Digestive Health

Your digestive system breaks down foods and liquids into their chemical components—carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and the like—that the body can absorb as nutrients and use for energy or to build or repair cells.

Food's journey through the digestive system begins in the mouth. It passes down the esophagus and into the stomach, where digestion begins. Next stop: the small intestine, which in the average person is more than 20 feet long. The small intestine further breaks down food, absorbs nutrients, and sends them into the bloodstream.

The remaining watery food residue moves into your large intestine, a muscular tube about 4 feet long. As undigested food passes through it, bacteria feed off the remnants. The wall of the large intestine soaks up most of the remaining water. Any undigested food that remains is expelled by a highly efficient disposal system.

Like all complicated machinery, the digestive tract doesn't always run smoothly. In some people, the problem is genetic. In others, the immune system mistakenly attacks the digestive system, causing various digestive woes. What we eat, and how we eat, can also throw off digestive health.

Common ailments of the digestive system include:

  • heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • peptic ulcer
  • diverticular disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • gallstones
  • celiac disease
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

Keeping your digestive system healthy

There are several ways to keep your digestive system healthy:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Keep your weight in the healthy range.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Exercise several times a week, if not every day.
  • Learn different ways to reduce stress.

Digestive Health Articles

Achalasia

Achalasia is an uncommon disorder of the esophagus. The disorder makes it difficult for food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach. The esophagus is a muscular tube. It carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Normally, coordinated contractions of smooth muscle move food through the esophagus. These contractions are called peristaltic waves. Between the esophagus and stomach is a muscle called the esophageal sphincter (LES). The sphincter surrounds the esophagus. It keeps the esophagus closed. This prevents food and acid from splashing back up into the esophagus from the stomach. When you swallow, this sphincter relaxes. It opens to allow food to pass into the stomach. At the same time, nerves coordinate the contractions of the esophagus. This moves food into the stomach when the sphincter opens. In achalasia, the nerve cells in the lower two-thirds of the esophagus and the sphincter are abnormal. This causes uncoordinated or weak peristaltic waves. It also causes the sphincter to remain closed. The cause of achalasia is unknown. It does not run in families. Most people with achalasia develop symptoms between the ages of 25 and 60. (Locked) More »

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B virus spreads through contact with infected blood. Specifically, hepatitis B may be spread through: Direct contact with the blood of an infected person Unprotected sexual activity with an infected person Needle sharing among intravenous drug users Sharing razors or other personal items with an infected person Being pierced or tattooed with contaminated instruments Blood transfusions (extremely rare in the United States because of improved testing) Childbirth, when the virus is passed from mother to child (Locked) More »

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that form the inner lining of the stomach. The disease often does not cause symptoms until its later stages. Usually, by the time stomach cancer is diagnosed, the prognosis is poor. Most people who are diagnosed with stomach cancer are over age 60. The disease rarely occurs before age 50. (Locked) More »