Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The digestive system

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All humans and almost all animals have a tube like digestive system. Each ones digestive tract is specially designed to break down the kinds of food it eats. Our bodies survive by food and water. The nutrients and energy we receive from food allow our bodies to repair itself. However, before food can do any of these things, it has to be changed into a form or substance the body can absorb into the bloodstream. In order for this process to take place, food must be digested with our digestive tract system.

The digestive tract is often referred to as the gastrointestinal tract. The digestive tract of the adult is approximately 0 to 5 feet long. Everything we eat has to be broken down into absorbable nutrients while traveling through this tract, which is why it takes so long for food to fully digest. Food is broken down into microscopic particles, or sometimes referred to as molecules, and is separated by digestive organs into nutrients and waste.

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The nutrients are then passed through channels on the digestive systems intestinal wall to the bloodstream, which then distributes them to nourish cells throughout the body.

The digestive system consists of different individual organs, beginning with the alimentary canal and ends with the anus. The actual digestion process starts at the mouth, where amylase, which is found in saliva, starts to break down carbohydrates in food, before it even leaves the mouth. The food then passes down the throat and moves down through the esophagus. After this process, it continues down the digestive tract into the stomach, which is located in the middle of the abdomen. The stomach will then store the food while all the time, mixing it with acids and enzymes, breaking it into much smaller digestible pieces. When it is empty, the adults stomach has a volume of only 1/5 of a cup, but can expand to hold more than 8 cups of food after a full meal has been eaten. The stomach empties into the small intestine, which will digest the food chemically so the body is able to absorb it into the bloodstream.

The liver, gallbladder and the pancreas all help with the aid of the digestion process, by producing enzymes and substances that travel by way of special ducts, directly into the small intestine. The small intestine is made up of three parts, which are the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum. The inner wall of the small intestine is covered with microscopic fingerlike projections called villie, and the villi are where nutrients are absorbed into the body. Food and water will then enter the large intestine from the small intestine. The large intestine is made-up of three parts as well. The cecum, the colon and then the rectum which ends at the anus. The cecum and the colon are approximately 5 feet long, and the rectum is only about 5 inches long. As the food and water waste products move through the large intestine, the fluids and salts are absorbed in the ascending colon, more water is then removed from the waste materials in the transverse colon and the descending colon will then hold the resulting waste.

By the time the final digestion products get to the rectum, they have become formed solid waste, which we call feces. The feces are stored in the rectum, until the body is ready to eliminate it through the anus.

The digestion process is divided into two forms. The chemical digestion and the physical digestion. The physical digestion involves physically breaking down the food into smaller parts without chemicals changing it into different molecules. This is done with the chewing, tearing and shredding of the food with the teeth and mouth. The stomach muscles also help with this process. The chemical digestion process deals with the breaking down of the large molecules, like protein, starches and fats into smaller, more soluble molecules. Examples are breaking down of proteins into amino acids, starches into glucose and fates into fatty acids. It involves hydrolytic reacted catalyses by digestive enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts, which are produced in our bodies to help speed up some of our body’s reactions. Some parts of the body that help with chemical digestion that are not directly part of the digestive system are the gallbladder, liver, and the pancreas. Even though this is a truly remarkable process, waste, food and particles will still take anywhere from 10 hours to several days before it is completely passed through the rectum as final waste product.


Almost all humans have some form of a digestive problem or condition at least once in their lifetime. Some conditions such as indigestion are common and although they are uncomfortable, are easy to treat. Other conditions, diseases or dysfunctions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) can be much more serious. They can cause significant discomfort and harm the gastrointestinal system. Inflammatory bowel diseases are a group of disorders that cause the intestines to become inflamed. The inflammation lasts a long time and usually comes back over and over again. More than 600,000 Americans have some kind of inflammatory bowel disease every year. Symptoms of an inflammatory bowel disease are abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea, weight loss and bleeding from your intestines. Two kinds of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohns disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohns disease usually causes ulcers in the small and large intestines. The most common complication of Crohn’s disease is blockage of the intestine. Blockage or stricture happens when the disease thickens the bowel wall with swelling and scar tissue. The intestine passage way becomes smaller and smaller, until it is completely closed. Fistulas are a common complication of this disease. Fistulas happen when ulcers in the intestine break through the intestine wall making tunnels into tissues of the bladder, vagina, or into the skin. Fistulas happen frequently around the anus and rectum.

Ulcerative colitis usually causes ulcers in the lower part of the large intestine, often starting at the rectum. About 5 percent of people with ulcerative colitis develop colon cancer. The risk of cancer increases with the duration and the extent of involvement of the colon. For example, if only the lower colon and rectum are involved, the risk of cancer is no higher than normal. However, if the entire colon is involved, the risk of cancer can be as much as times the normal rate. Sometimes precancerous changes occur in the cells lining the colon. These changes are called dysplasia. People who have dysplasia are more likely to develop cancer than those who do not. Doctors look for signs of dysplasia when doing a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy and when examining tissue removed during the test. The exact causes of IBS are not known. The disease may be caused by a germ or by an immune system problem. You dont have to worry about your family members catching the disease from you, because it isnt contagious. However, inflammatory bowel disease does seem to run in families. There are a couple of ways to diagnose IBS. Your bowel movements may be tested for germs and or blood. The doctor will usually look inside your intestines with a sigmoidoscope or a colonoscope. With these procedures, the doctor uses a narrow flexible tube to look directly inside your intestines. This is done when a Doctor performs a colonoscopy. There are several ways to treat IBS. The best thing you can do is take good care of

yourself. Its important to eat a healthy diet. Depending on your symptoms, the doctor may ask you to cut down on the amount of fiber or dairy products in your diet. In addition to eating well, you need to get enough rest. Its also important that you learn to manage the stress in your life. There are many patients that become depressed when they are forced to deal with IBS on a regular basis, therefore, some will be prescribed an anti-depressant. Some of the medications used to treat IBS are sulfasalazine, olsalazine and mesalamine. An antibiotic, such as metronidazole may help in killing germs in the intestines, especially if you have Crohns disease. Sometimes even prednisone is Prescribed. If you have severe IBS you may need to take powerful medicines called immunosuppressants. If your ulcerative colitis becomes so severe that it cant be helped by medicines, it may be necessary to remove part or all of your colon surgically, however, Crohns disease usually isnt helped with surgery. So, as you can see, IBS is manageable in most patients, however can be very debilitating in others. There are even those that have such a severe condition, that they are permenately labeled as disabled, due to the fact they are unable to perform normal daily activities.

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