The digestive system runs from the mouth right through to the anus and includes the stomach, the large and small intestines and a number of accessory organs, including the salivary glands, liver, gallbladder and pancreas. The role of the digestive system is to turn food and liquid into solutions, providing the building blocks that the body needs to function effectively.
In addition to digesting our food, the digestive system regulates our hormones, eliminates toxins and produces key nutrients. It is home to about 100 trillion bacteria, which is why there is such a correlation between the body’s immune system and bacteria in the digestive tract and why our overall health depends so much on maintaining the critical balance between the good and harmful intestinal bacteria called the microbiota.
What’s more, in recent years there has been a plethora of studies showing links between the brain and the gut.
“The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected.”
Ageing, along with diet represent major intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence the makeup and activity of resident intestinal microbiota. All food is a composite mixture of thousands of different molecules that include important nutrients as well as many potentially antigenic pathogens. This potential wealth of antigens provided by the diet and the constant threat of potential pathogens, means the intestinal immune system encounters more antigens than any other part of the body.
Eating a healthy and varied diet that contains good nutrition is essential to obtain the nutrients to keep the body and mind healthy, as well as avoiding substances that may be harmful. Conversely, a poor diet can lead to weight gain, an increased risk of developing a range of long-term diseases and mental health issues.
The importance of a healthy digestive system on our overall health is therefore no secret. The digestive tract plays a crucial role in the first line response of our immune system. Due to the proximity of a number of potentially ingested pathogens, an overwhelming range of illnesses have been connected to this part of the body. Just as there are certain foods you can eat to nourish the digestive system, there are also a range of vitamins you can take that will protect, heal and support the various stages of the system.
B Vitamins – Vitamin B helps the body create red blood cells and gain energy from food. Digestive health depends on the correct function of the stomach, which is improved with the addition of Vitamin B.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties aid digestion by helping the body absorb iron as well as promoting healthy gums and teeth at the top of the digestive system.
Selenium – Selenium enhances the digestive system’s response to inflammation. A lack of selenium has been proven to increase stress and inflammation, leading to potential damage to the lining of the intestine.
Vitamin D – This important vitamin aids muscle, nerve and immune system function and helps the body absorb calcium.
Zinc – Even a mild zinc deficiency can reduce digestive enzyme production, which increases the likelihood of poor digestive system function.
Magnesium – A vital mineral for overall health, magnesium minimises inflammation in the gut. Without it, good gut bacteria are exposed to potential harm, and it can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate which leads to other long health issues.
To maintain good physical and mental health, it is important to follow a balanced healthy diet that promotes a healthy digestive system, including a range of foods and can be supplemented with a number of vitamins and nutrients.
The role of diet and in particular, the consumption of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in influencing the microbiota and its generation of key metabolites that influence the efficient functioning of immune cells during aging, is key. Dietary intervention and supplementation can be such an important benefit in improving intestinal health and therefore overall immunity to colds, flus, disease and mental wellbeing.