How often do you stop to think about your digestive system? Aside from when it starts to malfunction or cause pain, we’re guessing probably not that often. But, inside your tummy there is a truly magnificent system operating and it’s worth spending five minutes to read this article to find out more about the secret life of your digestive tract….
You’re probably aware that your digestive system comprises your stomach, small intestine and large intestine but do you know what each of them does?
How it works
The stomach’s role is mainly to mix the food up with gastric juices and turn it into a thick paste called chyme. The small intestine, which makes up two-thirds of the digestive tract, is responsible for digesting and absorbing nutrients from the chyme which are then passed into the bloodstream for distribution throughout your body.
The large intestine is the final section of your digestive tract. Any undigested food enters here from your small intestine to be eliminated from your body along with fibre. Water used in digestion is reabsorbed by the large intestine causing waste products to harden and form poo which is then excreted via the rectum.
Peristalsis – what is that?
Peristalsis is the system whereby food moves from your mouth to your stomach using a powerful muscular wave motion. Although we wouldn’t recommend it as it could make you feel pretty sick, if you were to hang upside down after eating a meal, the food would still reach your stomach thanks to this process.
When your tummy rumbles it is because of peristalsis, as food, fluid and gasses pass through your stomach and small intestine. When there is no food in your stomach to muffle the sound, it seems louder but peristalsis is actually going on all the time. The scientific name for tummy rumbles is borborygmi.
The role of enzymes
Have you ever wondered what breaks the food down into nutrients? Chewing and saliva start the process off, of course, but once the food reaches your stomach, several different types of enzyme wade in to do the rest. Proteases break down protein, lipases break down fats and amylases break down carbohydrates.
Your stomach is quite a hostile environment with cells secreting around two litres of hydrochloric acid every day to break down food and kill bacteria.
This is the same type of acid that is used in many household cleaning products and it is highly corrosive.
Your stomach produces a new coat of mucus every two weeks to protect the stomach lining. Your digestive system is delicately balanced and is prone to more types of cancer than any other organ in your body.
Early diagnostic tests
If you have digestive problems you may be referred for an endoscopy or colonoscopy which uses a thin, flexible tube to look inside your body, via a natural opening such as your mouth or bottom.
We have to be thankful that things have progressed since German doctor, Adolph Kussmaul first designed his prototype instrument in 1868. He created a rigid instrument that was 18.5 inches long by 0.5 inches wide and needed to use the services of a sword-swallower to test it out!
So, next time you tuck into your favourite meal or your tummy rumbles to let you know you’re hungry, spare a thought for your humble, hard-working, extraordinary digestive system.