Digestive Health 101: Can’t Ignore that Gut Feeling

10. It allows you to absorb vitamin B12 Normally, vitamin B12 is readily absorbed in the last part of the small intestine (ileum), which leads to… Rina - September 4, 2020
gut feeling
A happy woman holds her stomach. Shutterstock.

10. It allows you to absorb vitamin B12

Normally, vitamin B12 is readily absorbed in the last part of the small intestine (ileum), which leads to the large intestine. However, to be absorbed, the vitamin must combine with intrinsic factor, a protein produced in the stomach. Your stomach is responsible for helping to release the crucial vitamin B12 [PDF] from the proteins you eat.

Hydrochloric acid and an enzyme called pepsin to break the locked B12 out of its protein so it can be absorbed into your bloodstream. “The metabolism of vitamin B starts in the stomach in the parietal cells,” Lisa Ganjhu, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Vitamin B “is one of the main vitamins in our body to help with metabolism and energy production,” she says.

Gastrointestinal Hormones. Image via

11. A hormone-generating machine.

Eating and digesting your food is most likely something you never have to think about. Yet your GI tract is home to a veritable orchestra of hormones stimulated by epithelial cells that line the stomach and small intestine. These hormones engage in a wide range of functions, including stimulating appetite, encouraging the secretion of enzymes and gastric acid, and reminding the gall bladder to contract and empty. These hormones directly enter the blood and eventually affect the function of other parts of the digestive system, including the liver and pancreas, and even your brain. Gastrin is a hormone that is produced by ‘G’ cells in the lining of the stomach and upper small intestine.

Gastrin hormone. Image via Shutterstock

During a meal, gastrin stimulates the stomach to release gastric acid. This allows the stomach to break down proteins swallowed as food and absorb certain vitamins. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach, and its function is to tell the brain that the body has to be fed. It increases appetite. It stimulates the release of gastric juice rich in pepsin and hydrochloric acid. Secretin is a hormone that regulates water homeostasis throughout the body and influences the environment of the duodenum by regulating secretions in the stomach, pancreas, and liver. It is a peptide hormone produced in the S cells of the duodenum, which are located in the intestinal glands. For more info on hormones, see this article.

Stomach helps protect your entire body. Image via Shutterstock

12. Immune system’s first line of defense.

Besides just digesting your food, the stomach helps protect your entire body. The acidity in our stomach helps to sterilize whatever you’re eating. It kills off bacteria and potential food toxins. Your gastrointestinal tract also has patches of lymphoid defense cells it sends out when something makes it through the stomach, such as a virus or bacterial infection. In fact, about 70 percent of the immune system is housed in the gut, so making sure our digestive system is in tip-top shape can be key to addressing many of our bodily woes.

Gastrointestinal system. Image via Shutterstock

“All Disease Begins in The Gut.” – Hippocrates. It’s common to overlook the health of our gastrointestinal system, even though it contains 10 times more health-determining bacteria than the rest of our body. Protecting us from infection, supporting our metabolism, and promoting healthy digestion and elimination. Getting your gut bacteria healthy is one of the most important things you can do to get and stay healthy. If your bacteria are sick, so are you! Your gut wall houses 70 percent of the cells that make up your immune system. For optimal immunity, detoxification and nourishment, your gut must function seamlessly.

gut feeling
A happy woman holds her stomach. Image via Shutterstock

13. It may play a part in your mood

Your stomach may very well be a key player in keeping your mood balanced. New research suggests links between the gut microbiome (the microorganisms that live in any environment) and your mental health. A recent study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that transferring the gut microbiota of depressed human patients into rats induced depressive symptoms in rodents, opening up a whole new realm of possible bacteria-based treatments. The gut and brain talk to each other through nerve signals, the release of gut or stress hormones, and other pathways.

Different emotions. Image via Shutterstock

We have long known that emotions can directly alter gut function. Lately, research at Harvard Medical School has discovered that it works the other way too: our gut actually has an effect on our brain. It goes both ways. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion as well. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation – all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression.

Stomach flu | Gastroenteritis. Image via Shutterstock

14. Stomach flu isn’t actually a flu

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to find yourself stranded by the toilet for 24 to 48 hours purging the contents of your stomach, you may have described the cause as stomach flu. However, actual influenza is primarily a respiratory infection. What keeps you in the bathroom is likely some form of norovirus or rotavirus, which causes gastroenteritis of the stomach and intestines, and usually resolves in one to two days.

Gastroenteritis is an infectious diarrhea, caused by viruses rotavirus and norovirus. Image via Shutterstock

The flu shot protects against influenza, which isn’t the same thing as the stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Gastroenteritis is an infection caused by a variety of viruses, including rotaviruses and noroviruses. Although it is often called the stomach flu, gastroenteritis is not caused by influenza viruses. “No,” said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation immunologist Hal Scofield, M.D. “Although some may call it the “stomach flu”, it actually has nothing to do with the influenza virus.” More accurately called gastroenteritis, contagious stomach illness is most often caused by two viruses, rotavirus or norovirus.

Stomach Ulcer in human body. Image via Shutterstock

15. Stomach ulcers are likely bacterial

The causes of ulcers have perplexed medical researchers for years. However, recent studies have found a link between the bacteria H. pylori and inflammation of the stomach lining, gastritis, and ulcers. In fact, new research suggests that the bacteria may also be linked to stomach cancer. Helicobacter pylori bacteria commonly live in the mucous layer that covers and protects tissues that line the stomach and small intestine. Often, the H. pylori bacterium causes no problems, but it can cause inflammation of the stomach’s inner layer, producing an ulcer.

Stress ulcer. Image via Shutterstock

Stress ulcers come on suddenly, usually as a result of physiological stress. Some acidic foods can make ulcers worse, as can physical stress, such as the stress of a serious injury or infection. This may be because stress increases stomach acid. You will most likely feel burning pain or discomfort between your belly button and breastbone. You might especially notice it on an empty stomach, such as between meals or at night. The pain may stop for a little while if you eat or take an antacid but then return. The pain can last for a few minutes or a few hours and may come and go for many days or weeks.

Stomach pain. Image via Shutterstock

16. Stomach Conditions include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux: Stomach contents, including acid, can travel backward up the esophagus. There may be no symptoms or reflux may cause heartburn or coughing.
  • Dyspepsia: Another name for stomach upset or indigestion. Dyspepsia may be caused by almost any benign or serious condition that affects the stomach.
  • Gastric ulcer (stomach ulcer): an erosion in the lining of the stomach, often causing pain and/or bleeding.
  • Peptic ulcer disease: Doctors consider ulcers in either the stomach or the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) peptic ulcer disease.
  • Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach, often causing nausea and/or pain. Gastritis can be caused by alcohol, certain medications, H. pylori infection, or other factors.
  • Gastric varices: In people with severe liver disease, veins in the stomach may swell and bulge under increased pressure. Called varices, these veins are at high risk for bleeding, although less so than esophageal varices are.
  • Stomach bleeding: Gastritis, ulcers, or gastric cancers may bleed. Seeing blood or black material in vomit or stool is usually a medical emergency.
  • Gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying): Nerve damage from diabetes or other conditions may impair the stomach’s muscle contractions. Nausea and vomiting are the usual symptoms.
Small Intestine. Image via Shutterstock

17. Small intestine

The small intestine also has special features that help to increase the number of nutrients absorbed by the body. The inner layer of the small intestine has millions of what are known as villi. These are tiny finger-like structures with small blood vessels inside. They are covered by a thin layer of cells. Because this layer is thin, it allows the nutrients released by digestion to enter the blood. Most of the important nutrients needed by the body are absorbed in different points of the small intestine. Following on from the ileum is the large intestine. The inside of the large intestine is wider than the small intestine. It does not contain villi, and mainly absorbs water.

Inside the small intestine. Shutterstock

Bacteria in the large intestine also help with the final stages of digestion. Once chyme has been in the large intestine for 3-10 hours it becomes semi-solid. This is because most of the water has been removed. These remnants are now known as stools. Movements of the muscles found in the large intestine help to digest the chyme and move feces towards the rectum. When feces are present in the rectum, the walls of the rectum stretch. This stretch activates special receptors. These receptors send signals via nerves to the spinal cord. The spinal cord signals back to the muscles in the rectum, increasing pressure on the first sphincter of the back passage.

A young woman holds an x-ray image of her liver. Shutterstock

18. Your liver

The liver is a large, meaty organ that sits on the right side of the belly. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. As it does so, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines. The liver also makes proteins important for blood clotting amongst other things. The liver is an organ with many functions. Your liver’s two main responsibilities in the process of digestion are:

Human Liver. Image via Shutterstock.

To make and secrete bile. And to process and purify the blood containing newly absorbed nutrients that are coming from the small intestine. Bile has two main purposes: to help absorb fats and to carry waste from the liver that cannot go through the kidneys. Bile is made in the liver travels to the small intestine through the bile ducts. If the bile isn’t needed immediately, it is stored in the gallbladder.

A closer look at the gallbladder. Shutterstock

19. Your Gallbladder

Your gallbladder is a four-inch, pear-shaped organ. It’s positioned under your liver in the upper-right section of your abdomen. The gallbladder stores bile, a combination of fluids, fat, and cholesterol. The gallbladder sends this stored bile into the small intestine to aid in the digestion of food. It then delivers bile into the small intestine. Your gallbladder serves as a storage pouch. It concentrates the bile into the form that’s best used for digestion. When you eat, the bile is squeezed out of the gallbladder and goes into the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum, through the common bile duct.

Image via Shutterstock

While the liver is hard at work making the dark green bile that helps with digestion, the gallbladder holds the bile until you actually need it, says Erin Gilbert, MD, an assistant professor of surgery at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. “It concentrates the bile into the form that’s best used for digestion,” Dr. Gilbert says. “When you eat, the bile is squeezed out of the gallbladder and goes into the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum, through the common bile duct.” The liver produces anywhere from 500 to 1,000 milliliters (ml) of bile per day, but the gallbladder can concentrate that bile up to tenfold and store 30 to 50 ml of the denser bile.

The pancreas. Shutterstock

20. Your Pancreas:

Your pancreas is located behind your stomach and is attached to both your gallbladder and your small intestines. Among other functions, the pancreas aids in digestion by producing digestive enzymes and secreting them into the duodenum (the first segment of the small intestine). These enzymes break down protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

Human pancreas. Image via Shutterstock

The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen. It plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells. The pancreas has two main functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar. Now, it is possible for people to live without a pancreas. Surgery to remove the pancreas is called pancreatectomy. Removing the pancreas can also reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Without artificial insulin injections and digestive enzymes, a person without a pancreas cannot survive.

The colon (large intestine). Image via Shutterstock

21. The Colon (Large Intestine)

The large intestine, also called the colon, is part of the final stages of digestion. It is a large tube that escorts waste from the body. The body has two types of intestines. The small intestine is connected to the stomach and handles the middle part of the digestion process. A 5- to 7-foot-long muscular tube that connects the small intestine to the rectum and is responsible for processing waste so that defecation is easy and convenient. It is made up of the ascending (right) colon, the transverse (across) colon, the descending (left) colon, and the sigmoid colon, which connects to the rectum.

Human large intestine. Image via Shutterstock

The 4 major functions of the large intestine are the recovery of water and electrolytes, formation and storage of feces, and fermentation of some of the indigestible food matter by bacteria. The ileocaecal valve controls the entry of material from the last part of the small intestine called the ileum. The colon is much wider than the small intestine but is also much shorter. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the small intestine is 22 feet (6.7 meters) long. The colon is only 6 feet (1.8 m) long. This 6 feet of dense muscle is divided into four parts: the ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon, and the sigmoid colon.

The Rectum and Anus. Image via Shutterstock

22. The Rectum and Anus

An 8-inch chamber that connects the colon to the anus. The rectum receives stool from the colon, sends signals to the brain if there is stool to be evacuated, and holds stool until evacuation can happen. The last part of the digestive tract is the anus, which consists of pelvic floor muscles and two anal sphincters (internal and external). Together their jobs are to detect rectal contents.

The Rectum and Anus. Image via Shutterstock

Whether they are liquid, gas, or solid, and then control when stool should and shouldn’t be excreted from your body. The external sphincter of the anus is under voluntary control. This means you can decide whether you will open your bowels or not. Young children have to learn to control this during toilet training.

Abdominal discomfort. Image via Shutterstock

23. Medical Conditions Involving Multiple Digestive Organs

There are many medical conditions that involve more than one digestive organ. These include: Gallstones, hard deposits that form in your gallbladder. Celiac Disease, a serious sensitivity to gluten that damages your villi, in your small intestines that help you to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Image via Shutterstock

Ulcerative Colitis, similar to Crohn’s, but the part of the digestive tract affected is solely the large intestine. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, stomach pain or discomfort at least three times a month for several months. Hemorrhoids, inflammation of the blood vessels at the end of your digestive tract. Diverticulitis, Small pouches can form anywhere there are weak spots in the lining of your digestive system. Anal Fissure, tiny oval-shaped tears in the lining of the very end of your digestive tract.

Candidiasis of the tongue. Image via Shutterstock

24. What is Candida?

Candidiasis is a fungal infection due to any type of Candida (a type of yeast). When it affects the mouth, it is commonly called thrush. Signs and symptoms include white patches on the tongue or other areas of the mouth and throat. Other symptoms may include soreness and problems swallowing. The 7 main symptoms of Candida overgrowth are: Oral Thrush. Candidiasis that develops in the mouth or throat is called “thrush.” Tiredness and Fatigue.

Candidiasis. Image via Shutterstock

Recurring Genital or Urinary Tract Infections. Digestive Issues. Sinus Infections. Skin and Nail Fungal Infections, and Joint Pain. One of the symptoms of systemic Candida is weight gain, or difficulty losing weight. It can cause the kind of stubborn fat deposits that are hard to shake off, no matter how little you eat or how much exercise you do. Candida can lead to excess fat deposits in a few different ways.

GOOD BACTERIAL FLORA. Image via Shutterstock

25. SIBO Candida’s best friend

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a serious condition affecting the small intestine. It occurs when bacteria that normally grow in other parts of the gut start growing in the small intestine. That causes pain and diarrhea. It can have mild symptoms or full-blown malabsorption. Small intestine fungal overgrowth (SIFO) occurs when excessive amounts of fungus populate the small bowel. If SIBO is left untreated it can lead to other conditions such as IBS, leaky gut, obesity, acne, anemia, fatigue and an increase of symptoms in gut-brain disorders such as anxiety, depression, and autism.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

It can also cause weight gain. SIBO can slow down metabolism and affect your insulin and leptin resistance, both of which help regulate hunger and satiety. The most common symptoms of SIBO include: Abdominal pain/discomfort. Bloating and abdominal distention. Diarrhea. Constipation (generally associated with methanogens). Gas and belching. In more severe cases, there may be weight loss and symptoms related to vitamin deficiencies.

A happy woman holds her stomach. Shutterstock

26. In summary

The stomach is the widest part of the digestive system. Your stomach not only digests food, but it also stores it. It can hold a bit more than a quart (1 liter) of food at once. The design of the stomach allows a person to eat a large meal that can be digested slowly over time. The stomach secretes acid and enzymes that digest food. Ridges of muscle tissue called rugae line the stomach. The stomach muscles contract periodically, churning food to enhance digestion. The pyloric sphincter is a muscular valve that opens to allow food to pass from the stomach to the small intestine.

Digestive system. Image via Shutterstock

The stomach has 3 main functions: temporary storage for food, which passes from the esophagus to the stomach where it is held for 2 hours or longer. Mixing and breakdown of food by contraction and relaxation of the muscle layers in the stomach. The digestion of food. It is part of your gut (gastrointestinal tract). A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and well-being.

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