Your digestive system and all its processes are what your body depends on for good
health. Imbalance may adversely affect all other systems in one way or another, so your digestive system is one of
the most important systems to keep protected against malfunction and disease.
Many modern ailments may be attributed to a damaged or imbalanced digestive
The main organs of digestion are the liver, pancreas and gallbladder; the organs
of the digestive tract itself include the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon,
rectum and anus.
Your liver is the largest of the digestive organs. Its main functions are
detoxification and storage of and assimilation of nutrients for use in the body. It acts as a filter that traps,
neutralizes and eliminates toxic chemicals that you breathe, absorb, or ingest. It also aids in the balance of
cholesterol, working with your gall bladder.
Today one of the biggest problems facing us is that our digestive tract isn't
functioning as it should, primarily due to modern diets and lifestyles. Gastro-intestinal complaints range from
minor inconveniences that we may hardly notice, to major diseases that affect our everyday life or diet.
Constipation and acid reflux are two of the most common problems associated with
the digestive system today, and the call for over-the-counter 'remedies' and medicines for these conditions is so
high that they are some of the best-selling items in pharmacies across the Western world.
More extreme and troublesome (chronic) conditions can include irritable bowel
syndrome, spastic colon, colitis, diverticulosis/itis, Celiac disease, and Crohn's disease, which collectively
still accounts for millions of doctor visits across the Western world today. It is a fact that a significant
percentage of Westerners have some type of bowel problem.
So what does this mean for the rest of our body systems?
We absorb nutrients though our intestines; they are the first stepping stones for
getting nutrients into our systems for the use of all other organs, glands, and natural chemicals in the body to
ensure they are working correctly.
The foods we eat must be broken down into a form the body can use as nourishment.
Digestion is where food is broken down to smaller nutrient parts so it can be used to both build and nourish cells.
What makes the digestive system crucial for good health is the fact that every system depends on its full and
proper function to provide what it needs everywhere else in the body. This includes your heart, lungs, brain,
In the US alone around 60 to 70 million people are estimated to be affected by any
one of the main digestive diseases on any one day, and there are an estimated 13.5 million hospitalisations as a
result of those effected, costing around US$141.8 billion.
Chronic constipation accounts for around 63 million; Diverticular disease around
2.2 million; Gallstones around 20 million; Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) around 20% of the population;
Gastrointestinal Infections around 135 million; Haemorrhoids around 75% of people older than 45; Inflammatory bowel
disease and Crohn's disease around 359,000 people; Ulcerative colitis around 619,000 people; Irritable Bowel
Syndrome (IBS) around 15.3 million; Liver disease around 2.6 million; Pancreatitis 1.1 million; Peptic ulcer
disease around 14.5 million; and Viral Hepatitis between 800,000-3.9 million people, depending on type A, B, or
In the UK, almost 2 million people were diagnosed with a digestive disorder last
year; One third of the UK population regularly suffers from digestive illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome,
constipation, diarrhoea, stomach-aches and nausea; Over 3.7 million operations were carried out on parts of the
digestive system in the UK in 2005/06; Almost 15% of deaths in the UK are linked to the digestive tract; GPs
prescribed drugs costing more than £562 million for the gastrointestinal system last year in England; 42% of people
suffering from digestive problems turn to sources other than their GP for help; and scarily....
Cancers of the digestive tract account for 23% of cancer deaths.
Like any complex system, your digestive tract is affected by its internal and
external environment. When either of these is disrupted the normal function of the digestive system can be thrown
off balance. If left unresolved, this can quickly develop into a problem.
Over time such repetitive symptoms can become progressively worse and include
abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements and other symptoms. These symptoms may be the first stage signs of a
potential impending chronic or serious disease development if left untreated.
So what causes the system to go 'off-balance'?
There are many potential trigger factors that we need to be aware of.
Stress whether physical
or emotional. All unconscious activities in the body are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. When humans
experience stress, as a survival mechanism, the body diverts energy, blood, enzymes and oxygen from the digestive
organs to other areas where it is more needed at that time. Worry, anger, fear, or physical stresses such as
infections, injury, surgery and environmental toxins may all have an effect on digestive efficiency.
Medications can cause
unnatural imbalances in the body. They can affect the necessary natural chemical balance in the body, which balance
usually promotes good health and prevents the onset of disease. This provides an opportunity for infection,
bacteria, or viruses to grow. Once these become dominant and multiply, they can damage the gut wall, create toxins
and affect your immune system.
For example, Aspirin and similar medicines (known as non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)), used to treat general pain relief should be avoided if you have an ulcer or you
Certain tranquillisers, painkillers, iron tablets and cough medicines are also
known to cause constipation; some people get diarrhoea while taking antibiotics or blood pressure pills.
Poor diets with high
levels of processed foods which are stripped of essential nutrients can over a short period of time begin to
deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals. Once depleted, the body finds it harder to digest foods and
nutrients normally, often resulting in putrifying foodstuffs in the lower colon. This fuels the growth of yeast and
bacteria, leading to indigestion, gas and bloating.
Bad eating habits can lead to a compromised digestive function, resulting in gas,
bloating and indigestion.
The environment unfortunately, in the modern world, is full of toxins. When exposed to them, the body
naturally reacts to detoxify, which uses large amount of energy that leaves little energy for proper digestive
All of these examples can lead to......
A low production of Hydrochloric Acid (a powerful digestive acid produced in the
stomach, essential to the digestion of proteins).
A lowered enzyme production (both metabolic and digestive), which are essential
complex proteins needed in the digestive process. Lack of enzymes can also lead to conditions such as Candida,
parasite infection, and excess aging.
An imbalanced intestinal pH that is detrimental to a healthy digestive tract. If
the pH changes too much, food cannot easily be broken down and absorbed.
Signs and Symptoms
"Around 40% of people have at least one digestive symptom at any one time..."
Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital in London.
Symptoms of a weakened digestive system can be numerous but may include: abdominal
discomfort, constipation, fatigue, food cravings, headaches, bloating, gas, haemorrhoids, indigestion, acid reflux,
diarrhoea, nausea, poor appetite, and weight gain or loss.
Disease doesn't just happen; it is created by a person's lifestyle and other
factors. A sluggish, constipated digestive system generally comes from stress, lack of exercise and poor dietary
The way you take care of your digestion system is to provide your body with proper
nutrition and fibre from your diet, plus appropriate supplementation.
Most people also need to look at ways to protect, stimulate and cleanse the
digestive tract along with the liver and gall bladder as added protection and strengthening. Herbs such as Milk
Thistle, Artichoke Leaf, and Dandelion Root, for example can contribute to this; as can Black Walnut, Wormwood and
Red flag' symptoms
".....although digestive symptoms are usually harmless and often settle down by
themselves, they can sometimes persist and be a signal of serious illness. People tend to underestimate how
serious their symptoms are........often until they become difficult to treat or seriously adversely effecting
quality of life." Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital in
Dr Emmanuel highlights 5 'hardcore' symptoms, which mean you should not delay in
seeking professional guidance and some form of treatment or further diagnosis:
- A sudden, persistent change in the pattern of how your bowels
- Bleeding from the back passage
- Increasing heartburn, indigestion or other stomach pain
- Losing weight unexpectedly
- Difficulty swallowing
Reflux or GERD
Symptoms of reflux, such as heartburn, are among the most common digestive
symptoms. Heartburn typically involves a hot or burning feeling rising up from the centre of the abdomen and into
the chest under the breastbone or sternum. It may be accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth, hypersalivation, or
even food or fluid regurgitating in the mouth. Pregnancy, some medications, and consuming alcohol or certain foods
may cause this.
Treatments typically include drugs that reduce acid levels and the H2
In severe cases of GERD, surgeons can tighten a loose muscle between the stomach
and oesophagus to inhibit the upward flow of acid. Or laparoscopic surgery, which involves small incisions, is
supposed to lessen scarring.
However, long-term use of these types of medications has thrown up some concerns
about the possibility of an association with cancer, infection, and gastric atrophy. Also, there are concerns about
long-term therapy having a possible association with fundic gland polyps, Helicobacter pylori and gastric atrophic
Proton pump inhibitors also reduce the absorption of Vitamin B12.
These are often caused by the over-use of medications such as common painkillers,
aspirin or other NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) pain reducers.
They are commonly treated first of all with 10 to 14 days of antibiotic treatment,
often combined with acid reduction medication. Surgery is an option for more severe cases.
These are small 'pebbles', which are primarily made of cholesterol and bile salts.
Getting rid of them typically requires removal of the gallbladder, which rates amongst one of the most common
Western routine surgeries.
Removal should only be necessary if the stones have been left long enough to
instigate inflammation or infection of the gallbladder, pancreas, or liver.
Painkilling medication is often used for less severe cases, along with diet
(obesity is a risk factor for gallstones, and it's theorized that they develop because of a shortage of fibre and
an excess of fat in the western diet).
This is a series of abnormal bulges called diverticula somewhere in the wall of
the intestinal tract.
Dietary changes used to be the first course of action, generally avoiding any
foods that may 'lodge' in these 'pouches'. However, more recent research finds that actually regular consumption of
these foods did not boost the risk of diverticular complications and that eating plenty of nuts, for example, may
Antibiotics are often used to treat the associated symptoms. And in severe cases
surgery may be offered.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
People with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, the two most common
inflammatory bowel diseases, complain of abdominal pain and diarrhoea and sometimes experience anaemia, rectal
bleeding, weight loss, or other symptoms.
Both disorders may arise from a malfunctioning immune system that leads the body
to attack the gastrointestinal tract, along with bad dietary practice.
Crohn's involves ulcers that may burrow deep into the tissue lining at any portion
of the GI tract, leading to infection and thickening of the intestinal wall and blockages that need
Ulcerative colitis, by contrast, afflicts only the colon and rectum, where it also
causes ulcers; colitis is characterized by bleeding and pus.
Treating either disease requires beating back-and then continuously holding in
check-the inappropriate inflammatory response. Both steps are conventionally treated through some combination of
prescription anti-inflammatories, steroids, and immune-suppressants. Crohn's patients may also be given antibiotics
or other specialized drugs.
Laxative products are a huge pharmaceutical market across the Western world.
However, overuse of stimulant laxatives, which cause the intestines to contract rhythmically, can make the gut
dependent, resulting in 'lazy gut'. This requires more of the drug and eventually rendering the aid ineffective and
the natural bowel movement redundant.
Common over-the-counter remedies include Milk of Magnesia, and general branded
Every person in the world has a digestive tract that is out of balance at some
point. While high fibre dietary supplements and natural digestive aids may provide some benefits, they don't solve
The good news is - achieving a balanced system is easier than you might think IF
you have the right combination of components.
The digestive system is a rather intricate system, but there are natural remedies
available for common digestive problems that can help alleviate symptoms. The following are some examples of things
can be added to your daily diet for short-term
relief of common symptoms.
Tea - Many known teas can help calm and soothe the stomach.
Ginger is often referred to as the stomach tonic and can help with bowels, stomach cramps, nausea
and other digestive disorders.
Chamomile tea can relax and help with gas, bloating, cramping,
diarrhoea and constipation as well as the symptoms associated with IBS.
Peppermint tea can control gas and heartburn and tame an upset
stomach. Any of these teas can be purchased at most grocery or local health food stores.
Papaya or Pineapple Fruit Enzymes - Papaya aids in digestion and
intestinal health. Papaya contains the enzymes papain and chymonpapain, and both of these are digestive aids. These
enzymes aid in cleansing the digestive tract, which can help reduce bloating, nausea, flatulence and cramps.
Pineapple contains the enzyme Bromelain, which helps break down the proteins in foods and generally aids in
digestion. Both of these fruit enzymes can be helpful when eaten, used as juices or purchased as tasty chewable
tablets that can act as an antacid.
A number of clinical studies have established that Kiwifruit can
play a beneficial role in the overall health of your digestive system which in turn is considered to give the
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Some promising studies have been done with participants consuming one or two
kiwifruit per day.
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