Digestion and colon – what it’s all about
The primary roles of stomach and small intestine are to break down and absorb nutrition from your food. This process starts on chewing food in our mouth. For each aliment, a different ph-value is needed within the stomach to allow for optimal digestion.
The small intestine begins at the duodenum. Here, enzyme-rich pancreatic juice, bile from the liver and other hormones help to break down aliments into their composing molecules. The molecules can then pass into the bloodstream within the Jejunum and Ileum, the following sections of the small intestine. The small intestine is by far the most important site in our digestive tract for the absorption of proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals: By the time food leaves the small intestine, our body has – in principal – assimilated 95% of all its nutrients and the “waste” passes on to the large intestine.
The large intestine consists of the colon and rectum. The colon ascends in the back wall of the abdomen (ascending colon), passes across the back wall (transverse colon), and then falls down the left side of the abdomen (descending colon). Here (sigmoid colon) it connects to the rectum, and finally the anus. In a healthy body, the colon about 1.5m long and weighs about 2 kilos in empty condition.
In principal, the colon takes about 16 hours to finish digestion absorbing water and remaining nutrients. All processes in the colon occur with the help of bacteria. Indeed, the colon is colonized with a micro flora of up to 10 trillion bacteria – a number as high as the total number of human cells in the body! In addition it is home to more than 100 trillion micro-organisms. The colon’s micro flora is of critical importance for our nutrition, our immune system’s functioning and our body’s detoxification processes.
- Colonic bacteria produce vital vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin K, vitamin B12, thiamin, and riboflavin as well as sodium, chloride, and potassium). It also secretes K+ and CI-. Besides, colonic bacteria help to recycle various nutrients, for example in fermentation processes of carbohydrates, short chain fatty acids or urea cycling.
- The colon’s micro flora plays a crucial role in the good functioning of the immune system. It protects against multiplication of harmful bacteria. Indeed health-enhancing and harmful bacteria compete for space and food. A ratio of 80-85% beneficial to 15-20% potentially harmful bacteria is generally considered normal. A healthy colon is a prerequisite for a strong immune system.
- The colon’s micro flora actively supports our body’s detoxification processes: Bacteria neutralize digestive acids, enzymes and toxins so that they can pass out of the body without causing any harm.
This micro flora constitutes a rather fragile system. A topped over micro flora can trigger far-reaching misbalances within the body: the root cause for many acute and chronic diseases.
The colon: Our second brain
Only recently modern medicine “rediscovered” our second brain – located in the digestive tract. The “gut-brain” is one of our most intelligent systems being made up of +100 million neurons and is called enteric nervous system (ENS).
The enteric nervous system is housed in layers alongside esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines and is a rich and complicated network of neurons and neurochemicals sensing and controlling events even in other parts of our body. Gut feeling or not, the “gut-brain” can trigger reactions in our brain, notably regarding mood or behavior and it seems that our gut has a much stronger influence on our brain than vice versa!
- Scientists recently found a specific nerve linking the gut to the brain, which would take the size of a toll way road if compared to other “road” nerves.
- Moreover, the digestive tract is lined with cells that produce a variety of hormones and chemicals that are active in our brain and yield sensations such as joy, satisfaction or pain relief (e.g. endorphins).
Thus, we go with our gut: it’s the gut that often reveals and indicates our emotional states and stresses. Those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, upset stomach will easily confirm.
Immune system within the colon
The gastrointestinal tract is a prominent part of our immune system containing up to 80% of our immune cells. The small intestine houses up to 70% of all antibody producing cells called lymphocytes of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue.
The colon plays a crucial role preventing our body from diseases. In a healthy micro flora, virus and pathogens cannot gain ground. “Good” bacteria of the gut flora serve to prevent the overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria. In addition, they neutralize harmful substances, pathogens and toxins and “filter” elements entering into blood and lymph systems. If the micro flora balance is disturbed, pathogen bacteria settle and release toxic substances as by-product of their metabolisms. Our body needs to defeat these harmful bacteria and to cope with toxins entering into the bloodstream. Hence, our immune system is mobilized in a way that it can only less efficiently act on other germs or infections. Moreover, the gut’s misbalance causes disruptions in other metabolisms, e.g. acid-base metabolism, that further harm our body. A negative spiral sets off and our overall health quickly starts to deteriorate.