Explore the incredible world of your digestive system with these nine intriguing facts. From the surprising length of your small intestine to the power of prebiotics, discover the wonders of your gut’s workings.

Did you know that your digestive system is hard at work even as you read these words? From day to night, it tirelessly digests food, ensuring your body gets the nutrients it needs. While you might not often think about this constant activity, your digestive system is a marvel of biology. Let’s embark on a journey of discovery as we explore nine captivating facts courtesy of gastroenterologist Bret Lashner, MD.

1. The Small Intestine Size Deception

Do not be fooled by the moniker “small intestine”, contrary to common perception, its true length is astounding. In fact, if extended out and lay flat, the small intestine would cover an area of 2,800 square feet, about the size of a tennis court. This vast length is critical in aiding the proper absorption of nutrients from the meals and drinks you ingest.

2. The Corrosive Properties of Stomach Acid

Stomach acid possesses corrosive properties, capable of causing skin burns. But you might wonder, how does the stomach tolerate it? The stomach is safeguarded by a dense mucus layer that shields its lining, containing the acid within to mix with food.

At times, this gastric acid can escape into the esophagus, which lacks the protective mucus coating. If this happens, you will get heartburn. (Do you have heartburn? Explore  methods for relieving the heartburn.)

3. Unraveling the Ulcer Enigma

Stress often shoulders the blame for stomach ulcers, those painful sores born from the erosion of the stomach lining by gastric acid. Yet, the true culprits behind these ulcers are:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®), and naproxen (Aleve®). Extended NSAID use weakens stomach mucus, rendering the lining vulnerable to acid.
  • Helicobacter pylori, also known as H. pylori, a bacterium. Its role was proven when an intrepid Australian doctor ingested the bacterium, later earning him a Nobel Prize for the groundbreaking discovery.

4. Decline in Stomach Cancer Cases

A hundred years ago, stomach cancer stood as the primary cause of cancer-related fatalities in the United States. Over time, it has steadily descended in these rankings and presently contributes to just 1.8% of all cancer-related deaths.

This trend can be linked to numerous causes, including the increasing use of refrigeration, which has lowered the consumption of smoked and cured meats. Furthermore, advances in the treatment of H. pylori, a bacteria associated to stomach cancer, have had a major influence.

However, it is crucial to point out that stomach cancer is still a major problem in other regions of the globe.

5. Intestinal Cleansers

Much like how dish detergent effectively dissolves fatty residues on soiled dishes, your body employs a comparable agent known as bile acids to break down the fats you ingest, facilitating their absorption into your bloodstream.

These bile acids serve as the equivalent of detergents within bile, a digestive fluid synthesized by your liver. The absence of these cleansing agents would render the digestion and absorption of fats impossible.

6. Cholesterol’s Multifaceted Role

Cholesterol is utilized by your liver to produce bile acids, essential for the elimination of excess cholesterol from your body. Moreover, cholesterol plays a crucial role in the synthesis of sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone.

In cases of liver disease, difficulties may arise in the absorption of fats, alongside potential hormonal imbalances.

Fats, however, are distinct from cholesterol in their chemical composition and serve as a source of energy for your body. This distinction is why nutritional labels detail fat and cholesterol content separately.

7. Decoding Gluten Woes

First, it is critical to recognize that the vast majority of people who have “gluten intolerance” do not have celiac disease.

Celiac disease develops when gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, causes an immune reaction that damages the small intestine. Symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, recurrent diarrhea, and exhaustion.

Celiac disease is caused by two distinct genetic changes that affect around 2% of the US population. Tests may be performed by medical specialists to precisely diagnose this illness.

Many people who are gluten sensitive may not have celiac disease, but they may benefit from following a gluten-free or gluten-free diet. The explanation for the possible increase in well-being (and perhaps weight reduction) is that such a restricted diet includes less carbs by definition.

8. Supplement doubts

While your digestive system hosts numerous advantageous bacteria, the idea that consuming a probiotic supplement (consisting of live or dehydrated bacteria) can significantly enhance their population is questionable.

Why is this the case? The majority of these advantageous bacteria primarily reside within your large intestine, also known as the bowel. Probiotic supplements are seldom able to withstand the harsh acidic environment and mechanical agitation of the stomach, or the potent effects of detergents and enzymes within the small intestine.

9. Nourishing with Prebiotics

To promote a thriving gut microbiome, consider incorporating a rich high-fiber diet into your routine or exploring fiber supplements, after consulting your healthcare professional. Fiber serves as a prebiotic, which beneficial bacteria can transform into nourishing compounds. An additional advantage is its potential to reduce the likelihood of colon cancer.

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