All of us suffer from tummy trouble at some point in our lives. Let's first take a look at how the digestive system works. The digestive tract is a series of hollow organs—the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), rectum, and anus—through which food and liquids pass and are absorbed or eliminated. Along the way, two solid digestive organs, the liver and the pancreas, add digestive juices. These juices help break down food into nutrients that can be absorbed by the body. Another organ, the gallbladder, stores bile between meals. Bile is the digestive juice produced by the liver that helps digest fats. At mealtime, the gallbladder empties bile into the small intestine. Most nutrients in digested food are absorbed through the walls of the small intestine and travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. There, they are used to build and nourish cells and provide energy. Waste products, including the undigested parts of food known as fiber, leave the body through a bowel movement.
Did you know that 60 to 70 million Americans suffer from digestive diseases of one kind or another? Nutritional professionals predict that most American adults get only about half of the 20-35g of fiber daily that we need for good health. You may know that the primary function of the digestive tract is to break down the food we eat so that it can be used as fuel by the body. What is less well-known is the importance of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract to your immune system and your total body's health. In fact, the GI tract is often referred to as the body's "second line of defense" against potentially harmful pathogens that cause disease (the first defense being the skin!).
Digestive problems can range from mild to severe. You can overcome many problems by making simple lifestyle changes—watch what you eat, maintain a healthy weight, learn to deal with stress, and if you smoke, quit. Gee this sounds like a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes we take for granted how just simply taking care of our body and eating healthy can make our lives more enriched