How Does the Body Digest Food?
The human body digests food by two means: chemical and mechanical digestion. Chemical digestion involves the breaking down of foods by enzymes that are produced by the pancreas. Enzymes are proteins that help speed up chemical reactions. When food is eaten, saliva in the mouth contains the enzyme amylase which breaks down carbohydrates. Through the process of chemical digestion, the nutrients from food are broken down and absorbed by the cells in the body. Mechanical digestion involves the physical breaking down of food by chewing, which also begins in the mouth.
As previously mentioned, the digestive process begins in the mouth and ends at the anus. Once food enters the mouth, it is chewed and softened by saliva before being swallowed and entering the esophagus. This is also referred to as the food tube, and it contracts to push food along into the stomach. The stomach mixes the food and then stores it for between six and eight hours. During this time more chemicals are released that help the body to absorb nutrients, and then the food passes into the small intestine. Here, nutrients from food are absorbed into the bloodstream. Any unused food passes into the large intestine, where excess water is removed. The rectum receives any undigested material from the large intestine and holds it there, until the body is ready to excrete it via the anus.
How Long Is the Process and What Can Affect Digestion?
The entire process of digestion in humans takes between 24 and 72 hours. However, there are a number of factors that can affect the body's ability to digest food within this time frame. For instance, how much a person eats or the type of food they eat have a part to play in how long digestion takes. Foods that are rich in protein take longer to digest that foods loaded with carbohydrates. Digestive disorders such as constipation, acid reflux, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease can all slow down the process of digestion.
Looking After The Digestive System
One can eat a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise in order to look after his or her digestive system, which in turn may affect how long it takes a body to digest food. Foods that are high in fiber such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain bread can help prevent constipation, as can drinking lots of water. Limiting the amount of red meat in one's diet is worth mentioning because it takes the digestive system longer to break down. Keeping stress levels down is key to a healthy gut, and one can take probiotic supplements that aim to maintain levels of good bacteria in the stomach and keep bugs at bay. Plain yogurt is also a good source of probiotics. Getting adequate amounts of sleep at night can help reduce digestive issues such as heartburn and acid reflux.