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From feeling butterflies to stomach ache, your digestive system has a big impact on your wider wellbeing. Understanding how it works is the first step to staying well.
From the boom in friendly bacteria supplements to ‘free from’ supermarket aisles, we’re increasingly interested in our digestive wellness.
And no wonder – 40% of us have at least one digestive issue, such as indigestion, at any one time.1
Yet, how many of us really know what’s going on in the full nine metres of our digestive tract.2
It’s time to find out!
Although we eat food, our digestive system doesn’t absorb food – it absorbs nutrients.
So, our food has to be broken down into amino acids from proteins, fatty acids from various fats, and simple sugars from carbohydrates, as well as vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.
Your digestion is a complex network of organs that manages this process, breaking down food into different compounds, and passing out what we don’t need as waste.
The whole process takes on average one to three days.3
Plus, it has over 100,000 nerve cells and is closely linked to our emotions, which is why we tend to get butterflies or diarrhoea when we’re feeling nervous or stressed.5
The digestive system takes the food that we eat and breaks it down into nutrients.
Once the nutrients are small enough, they can be absorbed by the body into the bloodstream.
Keeping the digestive system healthy makes sure the process is efficient and that we get the most from our food as possible.
However, digestive health also influences the health of other physiological systems in the body.
Let’s take a close look at your digestion, from start to finish – quite literally.
The time it takes for food to move through the full gastrointestinal tract (GI) depends on the type and amount of food eaten.
Generally speaking, it takes 6 to 8 hours for food to pass through both the stomach and the small intestine before reaching the large intestine.
Once it’s in the large intestine or colon, it remains there for between 10 and 59 hours while it’s broken down further.
The whole process takes anything between 10 hours and 3 days.
According to our in-house nutritionists, food that’s more complex in structure is generally more difficult and takes the body longer to digest.
Food should only take 2 to 4 hours to move out of the stomach.
However, as we’ve just mentioned above, depending on what you’ve eaten, it can remain in the large intestine for anything between 10 hours and 3 days.
Is there anything you can do to improve your digestion? Most definitely! Here are 5 ways to get started:
We put this question to our nutritionists, and they told us there’s no generally accepted number of times a person should poop.
Anything between 3 times per day to 3 times a week is considered healthy.
However, anything more or less than this (constipation or diarrhoea) is potentially a sign of an unhealthy gut.
See your doctor if any of the symptoms above continue for longer than is normal for you.
If you also experience loss of appetite, black or bloody stools, or unexplained weight loss, make an appointment straight away.26
We hope you’ve found this overview useful, and that it inspires you to think about your digestive system that little bit more and tune into what it’s telling you about your body.
You’ll be surprised at how easy keeping tabs on your digestive health can be, especially when there are so many digestive health tablets and supplements available to help boost your system.
Make today the day you start paying closer attention to your digestive system, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the widespread benefits it may provide you with!
MRes Clinical Research - University of Manchester, 2016
Ro Huntriss is a UK-based Registered Dietitian. Ro has over 10 years of experience working as a dietitian and has worked across many different sectors including NHS, private practice, research, digital health, health technologies and supporting commercial businesses.
Ro is a specialist in a variety of areas to include weight management, diabetes, women’s health, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular health. Ro expanded her expertise to a number of areas as she believes that health is not one dimensional and health should be considered from several angles.
In her spare time, Ro enjoys yoga and netball, playing the piano and is an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan!