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Gut health

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Published: 2 September 2020

A sad plate 

Nancy Bradley, Our Health and Wellbeing team are back with the latest in their series on food and diet. Following the government’s launch of their ‘Better Health' campaign, we discuss the importance of ‘gut health’ - how our digestive system works and why you should think carefully about what you put into it.

“What we eat matters. We all know this, but sometimes it helps to be reminded of what it really means. 

Our digestive system is a complex and delicate thing that we impact every time we sit down for a meal. 

When we talk about gut health, it’s important to start at the beginning – physiology. 

Physiology is the branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of animals and plants (sleeping and eating for example) 

Gut health is about the second of these, focusing on how your digestive system works and how we can help it to run more smoothly. 

It starts with your mouth; this is where we break food down into manageable bits (through chewing) before swallowing to start the digestive process. 

The food then moves down your oesophagus (pronounced ‘u-sof-a-gus' - the tube which connects your mouth to your stomach). 

Acids and peptic enzymes further reduce what you’ve eaten, killing any harmful bacteria in the process which can take up to five hours.  

The next stage is the small intestine. With a length of around six metres, the food is mixed with digestive juices here from the pancreas and liver which help to break it down even more. 

It’s where most of the food groups are treated with amino acids, sugars and fatty acids. These are absorbed into the bloodstream which takes about two to four hours. 

Once this is done the remains are sent through the large intestine. Not a lot of digestion happens here, but a lot of the liquid is absorbed from the waste material.  

Everything that’s left passes through the colon and out the body. 

All of this (except for eating and swallowing) happens without us even having to do anything. 

Along the way, our digestive system takes exactly what we need from the food we’ve eaten and turns it into energy. 

It’s something that we all experience every single day, and often we take it for granted. 

But when something goes wrong it can have a lot of different effects on many areas of our body. 

Around 70% of the body’s immune system is housed in the gut. Connections have even been made between your gut and your mental health. 

That’s just two reasons to look after your gut. We do that by eating a healthy, balanced diet. 

For tips on healthy eating on a student budget, take a look at the Health and Wellbeing team’s other articles in this series.