10 Fascinating Digestive Health Facts
In honour of World Digestive Health Day, dive into these fun digestive facts!
Do you know how your digestion works? The digestive tract is a complex and fascinating system that plays a vital role in our health and well-being. From breaking down food to absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste, our digestive system is constantly working to keep our bodies nourished and healthy.
Here are 10 facts you might not have known about digestion, and how your digestive tract works:
1. The digestive tract, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is a long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. It’s longer than you think! In fact, the average human digestive tract is about 30 feet long – that’s about the length of a school bus!
2. The digestive tract is composed of several organs, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. Digestion also relies on the support of accessory organs such as the pancreas, liver, and gall bladder.
3. If we were to estimate the surface area of the digestive tract, including the internal surface of the small intestine and large intestine, it could be anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 square feet! This is due to the extensive folding and microscopic villi that line the walls of the intestines, which greatly increase the surface area available for nutrient absorption.
4. It’s estimated that there are trillions of bacteria living in our gut, comprising hundreds or even thousands of different species. The exact number of bacteria can vary from person to person depending on factors such as diet, lifestyle, and genetics. Collectively, these bacteria are known as the gut microbiome, and they play an important role in digestion, immune function, and overall health.
5. The digestive process includes two different types of digestion:
- Mechanical digestion – this refers to the physical breaking down of food such as chewing food with our teeth, and the churning and break up of food by the powerful muscles of the stomach
- Chemical digestion – this is the breaking down of food via enzymes and acid, some examples being salivary amylase, which starts to break down starches in our mouth, and pepsin, an enzyme in our stomach that helps to break down proteins.
6. The actual absorption of that food takes place mainly in the small intestine. Similar to the stomach, there are enzymes in the small intestine to help further break down food, making it easier for nutrients to be absorbed and used by the body.
7. On average, it takes about 6-8 hours to digest a meal, although the exact time can vary depending on the composition of the meal, and can be influenced by other factors such as metabolism, physical activity, and digestive disorders or diseases. Some parts of the meal, such as carbohydrates, are typically digested more quickly than fats and proteins, which can take longer to break down and absorb.
8. Our gut is often called our “second brain” – this is because it is home to a network of approximately 100 million neurons (more than the spinal cord!)! This complex network of neurons is called the enteric nervous system, and it is capable of operating independently of the brain and spinal cord, controlling digestive functions such as muscle contractions, enzyme secretion, and blood flow. It’s also thought to play a role in regulating mood and emotions, like when we describe a “gut feeling.”
9. Stress can have a big impact on digestive health, leading to symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. This is because stress can disrupt the normal contractions of the digestive muscles and affect blood flow to the digestive tract.
10. Your digestive tract is unique to you! Each person’s digestive tract is slightly different, with variations in length, shape, and function. These differences can influence digestive health and at times may require personalized treatment.
To sum it up, the digestive tract is a complex and remarkable system that plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. From the length of the tract to the bacteria that live within it, there is much to learn about this important part of our bodies. By understanding how the digestive system works and how it can be influenced by various factors, we can make informed choices about our diet and lifestyle to support optimal digestive health.
Struggling with digestion? A dietitian can help! Give us a call and book an appointment with one of our digestive health dietitians, and let us help your gut feel good!
Struggling with uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea? Contact us to learn about nutrition counselling.
For more information on nutrition counseling for digestion issues and support on what to eat for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), the low FODMAP diet, constipation, diarrhea, celiac disease, crohn’s disease, colitis and other digestive health concerns, CONTACT US.
One of our specialized gut health dietitians can see you in our local Calgary nutritionist office or by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counseling.
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Disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, chronic disease
One of the first things you’ll notice about Britney is her energy, zest for life and love of food! Britney is passionate about supporting her clients in developing a healthy and satisfying relationship with food and their bodies, allowing them to live life to the fullest. Britney specializes in disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, and chronic disease.