One of the most common reasons people land in the ER is abdominal pain. The exact cause of stomach pain can be difficult to pinpoint, but more often than not, these issues stem from digestion problems. We hear a lot about the digestive system, usually in broad terms, but what all goes into our digestive health? We’re breaking it down below!
What it is
The gastrointestinal system, also called the digestive system, gastrointestinal tract, digestive tract, or what we’re going to call it — the gut — is composed of a group of organs. These organs include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum.
What it does
The gut plays so many vital roles in regulating our body’s overall health and wellness. From the moment you put food into your mouth, it’s transported through a seven-step process.
Here is a quick summary of that process:
- Ingestion: eating
- Propulsion: food moves along the digestive tract
- Secretion: digestive enzymes chemically break down the food
- Mechanical Digestion: physically breaking food down into smaller pieces from chewing and then muscular churning in the stomach
- Chemical Digestion: enzymes in the stomach and small intestines chemically break down food more
- Absorption: molecules move from the digestive tract to blood and lymphatic vessels, where nutrients enter into the body
- Defecation: the process of eliminating undigested material
How it affects our physical and mental health
Aside from the obvious pain and discomfort that comes with digestive issues, an unhealthy gut can eventually cause chronic health problems. Gut bacteria is a key factor in the body’s metabolism, and there are studies connecting increased risks of diabetes and obesity to imbalanced gut bacteria levels. The gut also builds and boosts the body’s immune system and helps protect the body from infection, but when it’s weakened by imbalances, it doesn’t perform as well. An unhealthy digestive system causes inflammation in the body, and long-term, untreated inflammation can cause a variety of serious health conditions.
Your gut also has a huge effect on your mental health and vice versa, as they have a mutual relationship. You know the feeling when you’re in a stressful situation, or you receive bad news, and you feel physically sick to your stomach? That’s because gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals used to regulate physiological and mental processes in the brain, such as memory, mood, and learning. In what’s referred to as the “gut-brain axis,” signals from the gut affect neurotransmitters in the brain. In fact, about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin is created by gut bacteria. An unhealthy gut can cause anxiety, depression, and mood shifts, but as previously mentioned, the gut-brain axis is a two-way street, so those conditions can also cause issues in the gut.
When we start to think of nourishing our digestive system as a form of self-care, we’re able to see the complete picture of how the gut plays an important role in our health as a whole.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
Did you know there are about 70 million people in the U.S. with digestive diseases? Also, about 10-15 percent of hospital procedures are attributed to treating digestive diseases.
Signs of an unhealthy gut include:
- Stomach aches or discomfort
- Frequent gas and bloating
- Food cravings
- Skin irritation
- Mood issues
What to add and avoid in your diet
So, how do you take better care of your digestive system? Starting with your diet should be the first move. Here’s a list of foods to add and cut from your meal plans for a happier gut!
20 healthy-gut foods to incorporate into your diet more:
- Olive oil
- Brussels Sprouts
Ten things that can negatively impact the gut include:
- Excessive caffeine
- Fatty/fried foods
- Artificial sugar
- Excessive red meat
- White flour
- Tap water
- A poor sleep schedule
- Excessive alcohol
- High stress
We encourage you to get your digestive tract on track and watch how it benefits your life!