For good health, we need optimal digestive function. Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food. The goal of digestion is to reduce food to molecules so small that the nutrients can be absorbed and used by the cells. If our digestive function isn’t working properly, all other bodily functions are affected.
Digestion works north to south and begins in your brain. The process starts when your brain sees or smells food and you salivate in response. When you eat some pasta or whole grain bread digestion of these carbohydrates starts in your mouth as you chew and mix your food with saliva. This makes it easier to swallow and move down your oesophagus into the stomach. There is a one way valve at the top of the stomach called the oesophageal sphincter which lets the food, now called bolus, into the stomach. The stomach churns and massages the bolus, breaking it down. Hydrochloric acid is secreted and bathes the bolus so if you have eaten anything that had a little bacteria or a pathogen in or on it, this disinfects it so that it won’t affect your intestines and enter your bloodstream to make you sick.
When your stomach becomes acid enough, that substance which was called bolus in the oesophagus becomes a highly acidic substance called chyme. Once your stomach reaches the required acid expression, (ideally a pH of between 1.5 and 3) the chyme, which is now in a liquid acid form, will move through the pyloric valve at the bottom of the stomach. Here it enters the duodenum which is the beginning of the small intestine. This valve won’t open until your stomach is acid enough and if you do not have enough hydrochloric acid, it will be forced to open prematurely which will bring pain and discomfort to your digestive tract.
Once in the duodenum, if you have eaten any fat, the gall bladder will squeeze some bile into the common bile duct. Simultaneously, the pancreas is signalled to send out two things: bicarbonate to alkalinise the highly acidic chyme and digestive enzymes to help further digest your food. Once the chyme has been alkalinised, the pancreatic enzymes are doing their work and the bile that your liver made and stored in your gall bladder is emulsifying the fats, the food is broken down into small enough substances and is ready to move to the other parts of your small intestine. These are the jejunum and the ileum where what started out as the food you ate, will be absorbed into your bloodstream. Whatever is not needed and absorbed will move through the ileocaecal valve. This is the valve that joins the small intestine to the large intestine.
Once in the large intestine, we start to form waste and before we do this, we recycle bile, saliva and other substances in that first portion of the large intestine, the ascending colon. After the recycling takes place we start to form stools and faeces across our transverse colon, down our descending colon and into the sigmoid colon. From here you will eventually move the stools with muscular contraction known as peristalsis, out of the sigmoid colon and into your toilet bowl. That is how digestion works from tongue to tail, or actually brain to tail.
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