What is Digestion?
Digestion is an integral process related to the body in which large particles of food are converted into small water-soluble molecules that can be taken up by blood plasma. Digestion begins from the mouth and ends when food leaves the body in the form of feces (undigested matter).
What is the function of the digestive system?
The digestive system is a network of organs that work to break down food into useful nutrients. These organs are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder also constitute the digestive system. The significance of the digestive system is that it changes food into fuel for energy and maintenance of the body.
Causes of digestion and digestive problems
The following are some common causes related to digestion.
- Poor diet
Unhealthy choices of diet are extremely common these days among youngsters as well as adults. A diet that is low on fiber can create a number of digestive issues. Examples include fried foods, sugary drinks such as sodas as well as junk food that is not only highly fattening but detrimental to health as well. Obesity can also result in digestive diseases.
- Viruses and bacteria
These lead to infections that may last for a long time. Viruses and bacteria enter the digestive system through consumption of unhygienic food or due to contact with contaminated surfaces. This ultimately leads to harmful germs entering the body and entering the digestive tract.
- Lifestyle choices
An individual’s lifestyle choices have a significant impact on their body. Since the digestive system is a group of organs working together, it is bound to become affected by one’s actions. Smoking and drinking can have an adverse effect on the stomach as well as the liver. Stress, anxiety, and lack of physical activity also contribute to digestive problems.
- Medicinal side effects
Antibiotics, as well as certain medicines, including non-steroidal and diabetes medication, can lead to digestive problems. Iron tablets, painkillers, and tranquilizers may also cause problems in the digestive tract. Blood pressure pills can have a negative effect on the stomach and intestines. Sometimes, one may also have an allergic reaction to certain medicine. If a person does not find out the root cause, these issues may become long term.
- Old age
As the human body ages, it experiences more wear and tear. This, in turn, affects the digestive organs. Eventually, it can result in problems that include acidity as well as reflux. If left untreated, it can have severe effects on a person’s health and well-being.
- Genetic reasons
In some cases, digestive diseases may be inherited. Hence, one should always be aware of their family history. Examples include Crohn’s diseases1 and pancreatic disorders which can be extremely harmful if left undiagnosed.
Digestive System Diseases
- Acid reflux
It is a throbbing pain in the lower breastbone that may travel towards your neck. This happens when the muscle at the end of your esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is unable to function properly. It is also known as acid indigestion or heartburn.
They are also referred to as peptic ulcers. An ulcer is basically a sore that forms in the stomach's lining (gastric ulcer) or the small intestine (duodenal ulcer). These sores are formed when stomach acids start reacting with the protective film of mucus found in the lining. Ulcers are the result of a severe bacterial infection or prolonged medication. If left untreated, they can lead to internal bleeding.
- Irritable bowel syndrome
It is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders. Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS prevents the intestines from functioning smoothly. The process of brain and gut interaction becomes disrupted which causes irritable bowel syndrome. It is characterized by abnormal gut contractions and increased gut sensations.
- Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease is the inflammation of the small intestine. It may involve any part of the digestive system ranging from the mouth to anus. However, it is most common in the ileum of the small intestine, the large intestine, rectum, and anus. This condition can also be inherited and may recur at any stage of a person’s life. It can affect both youngsters and adults alike.
- Chronic Pancreatitis
The term chronic pancreatitis is defined as the irreversible scarring of the pancreas. It is a long-lasting inflammation. With time, the pancreas stop producing the enzymes that are necessary for digesting and absorbing vital nutrients. In its later stage, it can cause the pancreas to stop the production of insulin which is an essential hormone that assists in blood glucose regulation.
Digestive Problems Symptoms and Signs
It is the frequent passing of watery stools. This may occur from time to time. However, if it becomes prolonged, it means that you are suffering from a digestive disease such as IBS or Crohn’s disease.
This is a state in which the stomach feels swollen or ‘blown up.’ This is due to the build-up of gas, fluid, or food ingested from the small intestine. The abdomen may also become hard and tight with the passage of time. This is an indicator of peptic ulcers and acid reflux.
- Nausea and vomiting
Nausea is an unpleasant feeling or sensation of discomfort in the abdominal area. Vomiting is a direct consequence of nausea. It occurs when stomach contents are forced up the food pipe (esophagus) and out through the mouth.
Constipation is a condition related to the bowel movement. When the colon absorbs too much, its muscles contract very slowly which causes the stool to move sluggishly. Therefore, it becomes extremely difficult to empty the bowels resulting in hardened feces.
Treatment of digestive system diseases
Avoid taking medicines without proper consultation. Paracetamol is a good substitute. It is better not to self-diagnose as it is a bad choice that may have undesirable results. Antibiotics may be used to counter bacterial infections after guidance from a doctor or pharmacist. Antacids are recommended for heartburn or abdominal pain. However, one should be vigilant when it comes to medication.
Sometimes, digestive diseases may cause bleeding or affect a person’s health. In such cases, it's better to get surgery done. This is due to the fact that the damaged organ may become entirely ruptured over time. There is a long list of procedures doctor may perform specific to each organ.
- Lifestyle changes
A considerable number of digestive diseases are related to harmful lifestyle choices. Avoiding activities such as smoking and drinking can play a major role in reducing the intensity of digestive issues. A balanced diet rich in fiber and protein certainly can be very beneficial to the processes of bowel movement. One can avoid consuming carbonated drinks; this can prevent reflux. In this case, fruit, salads, and some vegetables2 such as spinach can be very useful to the body. Avoid eatables that contain gluten or excess of dairy products.
- WebMD - Crohn's Disease Overview
- Healthline - The 19 Best Foods to Improve Digestion