The digestive tract needs healthy bacteria to continue running smoothly. The best way for your digestive tract to function properly is to incorporate the essential vitamins your body needs into your diet. Whether you are getting vitamins for gut health through food or supplements, proper supplementation will help your overall health. Learn the best way to help your body optimize good bacteria and minimize bad bacteria.
Why is Digestive Health Important?
Your digestive system breaks down food and liquids into their chemical constituents, such as carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins, so your body may absorb them as nutrients and utilize them for energy, cell growth, or cell repair.
The mouth is where food starts its journey through the digestive system. It then travels through the esophagus and enters the stomach where digestion continues. Food then passes through the small intestine, which is about 20 feet long. There, food is further broken down as nutrients are absorbed and transported into the bloodstream by specialized cells in the small intestine.
Your large intestine, a muscular tube about 6 feet long, receives the remaining residue from the small intestine. Bacteria feed on the leftovers as the partially digested food flows through them. By the time indigestible materials have reached the large intestine, most nutrients and up to 90% of the water has been absorbed by the small intestine. The remaining water and other key nutrients are absorbed by the large intestine. A very effective disposal system disposes of any food still undigested as feces.
The digestive system is a sophisticated network of organs that occasionally has problems. The issue may be inherited in certain people while others may experience various digestive problems due to the immune system attacking the digestive tract. Digestive health can also be affected by the types of foods we consume and how we consume them.
What Is The Digestive System Responsible for?
The digestive system is made up of the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, as well as the gastrointestinal tract, commonly known as the GI tract or digestive tract. From the mouth to the anus, the GI tract comprises a series of hollow organs connected by a long, twisting tube. The hollow organs that make up the GI tract are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine—which includes the rectum—and anus.. The digestive system's solid organs are the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
Three sections make up the small intestine. The duodenum is the name of the first section. The ileum is at the endwhile the jejunum is in the middle. The cecum, colon, rectum, and appendix are all parts of the large intestine. A finger-shaped pouch connected to the cecum is the appendix. The cecum connects the small intestine to the colon. The descending colon stores feces that will eventually be emptied into the rectum.
Your GI tract contains gut flora or microbiome bacteria that aid in digesting food. Your digestive system's organs, hormones, bacteria, and nerves work together to break down the food and liquid you consume daily.
Because your body depends on nutrients from food and drink to function effectively and maintain health, digestion is crucial. Nutrients include proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and water. Your digestive system breaks down nutrients into smaller pieces so your body may use them for energy production, cell growth, and repair.
- Proteins are formed from amino acids.
- Fats are formed from glycerol and fatty acids.
- Carbohydrates are formed from simple sugars.
How the Body Controls Digestive Health.
Your endocrine and nervous systems collaborate to govern your digestion and there is a communication network that connects your gut to your brain.
Cells lining your stomach and small intestine produce and release hormones that regulate how your digestive structure functions. These hormones regulate when your body should produce digestive juices and when to alert your brain that you are hungry or full.. The pancreas also produces hormones vital for proper digestion.
You have nerves that link your brain and spinal cord, which make up your central nervous system, to your digestive system that regulate some digestive processes. For instance, your brain signals to your salivary glands to "make your mouth water" in anticipation of eating when you see or smell food.
You also have an enteric nervous system (ENS), which consists of nerves inside your gastrointestinal tract. The nerves of your ENS release various chemicals that either speed up or slow down the flow of food and the production of digestive fluids when food stretches the walls of your GI tract. Your gut muscles contract and relax in a continuous pattern to move food through your intestines due to signals sent by your neurons.
Diseases That Affect Gut Health.
Every year, millions of Americans suffer from chronic digestive diseases. These ailments affect the gastrointestinal (GI) system. The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract—also called the GI tract or digestive tract—and the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
Digestive problems include a range of illnesses, from mild to severe. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance are common digestive problems.
Constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, bleeding, bloating, constipation, nausea, and vomiting are typical signs of digestive diseases. A detailed medical history and physical examination are essential for correctly identifying intestinal diseases. Some patients may require more diagnostic testing such as endoscopic procedures, lab tests, and imaging to identify the underlying cause of disease.
The following are typical digestive health conditions:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Diverticular disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
- Celiac disease
- Peptic ulcer disease
Essential Vitamins for Gut Health.
According to the NIH, vitamin D is essential for healthy nerves, muscles, immune system, and for the body's absorption of calcium. A 2015 study published in Gut also found that good vitamin D levels are linked to a lower risk of colon cancer.
The NIH describes three ways to obtain vitamin D:
- Sun exposure
- Foods high in vitamin D include egg yolks, saltwater seafood, liver, fortified milk, and cereal.
According to a 2014 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, if you have an inflammatory bowel condition like Crohn's disease, which is frequently linked to low vitamin D levels, you might need to take a vitamin D supplement. Other individuals who are more vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency include:
- older people
- breastfeeding babies
- individuals with dark skin
- people with cystic fibrosis or liver disorders
- those who are obese or who have had gastric bypass surgery
Consult your doctor about taking a supplement if you aren't receiving enough vitamin D from food and sunlight. Remember that you might already be taking a vitamin D pill. The National Osteoporosis Foundation Notes that many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.
Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant that plays an important role in supporting the immune system. The NIH notes that this important vitamin also supports strong teeth and gums and aids in the body's ability to absorb iron.
There are numerous good food sources of vitamin C in addition to daily multivitamins and standalone supplements which include vitamin C. Good food sources include:
- Fortified cereal
The NIH explains that these vitamins aid in the formation of red blood cells and the absorption of energy from meals and are present in proteins, including fish, poultry, meat, and dairy products, as well as leafy greens and beans. B vitamins must be a regular part of your diet because they are water-soluble and cannot be stored in your fat cells for later use.
The following B vitamins are crucial for the digestive system:
B1, also known as thiamine, is a vitamin that aids in controlling appetite and converting the carbohydrates in your diet into energy for your cells.
B3. This vitamin, sometimes known as niacin, is crucial for the digestion of carbohydrates, lipids, and alcohol, among other digestive system processes. Niacin deficiency can lead to pellagra, which can cause dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhea.
B6, also known as pyridoxine, is crucial for your digestive system's ability to break down the protein, carbohydrates, and fat you ingest.
Biotin. This B vitamin aids in the production of cholesterol and the breakdown of proteins, carbs, and fatty acids by your digestive system.
B12. The neurological system, the development of blood cells, and the body's utilization of folic acid and carbohydrates are all impacted by B12, also known as cobalamin. The NIH warns that anemia can result from a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Most Americans consume enough B vitamins from their diet, but supplements may be beneficial for certain people. Before taking any supplements, talk to your doctor about your concerns.
According to the NIH, vitamin A is largely involved in improving vision, bone, reproductive health, and supporting the immune system. Vitamin A is abundant in colorful fruits and vegetables, including carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and other dark greens, as well as in liver and milk.
Despite not having a direct role in digestion, several gastrointestinal conditions can make you more susceptible to developing a vitamin A deficiency. For instance, a 2015 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that vitamin A deficiency is more prevalent among Crohn's disease patients. The researchers found that a deficiency in vitamin A can exacerbate the imbalance between the production and oxidation of free radicals in Crohn's patients' intestinal mucus membranes.
Holistic Methods to Keep a Healthy Gut.
A balanced, healthy diet depends on maintaining a healthy gut. Millions of microorganisms that help with digestion, nutritional absorption, and immune system function live in the gut. The gut houses 70-80% of our immune system. By fighting for food and space, these beneficial bacteria also assist in warding off harmful ones. However, when these beneficial microorganisms are absent or given little room to grow (such as after taking an antibiotic), bad, disease-causing bacteria can displace them and leave you more vulnerable to disease and infection.
You can take a variety of different vitamins to enhance the health of your digestive system. These have been examined here, but we know that fitting them all into your diet can take time and effort. Nutritional gaps in your diet can be addressed with supplements, ensuring you get the vitamins you need for optimal intestinal health.