The human body is a pretty complex entity. At any given time, several processes are taking place within the human body. These are essential to maintain a state of homoeostasis or balance in the body. Different organ systems in the human body perform their specific functions to sustain these various processes efficiently.
The present article will focus on how and why the digestive system is vital for health.
What comprises the digestive system?
The digestive system in human beings includes the gastrointestinal tract along with the accessory organs of digestion. The gastrointestinal tract is also known as GIT, digestive tract, digestion tract, GI tract or alimentary canal. It is a series of connected organs of digestion. It starts from the mouth and ends in the anus. It includes the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and rectum in the given order.
The accessory organs of digestion are the tongue, salivary glands, liver, gall bladder and pancreas.
What are the essential functions of the digestive system?
The digestive system helps to break down the food that we eat into smaller pieces. It identifies food components that can be absorbed and later utilized or stored in the body and carry out these functions. Apart from this, the digestive system is also responsible for eliminating the waste material not needed by the body.
The function of digestion takes place in three stages.-
1. Cephalic stage
This first stage of digestion takes place in the mouth. In response to the sight or smell of food, there is the release of gastric secretions. Chewing helps in the mechanical breakdown of food and mixing it with saliva. The saliva contains digestive enzymes that help in the chemical breakdown of food; as a result, a bolus is produced. This enters the stomach through the oesophagus during the act of swallowing.
2. Gastric stage
This second stage of digestion takes place in the stomach. Here the food mixes with gastric juices. This aids in the further breakdown of the food. From here the food passes into the duodenum.
3. Intestinal stage
This is the third stage of digestion. It begins in the duodenum. Here the partially digested food gets mixed with pancreatic and liver secretions. Most of the digestion occurs in the small intestine. Minerals and water are reabsorbed into the blood by the large intestine. Finally, the waste material called faeces is defecated from the rectum through the anus.
How and why the digestive system is important for health?
The digestive system is vital for health. It is responsible for breaking down the food and drink we have into more minor forms of nutrients. These nutrients are then absorbed into the blood and carried to all the cells in the body for use. Only then does the food we eat become available for growth, cell repair, and to meet the body’s energy needs.
What causes digestive disorders
Common causes of digestive disorders are:-
- Eating a low-fibre diet.
- Eating hurriedly
- Inadequate exercise
- Changes in routine or travelling
- Eating too many dairy products, coffee, chocolate, carbonated drinks, and fatty or spicy food.
- Resisting the urge to pass stools.
- Infection due to unhealthy practices like taking dirty food or water or not washing hands before meals.
- Side effects of certain medications such as painkillers and antibiotics and supplements such as iron supplements
- Consuming too much alcohol.
What are the common disorders of the digestive system?
The various parts of the digestive system are prone to a wide range of diseases and disorders. These are:-
- Mouth diseases– These include salivary glands and tongue diseases. These are mainly caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses and certain medications. Common mouth diseases are gum disease or gingivitis, gingivostomatitis, and candidiasis which involve the mucus membrane of the mouth.
- Oesophagal disease- It includes congenital disorders such as Schatzki rings that partially or completely block the oesophagus causing difficulty in swallowing.
- Stomach disease– It includes diseases such as gastroparesis, gastritis and peptic ulcers.
- Intestinal diseases– It includes
- Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine.
- Volvulus where a loop of the small intestine twists and obstructs the digestive passage.
- Diverticulitis is a common disorder of the bowels. In this small pouches inside the bowel wall are formed which then get inflamed.
- Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis are chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. These even predispose the person to develop colorectal cancer.
- Irritable bowel disease is a functional gastrointestinal disorder.
- Giardiasis- This is the most common parasitic disease of the small intestine.
What are the common signs and symptoms of digestive system disorders?
Common signs and symptoms of gastrointestinal troubles
- Discomfort in the abdomen. This involves bloating, cramps or pain in the abdomen.
- Unintended weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gastrointestinal reflux disease
- Constipation, diarrhoea or at times both
- Incontinence of faeces
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty in swallowing food or drinks
How can digestive disorders be diagnosed?
For the purpose of diagnosis, a trained physician takes the relevant case history of the patient. This is followed by a physical examination for further assessment. For diagnosis of digestive troubles following measures are commonly used:-
- Lab Tests
- Faecal occult blood test to test hidden blood in stools.
- A stool culture is to test for the presence of harmful bacteria in the stool.
- Imaging Tests
- Barium meal test for upper GI and barium enema for the lower GI.
- Computed Axial Tomography or CAT scan- This uses Xrays but is more detailed than general x-rays
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI
- Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography or MRCP for viewing the bile ducts
- Ultrasound- To view the internal organs and the blood flow through vessels.
- Endoscopic procedures
What are the tips to manage digestive problems?
Common tips to manage digestive problems are:-
- Find out the digestive triggers- One can maintain a journal of what one eats or drinks to find out the triggers of indigestion. Common triggers are coffee, milk, and carbonated drinks. Menstrual hormones, stress or travel can also trigger indigestion.
- Eat a balanced diet- In this adding more fibre to the diet and eating frequent and small meals can be very helpful.
- Take plenty of water.
- Practice healthy hygiene such as washing hands with soap and water before eating or preparing meals.
- Practice stress relaxation techniques.
How can digestive troubles be treated?
Conventional medicine provides only temporary relief for indigestion till the time patient is on medications. This makes the patient dependent on such medications for a long period of time. On the other hand, prolonged use of certain conventional medicines that are prescribed for digestive troubles causes side effects.
Homeopathy on the other hand provides a safe and effective solution for the treatment of various digestive disorders. The best homeopathic medicine for digestive disorders in a given case is constitutional medicine. For this, a trained homeopathic physician takes a detailed case history of the patient. For this, he tries to elicit symptoms from both the mental and physical spheres of the patient. Past history and when required even the family history of the patient are probed to find out the cause of such disorders.
Other common homeopathic medicines for indigestion are:-
- ARSENICUM ALBUM– It is used to treat digestive troubles that are associated with burning in the GIT and is relieved by taking warm drinks.
- CARBO VEGETABILIS– It is suitable for treating flatulence and bloating which are relieved by eructation.
- LYCOPODIUM CLAVATUM– This is suitable to treat digestive problems accompanied with flatulence and bloating that aggravate in the evening around 4-8 P.M. and get better by eating warm things
- NUX VOMICA– It is suitable to treat digestive troubles that are triggered by taking stimulants such as coffee, alcoholic drinks and very spicy food or from loss of sleep. The person characteristically complains of having a frequent and ineffectual urge for stools.
- PULSATILLA NIGRICANS– It is suitable for treating digestive troubles that are triggered by eating fatty food such as cakes and ice cream. The patient tends to characteristically thirst less during such troubles.
Hence we can see that the digestive system is very important for good health. The food we eat is utilized by the body for energy and growth with the help of the digestive system. The digestive system does so by breaking down the food into small nutrients.
These are then absorbed by the blood and taken to cells in the body. The waste material produced is also eliminated from the body as faeces by the digestive system. When something goes wrong with the digestive system it leads to various symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, pain abdomen, diarrhoea, hyperacidity, constipation, lack of appetite and unintended weight loss.
Different parts of the digestive system are prone to a wide variety of disorders such as gingivitis, gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer. For the safe and effective treatment of such troubles, homeopathy provides the best solution. For this, it is advisable to refer a trained homeopathic physician rather than self-drugging at home.