It’s called “the gut,” also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or the digestive tract. It is essentially a long tube made up of layers of muscle lined by cells and glands imbedded in a mucous lining. The job of the gut is to ingest food, digest it, absorb nutrients, and to excrete waste products. The digestive system works hard. It is pressed into service every time we eat. In fact, over the course of a lifetime, it will digest some 23,000 pounds of solid food.
There are numerous organs involved in the digestive process: mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, anus, gallbladder, liver and pancreas. These last three organs are located outside the digestive tube or tract, but still play an important role in digestion. Should something go wrong with any of the digestive organs, the process of digestion becomes impaired. Nutritional status and overall health are then adversely affected.
This happens more often than we might suspect. More people are hospitalized for GI disorders than for any other, and more than 100 million Americans are reported to have digestive disorders. The health of the digestive system impacts the health of the rest of the body. When digestion is not optimal, whether from a recognized digestive disorder, inadequate diet, or even a silent digestive imbalance, the rest of the body not only misses out on vital nutrients, but it also receives toxins that can adversely affect many different areas of the body. The many gut connections to overall health highlighted in this book illustrate just how important digestive health is.
In the process of digestion, food is converted into fuel, or energy, to run the body. Large pieces of food are broken down physically (through chewing) and chemically (through enzyme activity) into microscopic particles, so that they are small enough to cross the cell membranes of the gut and enter the bloodstream. Any glitch in the digestive conversion process short-circuits the body’s energy supply, and can have far-reaching effects on health.
Before looking at what can go wrong in the process, let’s look at what a properly functioning system does and how it works.
Food Sensitivity and Intolerance
What Is It? Gluten Sensitivity / Celiac Lactose Intolerance Food sensitivity (sometimes called intolerance) is a term used to indicate symptomatic responses when particular foods are eaten. Food sensitivities and intolerances tend to create more subtle symptoms than allergic responses, although over time, their impact on health and vitality can be dramatic. In traditional medical […]
What Is It? In conventional medical circles, it is considered normal to have a bowel movement as infrequently as three times a week. In contrast, most holistic practitioners would consider the normal range of bowel movements to be one to three per day. The thinking is that three movements are ideal because we generally eat three […]
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
What Is It? Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition known by a variety of names, often referred to as acid reflux, chronic heartburn or acid indigestion. These terms are frequently used in advertisements to get you to buy the latest pill or tablet guaranteed to ease your pain. But if you are experiencing discomfort […]
What Is It? As food passes through the stomach into the small intestine, nutrient absorption occurs through the semi-permeable mucous lining of the wall of the small intestine. This membrane also shields the bloodstream from unwanted toxins, pathogens and undigested food. In this respect, the gut lining is a vital part of the body’s immune […]
What Is It? The presence of Candida albicans, a benign sugar-fermenting yeast, in various parts of the body—the skin, the genitals and especially the intestinal tract—is entirely normal. In small amounts, this yeast is an integral part of the intestinal ecology and, when kept in balance with other microorganisms, does no harm. Candidiasis, however, is […]
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What Is It? Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), not to be confused with the more serious IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), used to be considered a functional disorder of the intestines. That is to say that the small and large intestine are not functioning properly though there is little or no evidence of damage or structural abnormality. […]