Digestive System - How Can I Keep It Healthy?
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This hub page has been created to help people easily understand the importance of how to keep your digestive system healthy. Many allergies begin in the digestive system and our digestive systems play a primary role in keeping us healthy and when problems occur with the digestive system it can have a major negative impact on how we feel and how our body reacts. If digestive problems are left untreated, it can escalate into more serious conditions eg: colon cancer. So our aim should be preventative rather than curative. There are many things that we can do to promote good health for our digestive system which in turn will give us great health and wellbeing.
The Role of the Digestive System
This hub will provide you with an overview of the digestive system and how you can keep it healthy through dietary and additional natural techniques.
To function optimally our body needs:
Protein for the growth, repair and maintenance of our cells )
Carbohydrates for energy (macro nutrients needed in large amounts)
Fats for many functions wthin the body including protection of our internal organs and nerves. )
Vitamins and minerals (micro nutrients needed in small amounts)
The role of the digestive system is to provide mechanical, chemical breakdown of the foods that we eat. Carbohydrates are broken down into monosaccharides (as can be seen in the following chart)
Functions of the Digestive Organs
proteins into amino acids and fats into glycerol and fatty acids. This breakdown is carried out through mastication (chewing) and the addition of enzymes which quicken the digestive process, peristalsis which is (muscle contraction), absorption, dehydration and evacuation. The majority of these functions are involuntary and controlled within the center of the brain.
The digestive tract is 9mtrs, over 30ft in length and most of the breakdown of food occurs within the stomach and small intestines. Also it is within the small intestines that most absorption of the nutrients takes place. Once food has been chewed, swallowed and entered into the stomach through the esophagus it is mechanically and chemically broken down through churning and through the addition of hydrochloric acid (for proteins) gastrin, secretin and cholesystokinin. This changes the food from a solid state into a creamy liquid known as 'chyme'. The chyme then travels along the small intestines where it is further broken down through pancreatic enzymes and the complete breakdown of fats takes place with the addition of bile (secreted from the gallbladder). As it travels along, different nutrients are taken out by long projectiles known as villi. These nutrients are then passed into the blood stream and delivered to different parts of the body.
A complex system regulates the blood sugar levels in our body. These are always in a state of fluctuation according to time of day, activity levels etc. and this cycle determines our body's hunger and saiety levels. When we have eaten, our blood sugar rises and insulin is secreted from the pancreas which lowers the blood sugar levels by delivering it to our cells. As our blood sugar levels drop below normal then glucagon is secreted (also from the pancreas) to raise our blood sugar levels. Glucagon works with the liver to convert the stored sugar in our liver cells (glycogen) into glucose which makes up the deficit until we next eat.
Below is a chart of that shows the composition and functions of the different digestive organs.
anatomy of the digestive system, and digestive accessory organs.
Some of the Conditions that can effect the Digestive System
Due to overcooked, highly processed food over a long period of time our digestive system can begin to break down and stop performing it's functions properly. This can lead to all kinds of illnesses such as ulcers, indigestion, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome and other bad skin conditions. The next part of this article will explore different ways you can follow to keep your digestive system healthy.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO AID OUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM?
Why Should We Eat Foods that are Rich in Digestive Enzymes?
- They quicken the digestive breakdown of food.
Enzymes cause chemical reactions to happen to breakdown the food easier and faster and so it is important that we eat foods that help our digestive system to complete this process otherwise we can get digestive problems such as heartburn, gas & acid reflux and indigestion.
Flesh proteins are difficult to digest without enzymes but if we eat plenty of raw food whenever we eat meat or fish this will result in less work for our already over worked digestive system. In fact a diet rich in raw living food with enzymes helps our energy levels, stamina, weight loss, and we benefit from great skin and all round good health.
The best dietary sources of enzymes are shown below:
In addition we need to eat foods that are rich in fibre - as
As well as the pictures of the foods shown above, there are other important foods that we need to include into our diets; these being those high and rich in fibre as they don't completely break down during the metabolic process and provide bulk in the large intestine to keep it healthy and to assist in evacuation of faeces. Whole grains are especially important to eat on a regular basis for good colon health.
Wholegrains and How They Help Our Digestive System
Wholewheat is one of the world's healthiest foods even though there has been many people who have told us that over eating carbohydrates can be a cause of obesity as the body can only store so much glycogen and the rest has to be stored as fat and yes this is a true statement but we can say that obesity is mainly associated with eating refined grains and lots of junk food. Wholegrains are a low fat source of many essential amino acids which are essential for our energy and wellbeing. On the other hand if we overeat then we will put on weight.
One question that we have to ask is what are the reasons for choosing wholegrains over refined grains? Well very simply here are some of the reasons:
Other important nutrients that are contained in the germ and bran of wholegrains are ferulic and caffeic acids, saponins and lignans which all have their own health promoting properties including antioxidants. All vitamins and nutrients work synergistically to promote health.
Most wholegrains such as wheat, rice, rye, bran, corn, etc. are insoluable fibres whereas barley and oats are soluable fibres which means that they metabolize, help with sugar levels and lower our cholesterol. A good amount of whole grains to include in your daily diet is between 3 and 4 servings. A good guide for a serving is 1/2 cup cooked grains, or 1 slice of wholewheat bread.
When we go shopping ilook carefully at the food labels. For instance when buying wholewheat bread make sure that the ingredients are listed as 100% wholewheat as shops can sell their bread as wheat even if most of the ingredient used is refined flour. Or even better than buying bread is to make it yourself. Below we have put together a video showing you how easy it is to make a 100% wholewheat bread. Try it, it really is as delicious as we say it is.
More Foods That Keep Our Digestive System Healthy
Apart from carbohydrates our bodies also need proteins to keep our digestive system healthy. Now our own bodies can create 11 of the 20 amino acids that we require and the other 9 we need to get from our food. These essential amino acids can be found in foods such as eggs, cheese, meat, and fish and also 2 vegetable sources of quinoa (which has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous) and soya.
Foods that compliment each other as far as our digestion is concerned and which also taste good too are grains and legumes or beans. The simple reason that they compliment each other so well is because legumes provide the lysine which wholegrains lack and wholegrains provide methionine which legumes lack. Beans and rice is a dish that many people eat for instance.
Vegetables and Fruit should be eaten everyday as they supply the inevitable amount of water soluable vitamins which we can only get from our food. These include Vitamin B and folic acid and to maintain optimal health we need 5 servings a day. It is interesting to note that if we cook vegetables for only a couple of minutes then it makes it easier for us to digest and none of the enzymes will be destroyed although we do need to eat raw living foods as well. A good tip for a serving with fruit and vegetable is that it fits in the palm of your hand as a rough guide.
If we do not supply our body with these powerful phyto nutrients then our health will suffer but these negative effects on our body may not be even detected for a while in which time they will worsen. Anything ranging from low energy to reduce immune system to many types of degenerative diseases. That is why it is so important to give our body what it needs to be able to help keep our digestive system working as it should thus in turn helping us to be full of vitality.
We cannot write an article about keeping our digestive system healthy without talking about water.
Water The Breath of Life
The Role of Water
Our bodies are made up of 70% water, our brains alone are composed of 75% water, our blood is composed of 92% water, our bones are composed of 22% water and our muscles are composed of 75% water. In addition below is a list of the functions that water carries out within the human body that makes it so important to our health.
required for breathing out
regulates body temperature carries nutrients and oxygen to all body cells
moistens oxygen for breathing
protects and cushions vital organs
helps to convert food into energy
helps the body absorb nutrients
All cell functions take place in water. Every cell in our bodies needs water to perform optimally. It is believed by many, including my self, that if we drank more water many of our digestive and other diseases would be greatly reduced and we would save ourselves much discomfort. This theory is borne out by Dr Batmangheldi in his book ‘Your Bodies Many Cries For Water' where he states that chronic dehydration causes symptoms that equal disease. The beginning of his research into the lack of water and effects on the body was carried out while he was a political prisoner of the Iranian Revolution. During this time he treated over 3,000 prisoners suffering with peptic ulcers with water, as there were no other medicines available. He went on to say that the body has many thirst mechanisms which are often wrongly interpreted as symptoms of disease when all it is, is that the body is chronically dehydrated and needs water.
But would you say that you are chronically dehydrated? Probably not but many of us are mildly dehydrated and when we fail to address the problem properly we will always experience further symptoms of dehydration which can include any or all of the following effects:
- Loss of appetite
- Dry skin
- Dark and colored urine
- Dry mouth / cottonmouth
- Fatigue / weakness
- Head rushes
The above list begins when the body is down by 2% of its fluid requirement.
If the dehydration is allowed to continue then when the total fluid loss reaches 5% the following effects are normally experienced:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased respiraton
- Decreased sweating
- Decreased urination
- Increased body temperature
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle cramps
- Tingling of the Limbs
In an article in the Lancet (medical journal) in September 1984 and November 1984 Paddy Phillips said
"Humans seems to lose their thirst sensation and the critical perception of needing water. Not recognising their need for water, they gradually become increasingly and chronically dehydrated with the progress of age. Further confusion lies in the idea that when we're thirsty, we can substitute tea, coffee, or alcohol-containing beverages. This is a common error." (p.14)
Always take into account your level of activity - the more physically active you are the more water you will need to consume. A great way to avoid dehydration when playing sport is to carry a bottle of water with you at all times and drink from it regularly.
Make sure that you are hydrated before playing sport or engaging in any type of physical activity and continue to sip water at regular intervals.
Increase the amount of water that you drink in hot weather as the water loss through perspiration increases as the body maintains its correct temperature.
Drink more when you are ill
Take into account other beverages and foods that you eat - remember it takes water to digest food and if you eat something that's slightly salty then extra water is needed to balance the electrolytes (sodium, potassium) in the body.
Regularly sip water continually throughout the day, little and often is better than gulping a lot down all in one go.
Every one is an individual and your fluid levels will also be individual to you bearing in mind that 1ltr of water is lost each day purely through cell metabolism and so it is vital to replenish at least that amount.
The easiest way to know if you're dehydrated is by the color of your urine. If it is dark and smells strong then you need to increase the amount of water you are drinking. Clear or very pale almost odorless urine is a good indication that your body's water levels are where they need to be.
By increasing the amount of water you drink it will flush out your system, improve the condition of your skin, increase your energy levels, prevent the onset of headaches and you'll probably find a new you that you had forgotten existed.
Another tip for you to help your digestion - try to drink water 1/2 hr before meals - this has two purposes. One is that digestion uses water to digest food and the other is that you do not want to dilute the digestive jucies by drinking too much with a meal.
Using Reflexology to Help Digestion
One last technique that we feel is connected with keeping your digestive system healthy is using reflexology. For those people who do not know what that is, it is stimulating the pressure points and nerves within the body through either using the feet or hands. It is much more difficult to apply this technique to your feet on your own and so we will show you in a video that we have created for you how to use this yourself by pressing on various pressure points on your hands.
All the things mentioned in this hub will definitely help to provide you with energy, health and vitality.