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What is digestion and tips to maintain a healthy digestion?

Digestion is the breakdown of food into simpler forms by a chemical and mechanical process. The food that you eat is broken down into simple building blocks which your body can use for many functions e.g breathing, movement and thinking.

Just the smell, sight and thought of food can start the process which begins in the brain. The brain signals your stomach to make juices in preparation to receive food.

Your mouth and teeth breakdown the food by chewing and the enzymes in your saliva digest the food to form a soft ball called bolus. Swallowing takes the effort of your mouth, tongue, pharynx and oesophagus which allows the bolus to enter your stomach.

The stomach is on your left side of your abdomen. This is the reservoir where food is held in about 2-4 litres. Food is grounded into smaller pieces with muscle movements and then broken down. This takes about 2-4 hours to mix .The semi liquid food passes through a sphincter at a steady pace into the small intestine. The timing depends on the size of your meal, how much you drank, fat and fibre content.Liquids and simple carbohydrates leave first, then protein and lastly fibre and fats.

Your small intestine is 20-25 feet long and one inch in diameter and consists of duodenun, jejunum and ileum. In the duodenum iron and calcium are absorbed.The duodenum receives bile from the gall bladder and enzymes from the pancreas which breakdown the carbohydrates, fats and proteins which are then absorbed into the jejunum the middle section of of your small intestine.In the jejunum glucose ,fattyacids and aminoacids and peptides are absorbed into the bloodstream where they travel to the liver and other organs to be used. Any nutrients not absorbed enter the final section of your small intestine the ileum where fats, fat soluble vitamins, vitamin B12 and magnesium are absorbed. Bile salts released in the duodenum can be reabsorbed as well as fluids and electrolytes.

The remaining undigested food and fibre leaves the ileum into the caecum called the large intestine. This is five feet long and three inches in diameter which forms the three sided frame with the small intestine in the middle. Water , sodium and fat soluble vitamins are absorbed before wastes leaves your body. The bacteria in the colon ferment and breakdown starches, fibres and sugar alcohols which were not digested. The by products can be hydrogen, methane and carbondioxide. Finally the solid wastes/stool/poo moves from the s-shaped colon into your rectum.Coordinated muscles then move your stool/poo through the anus and out of your body.Stool is made up of undigsted fibre , bacteria and water. The time or your food to go from mouth to anus can vary from a few hours to as long as a week or more. The average time is 18-24 hours.

There are many places where things can go wrong along your digestive tract and cause problems resulting in digestive problems which can be relieved with simple food and lifestyle changes. Some of them are: stomach ulcers, hiatus hernia, irritable bowel, pain and discomfort after eating, diarrhoea, constipation, and Heart burn.

Problems with your digestion can be caused by : smoking, stress, lack of exercise, infection, poor diet, less stomach acid, drugs, irritants can be environment or food and your genes.

A Dietitian can help you recognise your triggers, eat a balanced healthy diet and adequate daily fluids to help you feel better , change what you eat after intestinal surgery to avoid malnutrition and advice on any changes to your lifestyle habits and stress.

Book Reference:

Manual of dietetic practise Briony Thomas

Here's some useful ideas that may help digestion within a balanced healthy diet:

· Have regular balanced healthy meals at 4 hourly intervals and healthy snacks .

· Avoid having large heavy meals, take small and light meals instead

· Eat slowly and chew thoroughly remember mindful eating! from my previous blog, healthy teeth or good fitting dentures are also important

· Avoid rushing meal times- rest before and after meals as much as possible

· Sit in an upright position during and after meals.

· Avoid fatty or highly seasoned food which you have found from experience with a food diary that are likely to upset you

· Avoid stimulants e. g strong tea, cola, fizzy drinks, limit coffee to 2 cups/day and smoking. Instead try plain water, herbal tea, milk if tolerated.

· Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Avoid especially if there's pain and indigestion. Drink enough daily fluids and include atleast 4 cups out 8 with water. 1cup=250ml.

· If there are no symptoms and you are feeling better, alcohol can be taken in moderation. If you smoke try very little/cut down and have only after main meal

· Avoid very hot/cold foods.

· Regular exercise helps keep your gut active and healthy. If you are feeling well, take up some walking e. g walking the dog, outdoor fun family time.

· Remember if your digestive symptoms do not resolve and you are still unwell or losing weight seek a doctor's advice and see a Dietitian.

For specialised Diet and Nutrition advice seek the advice of a Professional Dietitian and Nutritionist Tabby Kabeer

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