Gastrointestinal System

What Is the Gastrointestinal System?
The gastrointestinal (GI) system–also known as the digestive system–is a highly organized system of organs and components. These work together intricately to break food down into sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, and other simple molecules that are absorbed into the bloodstream.1

How Does the Digestive System Work?
Food is transported through the digestive system in the following order:  
  1. Food enters through the mouth and is broken down by saliva and the act of chewing. It passes through the esophagus until it reaches the stomach. 
  2. The stomach uses acids and enzymes to convert food into a semi-liquid state called chyme. The stomach then expels the chyme into the small intestine. 
  3. The small intestine is the portal for all nutrients to enter into the bloodstream. Crucial digestive enzymes and hormones secreted from the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder break down the semi-liquid chyme into molecules small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream. 
  4. Any leftover food goes into the large intestine, where it is converted into solid waste with the help of bacteria. Water and salts are extracted from any undigested food. The end-product is expelled through the rectum and anus.2
What Causes an Unhealthy Digestive System?
You may be wondering, “How did my digestive system get so messed up?” Well, the fact of the matter is that chronic health conditions do not just "happen." There can be a genetic component that predisposes someone to becoming chronically "unwell," but research shows there are other factorsoften within our controlthat are usually the cause.

An unhealthy digestive system may be caused by:

  • Poor diet – A diet that is deficient in essential nutrients affects the digestive system’s ability to function effectively and can lead to many chronic conditions.
  • Overuse of antibiotics – Antibiotics kill the “good” bacteria and the “bad” bacteria, leading to an imbalance in intestinal flora. If the “good” bacteria (probiotics) are not replenished, the result is a poorly functioning digestive system overwhelmed by “bad” bacteria.
  • Chronic infections resulting from various organisms, bacteria, fungi, and viruses – An overgrowth of bacteria (such as H. pylori) or fungi (such as Candida yeast) can aggravate chronic conditions and contribute to malabsorption of vital vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
  • Food intolerances – Lactose and gluten intolerance can irritate the digestive system.
  • Stress – Chronic stress and negative thinking can literally “upset” the digestive system. Over time, stress can cause serious damage to the digestive system, in the form of ulcers and hypochlorhydria.
  • Heavy metal toxicity Heavy metals such as mercury cannot be easily processed by the digestive system.
  • Lack of proper digestive enzymes – Without the right combination of digestive enzymes, food can’t be broken down efficiently, which leads to vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies.
  • Low hydrochloric acid (HCl) – A low output of HCl (aka hypochlorhydria) leads to bacterial and yeast overgrowth, which aggravates many chronic conditions.

“Keep in mind that chronic illness is typically not “digital,” meaning either you have it, or you don’t. It is usually “analog” in nature, diagnosed by matters of degree.

Thankfully, most chronic illnesses are preventable, and the protocol to improve a condition is generally very similar to the protocol for prevention.”

Excerpt from WELLNESS PIECE BY PIECE by Pat Sullivan

What Can You Do to Restore the Digestive System?

Diet There are many things you can do to support the healthy functioning of your digestive system: 

  • Fill your diet with nutrient-dense whole foods such as nuts and seeds.
  • Increase your intake of saturated fats with extra virgin coconut oil.
  • Add high-fiber ingredients such as flax meal to your diet.
  • Increase foods that contain omega 3 fatty acids such as wild salmon and walnuts.
  • Avoid nutritional deficiencies by complementing nutrient-dense foods with quality supplementation.
  • Supplement your diet with quality digestive enzymes.
  • Increase your intake of probiotics to restore the balance of intestinal flora in your digestive system.
  • Maintain the correct amount of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in your stomach.
  • Stop eating two hours before bedtime, so you don’t fall asleep on a full stomach.
  • Chew your food thoroughly to aid digestion.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day, rather than large, heavy meals.
  • Drink plenty of water in between meals.

AVOID foods that can irritate the digestive system:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • Dairy products
  • Foods that contain gluten
  • Foods such as soy milk and ice cream that contain carrageenan (a seaweed extract that’s added to foods to retain their creamy texture)12
  • Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners
  • Nitrites found in processed foods such as hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in many foods as a flavor enhancer
  • Partially hydrogenated oils found in many processed baked goods and snack foods
  • Deep-fried food, fast food, and junk food

Exercise. A sedentary lifestyle slows down the digestive process. Brisk walking is the perfect exercise for encouraging and regulating healthy bowel movements. Furthermore, an outdoor stroll is a beneficial way of taking in much needed sunlight (and thus Vitamin D) that is often lacking in our daily lives. 

Spirituality. The digestive system can be disturbed by anxiety, fear, depression, and other negative outlooks on life. Symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, and gallstones can all be induced by chronic stress and negative thinking. Keeping a positive spiritual attitude optimizes the health of the digestive system.

Conditions Related to Dysfunction of the Digestive System
The digestive system is specifically associated with many conditions. Below is a list of related condition articles that you may find helpful: