What is Digestion?
As a general idea, digestion is the breakdown of food molecules into small molecules so that they can be absorbed into the blood plasma. When looking at this function more in detail, we see that large insoluble food molecules are broken down into small water-soluble molecules to be absorbed by the watery blood plasma, which is one of the components of blood and its function is to carry the proteins and cells throughout the body.
The digestion, as a process, is divided into two parts; the first part of it is the mechanical digestion, which is the act of physically breaking down is smaller parts the large pieces of food and once this is done, the second part commences, which is the chemical digestion, which is when the enzymes break down food into even smaller molecules that the body can use. As humans, for example, chewing food is part of the mechanical digestion of food, while the saliva entering in contact with it, is part of the chemical one.
The Gastrointestinal Tract in humans is about 9 meters long and the physiology of food digestion varies from individual to individual and upon other factors, such as the size of the meal eaten, and the type of food eaten.
The whole process typically takes between 24 and 72 hours and protein, fat, and carbohydrate are all digested in different ways by the body.
Some nutrients have to be digested differently, so the body can make the best use out of them; this happens for example with vitamin B12, which is protected by a component of the saliva so that it can travel all the way to the small intestine, where some receptors enable its assimilation.
Each species has specialized organs that help with the digestion of food, such as beaks, and specialized behaviors, such as regurgitations, which some birds, like pigeons, use to feed their young.
One more note on digestion
Modern diets full of saturated fats, additives and refined carbohydrates have been linked to an increased chance of developing digestion problems and disorders. The best thing one can do to try to avoid this is eating ‘real food‘, as it is called these days, so trying to cook as many meals as possible from scratch is a great way to start out. It is important to always stay hydrated, consume plenty of fiber and include some healthy fats to every day’s diet. Furthermore, exercising and managing stress properly have been linked to better digestive functions, as well as giving up smoking, reducing drinking alcohol and cutting back on late night snacking.
There are some products that are sold, both in pharmacies and supermarkets, that support gut health to improve this very important bodily function and these are: probiotics and zinc supplements. Should you decide to start integrating supplements to your diet always consult your physician.
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