Have you ever considered what occurs when you eat? How does an apple transform into vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other nutrients that your body can utilize? Digestion is a complex process and encompasses more than just the stomach. In reality, the gastrointestinal system comprises organs such as the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum.1
The process of digestion commences in the mouth as saliva is produced when you contemplate or smell food. Food undergoes partial breakdown through chewing and the chemical action of salivary enzymes, which break starches down into smaller carbohydrate molecules.2 Have you ever pondered why starchy foods taste sweeter the more you chew them? This occurs because the enzyme amylase in saliva breaks down starch into glucose sugar. The next time you consume rice, bread, potatoes, or other starchy foods, chew them thoroughly and observe the increase in sweetness as they convert into sugar.
Once chewed and swallowed, food travels down the esophagus, a lengthy tube extending from the mouth to the stomach. It uses rhythmic, wave-like muscle movements (known as peristalsis) to propel food from the throat into the stomach.
The stomach secretes gastric juices in preparation for incoming food. These juices comprise hydrochloric acid, pepsinogen, gastric lipase, mucus (secreted by the throat), amylase (from the mouth), and intrinsic factor (essential for the absorption of vitamin B-12 by your body). The stomach muscles contract and mix the digestive juices with food, forming a liquid blend known as chyme. Once ready, the stomach releases the chyme into the small intestine, where digestion and nutrient absorption continue.3
The small intestine is where most of the digestive magic unfolds. When chyme enters the small intestine, bile (produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder), pancreatic enzymes, and other digestive enzymes from the inner wall of the small intestine aid in breaking down food.4
The wall of the small intestine is lined with billions of tiny finger-like projections called microvilli, significantly expanding the absorptive surface. This is where nutrients are absorbed into your bloodstream. Each villus contains a lymph vessel encircled by capillaries, serving as connecting pathways between the blood and tissues, allowing nutrients from your food and oxygen to reach individual cells.5
Once the remaining food passes through the small intestine, it enters the colon, also known as the large intestine due to its wider diameter. There is minimal nutrient absorption here. Its primary role is to absorb excess water from intestinal waste and reintroduce it into your bloodstream, much like a ‘water treatment plant’. As the liquid waste progresses, it dehydrates, forming stool, which is then expelled.6
Now that you understand how the digestive system operates, treat it kindly with a healthy diet, sufficient hydration, exercise, quality sleep, and supportive supplements.
Supplements for Better Digestion
Digestive enzymes are proteins that aid in breaking down the bonds holding nutrients together, much like a jackhammer breaking apart concrete. Renew Life® offers various DigestMORE® formulas to suit your digestive needs.
On the other hand, probiotics are beneficial bacteria primarily residing in your digestive tract, supporting digestive system health. Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora® 50 Billion Extra Care™ Probiotic formula bolsters digestive health and helps alleviate functional gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation, flatulence, and abdominal pain.
Dietary fibre significantly influences digestive tract health. Most food sources of fibre contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, but regrettably, Canadians aren’t consuming enough through their diet. FibreSMART® is an easy-to-mix flax-based dietary fibre supplement that can be added to water or juice to aid daily bowel health. It contains both soluble and insoluble fibre along with Flax Seed, Acacia Gum, Guar Gum, L-Glutamine, Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm Bark, and Triphala for added digestive support. Moreover, it’s free from nuts, gluten, dairy, and soy.
By Caroline Farquhar, RHN, EMP, BA