Digestive system disorders can affect us during or after the various holidays (Christmas, Easter, or family celebrations) when overeating a variety of meals can cause short-term discomfort. In the long run, unhealthy lifestyles, bad eating habits, bad habits, or others can damage our digestive system. In the following article, you will learn how the digestive system works and how to put digestion in order if you are affected by digestive problems.
How does digestion work?
The main task of our digestive system is to break down food and obtain the necessary nutrients from it. Digestion of food begins in the mouth, where we bite the food into smaller parts with our teeth and mix it with saliva. Saliva not only makes it easier to swallow food but also contains the enzymes needed to digest carbohydrates. After swallowing, the food travels through the esophagus to the stomach. There is a very acidic environment that allows the efficient digestion of proteins. From the stomach, the digested food, which at this stage is referred to as a hymn, continues into the small intestine. Here, the final digestion of all nutrients, the digestion of proteins into amino acids, fats into fatty acids, and carbohydrates into simple sugars takes place.
The small intestine is also the main site of nutrient absorption. It is the longest part of the digestive system, with a length of approximately 3-5 meters. Thanks to the wrinkling of its surface and the presence of microscopic folds, its total area reaches up to 30 m2. This large area is interwoven with blood vessels and allows the absorption of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and sugars into the bloodstream. Undigested residues, made up mainly of fiber, then proceed to the large intestine. They nourish our friendly intestinal bacteria there. In particular, a mixture of water, bacteria, dead intestinal cells, undigested food, and the dye bilirubin, which is formed by the decomposition of hemoglobin and is responsible for the characteristic brown color, is already excreted in the form of stool.
Digestive problems impair the absorption of nutrients
The proper functioning of the digestive system is a prerequisite for the health of the whole organism. Indeed, indigestion and its disorders can impair absorption and increase the risk of deficiency of certain nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Diarrhea poses a particularly high risk, as not only the absorption of the number of nutrients is reduced, but at the same time, the body excretes high amounts of water and minerals with the stool. sodium, potassium, and chlorine.
Do vitamins affect food digestion?
The answer to the question of whether vitamins affect digestion is clearly yes. Because the relationship between essential nutrients and digestion also works in the opposite direction. Lack of certain nutrients can cause or worsen digestive problems. These include zinc deficiency, which can cause diarrhea, and vitamin D deficiency, which in turn exacerbates the symptoms of inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract.
How does digestion relate to immunity?
Digestion is also closely related to our immunity. A large part of the immune system is located in the organs of the digestive tract, and this is not a coincidence at all. Our digestive tract is home to hundreds of trillions (millions of millions) of microorganisms that work with the immune system to help maintain our health. Good communication between the immune system and friendly bacteria allows not only proper digestion but also the prevention of various diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or colon cancer. Disorders in this communication or the multiplication of harmful microorganisms can also result in autoimmune diseases. It’s when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells.
Indigestion – the most common digestive problem and their causes
Under normal conditions, digestion from the mouth to the rectum usually takes one to two days. However, when digestive problems occur, it can change much less (in case of diarrhea) or much more time (in case of constipation). Digestive problems also include bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, excessive gargling, abdominal pain, bloating in the abdomen, or heartburn. These digestive problems can have a sudden acute or long-term chronic nature.
Acute digestive problems can also be the result of relatively common or holiday offenses, such as overeating, consuming a lot of fatty and sweet holiday meals, or excessive alcohol consumption. However, digestive problems can also be caused by a less serious infection of the digestive tract (food poisoning). It is actually more common in the home environment than in restaurants.
How do you fix indigestion in case of diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a common digestive problem that can be serious, especially in children and the elderly. With diarrhea, the body loses a large amount of fluids and at the same time salts. It is important to replace, otherwise, there is a risk of dehydration.
An isotonic sports drink or home rehydration solution and supplementation with 10-20 mg of zinc per day can help. It can accelerate the cessation of diarrhea. After rehydration, hunger should gradually return. Then it is advisable to include smaller meals every 3-4 hours. For starters, light meals are suitable for digestion. Especially softly cooked cereals and pastries. It is definitely not appropriate to consume dairy products. These contain milk sugar lactose, which cannot be digested well enough by up to 65% of the world’s population. Most diarrhea resolves on its own within one to two days. If digestive problems related to diarrhea last for more than 48 hours or you have one of the more serious symptoms (fever, mucus or blood in the stool, persistent abdominal pain, symptoms of dehydration), contact your doctor.
What helps digestion in case of constipation?
The most important prerequisites for adjusting digestion in case of constipation are a sufficient intake of fluids, fiber, and also exercise. Fiber is important for the overall health of the digestive system, but in the case of constipation, its mechanical function also applies. Fiber acts as a digestive aid by retaining water and increasing stool volume, thereby stimulating and facilitating emptying. There are many types of fiber and therefore it is ideal to include a wide range of fiber sources such as. from whole grains, pulses, vegetables, and fruits. For some, instead of diarrhea, indigestion can manifest itself as constipation. The normal frequency of stool is one to three times a day, if the frequency drops to less than three stools per week, we speak of constipation. Constipation can also be accompanied by other indigestion or other problems, such as painful and difficult emptying due to hard stools or feelings of insufficient emptying.
What causes bloating and flatulence?
Intestinal bacteria also produce gases in their activity, containing hydrogen, methane, and other substances. In the average person, this produces half a liter to a liter of gas per day, which is about ten to twenty “releases” per day, and this is perfectly normal. However, if gas production gets out of control, it can be a very annoying problem that needs to be addressed. There can be many causes that cause bloating and flatulence, and their diagnosis requires specialized examination. A common cause is digestive disorders of some types of carbohydrates, which thus enter the large intestine, where they are released by bacteria that produce gases. In the short term, gas production can be controlled by limiting the intake of foods high in the most problematic carbohydrates, called FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates that are more difficult to absorb in the gut) or try to promote over-the-counter.
Most FODMAP carbohydrates are found in foods such as broccoli, legumes, wheat, onions, garlic, apples, fruit juices, and the sweetener sorbitol. The aim is not to completely eliminate these foods, only to temporarily reduce their intake and then gradually include them in the diet and test their tolerance. These foods alone are not bad, and the real problem is indigestion, which needs to be addressed in the event of long-lasting flatulence.
Chronic digestive disorders
Chronic indigestion can be a more serious problem. If some of the digestive problems listed above occur for a long time, it is important to consult a doctor first. With the help of tests and examinations, the doctor can rule out the presence of serious diseases such as cancer, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, stomach ulcers, or infectious diseases such as jaundice.
If no serious illness is confirmed, the search for the cause continues. It can also be caused by various food sensitivities, intolerances, allergies, and also the use of some drugs. One or more other factors may also be responsible for indigestion. It includes overall unhealthy eating, stress, vitamin or mineral deficiency, smoking, alcoholism, and more. Digestion and the human microbiomes are such a complex and little-explored area that it is not always possible to determine the exact cause of the problem. Digestive problems in such cases are sometimes classified by doctors as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In such cases, the doctor may prescribe suitable digestive medications, but depending on the nature of the problem, there are also important steps that we can take ourselves.
What helps digestion?
The best prevention of indigestion and a way to regulate digestion is, of course, a healthy diet and an overall healthy lifestyle, with plenty of sleep and exercise. That’s why these factors are an integral part of treatment if you suffer from digestive problems. What we eat nourishes not only us, but also the microorganisms in our large intestine, and they are also associated with much of the digestive problems. Microorganisms in our digestive system prefer fiber and other indigestible carbohydrates. These food ingredients are collectively referred to as PREbiotics. We can also support our microbiome with the help of living microorganisms in the form of nutritional supplements or fermented foods referred to as PRObiotics. In return, these microorganisms produce some beneficial substances important to our health, such as vitamin K or short-chain fatty acids.
How to start digestion the natural way?
If you are looking for a way to start digestion the natural way, the most important step is to clearly include sources of fiber in every meal. We mentioned fiber as an important part of food and its digestive function above in the article. Fiber is richly present in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. For healthy digestion, an adult should ideally consume more than 25 g of fiber per day.
Not only quantity but also diversity is important. There are countless types of fiber in nature that nourish various types of microorganisms. Fiber-rich foods and nutritional supplements are useful, but they do not replace a varied diet. For a healthy and diverse microbiome, we should consume optimally 30 different types of plant foods per week.
Related article: Home treatment of Gastrointestinal Disease
What causes indigestion in the long run?
A long-term negative effect on digestion is alcohol, smoking, cold cuts, sugar, artificial sweeteners, fried foods, and, last but not least, stress and lack of sleep.
Antibiotics can also be a problem for digestion, especially if we use them for a long time or often. In such cases, there is a decrease in the number and diversity of microorganisms in the intestine. It provides an opportunity for the spread of unwanted microorganisms and a precondition for chronic digestive disorders. If antibiotic treatment is necessary, we can support the regeneration of the intestinal microbiome with suitable probiotics. It contains live bacteria and prebiotics in the form of fiber-containing foods.
Conclusion – important steps to put digestion in order
If you have problems with digestion, wait a few days and improve your diet and lifestyle.
The most important steps to put your digestion in order are:
- Include fiber sources in each meal
- Consume at least 25 g of fiber per day from various sources
- Limit alcohol, sugar, and processed foods
- Work to reduce stress
- Include regular movement
- Treat yourself to sleep 7 – 8 hours a day
- Don’t overeat