A Closer Look at the Human Digestive System

A Closer Look at the Human Digestive System


In this presentation, I would like to take
you on a guided tour to learn a bit more about: The Human Digestive System, especially the
common ailments associated with it. Let’s begin with the basic Anatomy and Physiology
of the Digestive System. The alimentary canal or gastrointestinal tract
is the system of tubes that transforms our food into fuel. As the illustration depicts, digestion begins
in the mouth. Once the food passes our lips our teeth mechanically
break down the bolus of food via mastication. As we continue to chew, the salivary glands
produce saliva to lubricate the oral cavity and help break down the bolus further. All the while our tongue coordinates the bolus’
position to our bite and assists in swallowing once the food is of appropriate size and texture
to pass through the preceding passages. Once past pharynx, the muscular walls of the
esophagus contract to squeeze the bolus onward using peristalsis to direct it down into the
stomach. Inside the stomach the bolus is churned by
peristalsis within the digestive juices to transform the food into the semi-liquid state
known as chyme. The next stop, the small intestine. Is where the chyme travels from the stomach into
the pylorus, it is mixed with bile from the liver and gallbladder, to help break down
large fat globules, as well as with pancreatic juices from the pancreas, which are full of
digestive enzyme producing cells. This mixture passes through approximately
21 feet of tubes to be sorted as nutrients for absorption or waste for excretion. The remaining substance of the mostly digested
food is transported into the large intestine, which is approximately 5 feet long. Here, a final pass of digestion and absorption
occurs before the remaining waste is eliminated as fecal matter. Now that we have the basic lay of the land,
lets address some of the common ailments of the digestive system. You may have heard the terms IBD, Inflammatory
Bowel Disease, or IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Perhaps, like me, you may have even heard
the terms interchanged but this is incorrect. Though, these ailments share certain symptoms
they have different causes, treatments, and severities. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases involve chronic
inflammation of all or some portion of the gastrointestinal tract. Irritable Bowel Syndrome on the other hand,
is not classified as a “true disease,” despite their common symptoms. Unlike the overactive inflammatory response
occurring in IBD, the cause of IBS symptoms are unidentifiable. Meaning, people with IBS have healthy GI tracts
and clean test results, in spite of the symptoms they are suffering. Stress exacerbates IBS symptoms, while IBD
can flare regardless of stress levels. IBS is also more common than IBD, and the
primary reason people visit the gastroenterologist. IBS does not lead to IBD but it is possible
to have both conditions simultaneously. The primary goal in the Treatment of Irritable
Bowel Syndrome is stress reduction. Thus, lifestyle and dietary changes are often
the most successful course of treatment. Avoiding foods that are infamous for aggravating
symptoms, such as: alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, chocolate, dairy products, and artificial
sweeteners, is recommended. Additionally, simple things like incorporating
nutritional supplements, staying hydrated, eating at regular intervals, and consuming
smaller portions can make a major difference. In some IBS cases, antispasmodic medications
may be appropriate. Since, the primary symptom of IBD is inflammation
within some portion of the GI tract, controlling or suppressing inflammation flare-up is the
goal. For patients with mild cases, symptoms can
be addressed with dietary restrictions and or over-the-counter medications like: antidiarrheals,
pain relievers, and nutritional supplements, while moderate to severe cases require more
potent prescription drugs, such as antibiotics, aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, immunomodulators,
and biologics. Long term use of such drugs can cause intestinal
damage. When all else fails or if a patient’s condition
has already progressed passed a certain point, surgery becomes the next course of action. The two most commonly known forms of IBD are
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both types have symptoms which range from
mild to severe, may vary over time and from person to person. The primary distinction between them, is the
symptoms of UC are inflammation within the innermost lining of the colon and rectum,
and in some cases, ulcers form upon the lining as well. While Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation
of the deeper layers of your digestive tract anywhere from the mouth to the anus, so it
is possible for the inflammation to spread deep into affected tissues, causing complications
such as: obstruction in the intestines, formation of scar tissue, fissures, abscesses, and fistulas. Beyond the obvious job of processing our food
our digestive system also plays an important role in our immunity. The mucosal lining of the GI tract is full
of both good and bad bacteria, as well as lymphocytes, macrophages and other cells involved
in the immune response. Thus, poor care or damage to the gut can impact
your immune system health. All of this makes a great argument for what
our elders have been telling us for years, eat a nutritious diet, exercise, and get plenty
of rest. Your digestive system will thank you, so to
speak.

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