absorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals occurs. This absorption process takes place through the walls of the small intestine. Molecules flow through the cell walls and enter the blood stream. Once in the bloodstream, they travel by way of the hepatic portal system to the liver. In the liver nutrients including iron and vitamins A, B12, and D are extracted from the bloodstream and stored for later use. The liver also plays a vital role in fat metabolism, in the synthesis of fatty acids from amino acids and sugars, in the production of lipoproteins, cholesterol, and phospholipids, and in the oxidation of fat to produce energy.

Excess food is converted to fat in the liver, which is then sent to the fatty tissues of the body for storage. The liver also acts as a detoxifier, regulates protein metabolism, and combines toxic substances including metabolic waste, insecticide residues, alcohol, drugs, and chemicals with other sub-stances that are less toxic. These substances are then excreted from the kidneys.

The waste products of the digestive and absorption processes then move into the large intestine. Depending upon the nature of the waste products and the length of time the waste products remain in the large intestine, very little absorption occurs. The primary functions of the large intestine include transport and removal of waste products through the rectum and reabsorption of water.