Digestion is a process where the body breaks food down into smaller particles to absorb them into the bloodstream. Complete digestion of food takes from 24 to 72 hours and depends on several factors, including the type of food eaten and problems with digestion.
In the material, we consider the digestive process, its potential problems, as well as ways to improve digestion.
How long does it take to digest food?
In many cases, food passes through the stomach and small intestine for 6-8 hours, and then passes into the large intestine.
However, the exact time varies and depends on factors such as:
– The amount and type of food eaten: protein-rich and fatty foods, such as meat and fish, may take longer than digesting high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Sweets, such as candy, crackers and pastries, are among the fastest foods;
– Gender: a study from the 1980s showed that the transit time through the colon was 47 hours for women and only 33 hours for men;
– Digestive problems: Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome are some of the conditions that can slow down digestion.
When food reaches the colon, it can remain there for one day or more, as it undergoes further destruction.
It is generally accepted that digestion occurs only in the stomach, but in fact, there are three separate stages of digestion:
– stage of digestion in the mouth
During chewing, the food is broken down into smaller particles and mixed with saliva. An enzyme present in saliva, called amylase, acts on carbohydrates in food to destroy them. Then the food particles can form a soft mass that is easy to swallow, known as a bolus;
– gastric digestion
In the stomach, an enzyme called pepsin helps break down proteins into smaller particles. Gastric acid also plays an important role in preventing foodborne illness, as it kills any bacteria or viruses that may have been present in the food;
– intestinal digestion
Nutrients and water that have been removed from the digested food pass through the walls of the small intestine.
Unabsorbed and undigested food that remains, then moves to the large intestine. Some more nutrients and water are absorbed here, and the remainder is stored in the rectum until it leaves the body through bowel movement.
Tips to improve digestion
To keep the digestive system healthy, constipated and diarrhea, try the following:
Fiber-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, help move food through the digestive system faster. They also help prevent constipation, nourishing intestinal bacteria and promote weight loss.
– Meat, especially red, is difficult to digest, so it should be consumed little by little.
– Processed foods and fast foods often contain large amounts of fat, making it difficult for them to digest. They are also rich in sugar, which can upset the balance of bacteria in the intestines. This food also contains supplements that can cause upset stomachs in some people and contribute to poor health.
Drinking enough water and other fluids, such as teas and juices, can prevent constipation and food retention in the digestive system.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help restore the balance of bacteria in the body, reducing the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine. The following foods are rich in probiotics: natural yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, fermented vegetables. Probiotics are also available in supplement form.
Be sure to include high-fiber and prebiotic products to nourish probiotics, as well as healthy bacteria that are already in the colon.
– Regular physical activity
Engaging daily exercise benefits the digestive tract as well as the rest of the body.
Stress can slow down digestion and contribute to symptoms such as heartburn, cramps and bloating.
To reduce stress, engage in meditation, deep breathing exercises and yoga. Even a few simple deep breaths before a meal can help. “Quality” sleep is also important to reduce stress and aid digestion.
– Observe oral hygiene.
Since digestion begins with chewing in the mouth, dental problems can interfere with this important step. Older people, in particular, may suffer from improper chewing due to problems with their teeth.
Brush your teeth daily and visit your dentist regularly.
People with low gastric acid, chronic stress, diseases of the digestive system and other conditions can benefit from taking supplements that contain digestive enzymes.
– Control digestive conditions
Several diseases can cause digestive problems. People with these conditions should work with their doctor to manage their symptoms and reduce digestive problems.
Possible problems with digestion:
– gastroesophageal reflux disease;
– irritable bowel syndrome;
– inflammatory bowel disease;
These conditions can cause problems with digestion and contribute to symptoms such as heartburn, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
When do I need to see a doctor?
Those who regularly experience symptoms of poor digestion, such as gas formation, bloating, constipation, heartburn or diarrhea, should consult a doctor who can rule out any serious condition.
If someone experiences the following symptoms, they should immediately see a doctor:
– significant weight loss;
– feelings of food blockage in the food tube.
Digestive symptoms, which gradually worsen or change suddenly, also require medical attention.