A Simple Guide to your Gut
The gastrointestinal tract (GI) tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube. Your gut system is responsible for digesting your food and starts at your mouth and ends at your bum (from chewing to pooing!)
It plays a huge role in keeping our immune system and digestive health in check and there’s growing evidence that it can impact your mental health too.
If you get to understand what your gut does, you can also learn how to help it along the way. By understanding what might be going on if things don’t quite feel right you might be able to make small changes to help see big improvements.
How does digestion work?
First - digestion is the process of breaking down food into smaller parts so our body can use them to build and nourish cells and give us energy.
Digestion starts before you even put the food in your mouth. The cerebral (or cephalic) phase of digestion, whether triggered by the sight, smell, or thought of food, starts the digestive process.
You know all those things you do before a meal? From smelling the delicious aromas as you cook your food to imagining how it’s going to feel and taste in your mouth really kicks off the whole digestion process. If you’re lucky enough to have someone cooking for you and even them telling you what’s for dinner can kick this off as your brain tells your digestive tract “food is coming!"
The start: What happens when I eat food?
We believe this is the most important part of digestion - because it's the bit you have most direct control over. You have control about what you put in and how long you chew to set your gut up for success and allow your gut to work most effectively.
Putting food in our mouth and chewing is a fundamental part of digestion.
Two crucial things happen here: mechanical and chemical action, which are both important for breaking down food into smaller pieces so it can be broken down even further by enzymes in your body or system.
The mechanical bit is where the chewing grinds and breaks the food into smaller pieces, making it easier for the gut to do its job. The chemical bit is where your saliva glands get to work and lubricate your food to make it easier to swallow.
Chewing also helps you enjoy the taste of your food for longer - yum!
The middle: What happens after I swallow my food? (Trust us, there’s a lot going on)
Your oesophagus then carries the chewed up food from your mouth to your stomach.
(When we speak about our stomachs, we often use this for a catch all term for anything in the abdomen).
The stomach sac has a few jobs to do - it stores the food you’ve eaten and also starts doing some of the processing. It gets a bit of chemical assistance from water to break down the molecules of nutrients in your meals into useable forms for absorption to send to cells all over your body to help energise and restore!
Stomach acid also helps keep unwanted microbes out before it moves onto different areas inside us - this includes things like aiding digestion but also ridding ourselves of bad guys such as pathogens which can cause disease if they're not removed quickly enough.
The liver has a lot going on in it, including the production of bile and cholesterol.
The bile produced by your liver travels through ducts into the gallbladder where it can store temporarily before being released as required.
Your liver can be a busy organ as it produces bile (where the gallbladder is the storage facility for this).
Bile has the important task of emulsifying fats for absorption into the body. Bile is made up of cholesterol, acids and bilirubin. Fun fact: bilirubin is the red blood cells you no longer need and the reason why your poo is brown.
Your pancreas has two jobs; to make enzymes that break down sugars, fats, and starches and to make hormones which send messages that travel through your blood to help regulate your blood sugar levels and appetite, stimulate stomach acids, and tell your stomach when to empty.
Towards the end: What do your intestines do?
Your intestines are informally known as your gut, but as you can see, there's a lot that happens before the partially digested food gets here.
The food moves into the small intestine where most of the absorption of nutrients from food takes place through. Once it’s there, it’s mixed with the bile and digestive enzymes from the pancreas, gallbladder and liver.
The internal walls of the small intestine are covered in plant-like tissue called villi. Each of these villi is covered in even smaller plant-like structures called microvilli.
The contents of the intestine are mixed and pushed forward through the villi and microvilli forest to allow further absorption of nutrients and it can take 2-5 hours if everything is working the way it should. The undigested food them moved by muscle contractions to your large intestine.
The large intestine is home to an army of bacteria that can turn undigested food into vitamins and short chain fatty acids.
The large intestine absorbs water and electrolytes and using bacteria it ferments some of the material that has not been digested.
It then forms your poo from any waste you don’t need.
We're on a mission to help you heal your gut - your gut health influences your overall wellbeing
At one time, our digestive system was thought to be pretty simple - put the food in, absorb what your body needs then the rest goes out in waste.
Science now shows that your gut health is integral to your overall health and wellbeing - from your weight to fighting infection to your mental wealth.
Getting to know your gut and how it functions, as well as what's 'normal' for you is important to help you keep your overall health in check.
Take care of your digestive system with our all-round gut health supplements
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