Gut Health 101: How Does The Gut Work?

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be bringing you a mini-series of educational articles from the PERKii lab, focusing on gut health and the gastrointestinal tract. 

In the first of the series, we’ll be covering the fundamentals of the digestive system and answering the common question: ‘how does the gut work?’

So, how does the gut work? And how does this major system impact our overall health? Don’t worry, you wouldn’t be the first person to ask this question.

At first glance, the gastrointestinal tract might only seem to cover the digestion of our food - though this is only scratching the surface. Our gut plays such a pivotal role in our overall health and wellbeing in many ways you wouldn’t initially expect.

With a basic understanding of how the gastrointestinal tract operates, you can ensure the system runs smoothly and nourishes your body from the inside out. Find out more below!

What Is The Gastrointestinal Tract

Let’s kick things off with the basics - what is the gastrointestinal tract? The gastrointestinal tract is the pathway of the digestive system, extending throughout the body. It contains many major digestive organs, including the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.

The gut is responsible for digesting the food we ingest, extracting the nutrients our body requires, and eliminating any waste (such as undigested foods).

Our gut is also home to the microbiome, which is a colony containing trillions of living microorganisms residing in the small and large intestine - typically in the form of bacteria and fungi. The neutral pH conditions of this environment help bacteria to grow, thrive, and communicate.

Since the microbiome can affect our digestion, nutrient absorption, immunity, mental health, and so much more, it’s become a crucial aspect of good gut health.

How Does The Gut Work? Digestion Explained

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. Are you wondering ‘how does the gut work?’ Below, we’ve covered the step-by-step process of digestion. Take a look!

Our journey along the gastrointestinal tract begins in the mouth - where our teeth break down the food into smaller pieces and the tongue pushes it through to the oesophagus. The food is then moved down the oesophagus by a process called peristalsis - where the muscles relax and contract automatically.

Once the food reaches the stomach, it begins to break down in this highly acidic environment. Hormones are released and trigger the muscular walls to churn the food and convert it into a substance called chyme.

Once the food exits the stomach, it proceeds further into the small intestine. Here, the substance is pushed through the intestines by peristalsis. While this is occurring, the microbiome breaks down any complex macronutrients and they’re absorbed into the bloodstream.

Any waste product from digestion, such as undigested foods or cell lining, continues into the large intestine. As this occurs, water is continuously extracted from the waste until it’s transformed into stool and expelled from the body.

Why Is Gut Health Important?

With all that said, you may be wondering why gut health is so important and why should we take the time to nourish and protect it every day?

The core duty of the gastrointestinal system is to effectively digest our food, absorb the necessary nutrients our body needs to thrive, and expel any waste - though it doesn’t stop there. Our gut health is a pillar of our general wellbeing, especially since it influences our immunity, general mood, heart health, brain health, sleep quality, and so much more.

When we neglect our gut health, the system can’t function properly. Our microbiome is thrown out of balance, which can trigger an assortment of health issues - like bloating, constipation, inflammation, and fatigue. Plus, we also experience an increased risk of chronic diseases and auto-immune conditions. 

Because of this, we must take the necessary steps to secure and nourish our gut health any way we can. This could be as simple as eating more foods rich in polyphenols or grabbing a daily probiotic drink to nourish and support the gut. 

In our next few blog posts, we’re going to dive into the specific ways our gut and microbiome can influence general health and how you can enjoy these benefits for yourself. Stay tuned for more gut-friendly information! 

*The information in this article is opinion only, and any advice provided is designed for those with no healthcare issues. Before adjusting your diet, speak with your healthcare professional.