Smorgasbord Health Column – Major Organs and Systems of the Body – The Digestive System – Part Five – Pancreas, Gallbladder and Intestines – Sally Cronin


Last week I covered the disease like to impact the liver in Part Four and this week some other organs that are part of the digestive system.

The Digestive System – Part Five – Pancreas, Gallbladder and Intestines

We are reaching the end of our journey through the labyrinth that is our digestive system. Today the intestines, but also a couple of glands that are essential to the process itself. I hope you have enjoyed the trip and if you were new to the scenery, found it useful.

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The small intestine

The small intestine is made up of three parts, the duodenum at the entrance, the jejunum and the ileum.

The duodenum is joined to the stomach and receives the highly acidic mix that has now been produced by the gastric juices. There is a danger that the duodenum would be eaten away by this acid so it secretes a thick mucus to protect itself. Within the layers of the duodenum are also glands that produce an alkaline juice to neutralise the acid and provide the enzymes to continue the digestive process. Because of the corrosive effect of the hydrochloric acid in the food at this point, the cells in the mucus membrane replicate faster than anywhere else in the body. At this point bile and pancreatic juices join the mix and the food moves about 10 inches down into the jejunum where nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream before the remaining liquid is passed into the ileum and then onto the colon for excretion.

The pancreas

The pancreas is one of the largest glands in the body and its main role is the secretion of hormones including insulin (when there are raised sugar levels in the blood), glucagon (when there is lower sugar levels in the blood) which maintains a normal balance. Also pancreatic enzymes, which are vital for effective digestion.

It lies across the top of the abdomen, below the liver and tucked into the duodenum section of the small intestine.

The pancreas is made up of cells (acinar cells) that secrete into small ducts that connect together until they feed pancreatic juices into a main duct running through the centre of the gland which feeds directly into the duodenum. The pancreatic juice contains not only the enzymes needed to breakdown carbohydrates, proteins and fats but also sodium bicarbonate to help neutralise the acid.

Within the acinar cells are Alpha and Beta cells that produce insulin and glucagon respectively. These are taken from the pancreas via the Mesenteric vein into the blood stream where they will balance blood sugar levels.

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The gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small pear shaped muscular structure on the underside of the liver on the right of the abdomen. It is attached to the common bile duct, which connects the liver to the duodenum, by the sphincter of Oddi. Excess bile leaves the bile duct at the cystic duct and is then stored and concentrated in the gallbladder until needed. Bile is used in the digestion of fats as they pass through the duodenum and is then either excreted or absorbed back into the bloodstream.

Gallstones and other gallbladder problems can be painful, but they also impact the digestion of fats. If you have the following symptoms regularly then you should consult your doctor.

  • An excruciating pain across the chest below the sternum that lasts for 15 minutes or so.
  • Within an hour of eating a fatty meal including meats, cheese, rich sauces or having lashings of butter on bread or vegetables, you have an urgent need to visit the bathroom and you have cramps.
  • Your bowel movement is light tan in colour.
  • Some people may experience nausea

Apart from gallstones, a gallbladder can calcify with hundreds of very small stones inside. This prevents the drip feed of bile to digest the fat you have eaten. Instead there will be a rush of bile from the liver, resulting in the sudden need to get rid of anything in your intestines.

The colon

By the time the digested food (chyme) has reached the colon all the nutrients should have been absorbed leaving a mixture of insoluble fibre and assorted waste products from the body’s operating systems mixed with water.

The Colon is the last part of the 30 foot alimentary canal and is used to remove excess water and solidify waste products before they are excreted from the body. It is a muscular tube, which moves the waste in a series of movements similar in nature to a washing machine and piping bag. The contents are churned and then moved on mass by contractions whilst excess water is re absorbed into the body. As the faecal matter loses water it becomes more solid so the lining of the colon secretes mucous to ease its passage through to the rectum.

There is still a digestive role for the colon to play, as it is at this point that billions of bacteria in the colon synthesise the essential vitamins K as well as gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. Some of which make themselves more evident when we have consumed high fibre foods like beans.

Digestive process – timings.

From start to finish a normal and healthy digestive system will process the food you eat in approximately 12 to 24 hours. The longest period of digestion is in the colon where the process may take several days. Obviously what we eat will affect the timing of the process as harmful bacteria in food can cause the body to rush the elimination resulting in diarrhoea or the lack of fibre may result in constipation.

Ideally you should be eliminating food every 12 hours but certainly every 24 hours. As you will have seen there are many organs and processes involved and if only one of these is out of sync with the rest of the digestive system it can have a knock on affect that could potentially damage your overall health.

Eating a balanced diet is the best way to maintain a healthy digestive tract and so is some simple maintenance from time to time including dental care and detox programmes.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction in ebooks you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019/

As always delighted to get your feedback and questions. This is not intended to take the place of your doctor’s presence in your life. But, certainly in the UK, where you are allocated ten minutes for a consultation and time is of the essence; going in with some understanding of how your body works and is currently functioning can assist in making a correct diagnosis.

Some doctors believe that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. However, I believe that understanding our bodies, how it works, how we can help prevent health problems and knowing the language that doctors speak, makes a difference.  Taking responsibility for our bodies health is the first step to staying well.

Thanks for dropping in and please help spread the word by sharing..Sally.

 

The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Artichoke Extract and as a food.


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I used to find it very daunting when invited to dinner with friends to discover a wonderfully fresh and fragrant artichoke heart on a plate in front of me. It is one of those more fiddly  foods to eat and certainly it is a job for your fingers rather than your knife and fork. As a vegetable the artichoke is very nutritious and has been used since at least Roman times as a digestive aid. It was not however, until the 16th century that the therapeutic benefits for the liver and in particular jaundice were fully appreciated.

As doctors became more intrigued with the older herbal remedies they began to experiment with the bulb of the artichoke and other parts of plant that had not been eaten previously and used them to create extracts. The leaves of the artichoke were found to be particularly potent and they were prescribed for jaundice patients successfully. Since then the extract has been found to be effective for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels too.

It is understandable that today when we go to the doctor they are going to prescribe a pharmaceutical product rather than a bottle of herbal tincture… After all there are no patents available on plant medicine; you have to add a unique ingredient. However, most of our modern day medicines still use derivatives of plants for their manufacture and it is worth consulting a qualified herbalist to explore the original format as an option.

Artichoke is a phytopharmaceutical and has been the subject of quite extensive research with clinical effects being documented. It is recognised as an antioxidant that protects the liver, bile production and cholesterol lowering. It is entirely possible that the natural form of this plant may be just as or more effective than a synthesized product.

One of the main active components of the leaves has been identified as Cynarin and was the first to be extracted in the 1930s. It is only a trace element in the fresh leaves but undergoes significant changes as the leaves go through the drying and extraction process. The potency of the artichoke however, does not come from just one component and other elements such as chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant have been identified as being equally powerful.

The main use of the extract is to improve the digestive process and to enhance liver function and more recently as a natural way to lower high LDL cholesterol which is the more unhealthy type. Cholesterol has an important role to play in the body including hormone production and brain health but if our diet is unhealthy, the LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein becomes oxidised (usually from a high sugar diet) and its smaller particles attach to the walls of the arteries and form clumps that block blood flow. The dual effect of the artichoke extract is to not only act as an antioxidant preventing the oxidation by free radicals in the first place, but also to lower the level of the LDL.

The Liver

Our liver is the largest waste organ inside our body and as such comes under enormous pressure if we have a poor diet. We as humans are built to deal with many toxins. In the early part of human evolution we ate a lot of foods that were contaminated or possibly toxic; our livers are very proficient in removing these dangerous additives as quickly as possible. The digestive system is designed so that the stomach acid dissolves the food and as you will know if you have ever suffered from food poisoning there is usually a very quick response to contaminated food!

However, some of the toxin might still get through as far as the liver and it needs to be excreted from the body as effectively as possible. This is where bile enters the formula. It is manufactured in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. You may be surprised to learn that the liver produces around about 2 pints of bile per day and this is secreted into the small intestine where it processes the fats we have consumed and ensures that fat soluble vitamins are absorbed effectively. Bile is also essential for detoxing the liver as it carries the toxins away into the intestine to be eliminated from the body.

There are a number of clinical studies ongoing into the benefits of artichoke extract and it will be interesting to see the results of these in coming years.

In a nutshell.

Artichoke extract can be used to stimulate bile flow from the liver which may help reduce the symptoms of heartburn, protect the LDL cholesterol from oxidation and lower levels, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), improve kidney function, fluid retention, bladder infections and improve liver function.

Gallstones and gallbladder disease is not uncommon especially as we get older and have not had the best diet. It can also be a familial condition and we have it in our family. Artichoke may prevent the formation of gallstones and improve bile flow which is very important for the removal of toxins and long-term health.

Some cultures also use artichoke extract for lowering blood pressure and blood sugar or as a tonic.

As a food Artichokes contain many essential nutrients.

FOLATE: FOLIC ACID; Folic acid is a B vitamin essential for cell replication and growth. It helps form the building blocks of DNA the body’s genetic information which is why it is recommended prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the rapidly growing and replicating cells of the foetus are normal. This helps prevent low birth weight and abnormalities such as Heart defects or lip and palate malformations. It also helps prevent complications during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia

It is essential for transporting co-enzymes needed for amino acid metabolism in the body and is necessary for a functioning nervous system.

VITAMIN C: ASCORBIC ACID; An antioxidant that protects LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) from oxidative damage, leading to hardening of the arteries. May also protect against heart disease reducing the hardening of arteries and the tendency of platelets to clump together blocking them. Vitamin C is necessary to form collagen, which acts like glue strengthening parts of the body such as muscles and blood vessels. It aids with healing and is a natural anti-histamine.

It is essential for the action of the Immune system and plays a part in the actions of the white blood cells and anti-bodies. It protects other antioxidants A and E from free radical damage and is involved in the production of some adrenal hormones

VITAMIN K: PHYLLOQUINONE; Necessary for proper bone formation and blood clotting, preventing calcification in our blood vessels and maintaining a healthy neurological system including in the brain.

MANGANESE: Needed for healthy skin, bone and cartilage formation as well as glucose tolerance. Also forms part of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase, which helps prevent free radical damage. It is also needed for the efficient metabolism of cholesterol, amino acids and fatty acids. It may aid in weight loss as our body more efficiently processes the foods that we eat.

POTASSIUM: This is the main cation (positively charged electrolyte). It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell. It allows the transmission of nerve impulses and helps maintain the correct fluid balance in the body. It also regulates levels of acidity and alkalinity in the body. It is also required for carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It is connected to normal heart rhythms and to keep Blood Pressure within a healthy range.

So as you can see plenty of great reasons to eat artichokes at least once a week and if like me you find the preparation and eating of this nutritious vegetable a bit of a problem then here is a ‘How To’ from Youtube.

Thanks to Shadow of Juniper Hill

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

You will find other posts in this series here.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/medicine-womans-treasure-chest-herbs-and-spices/

Thanks for dropping by and I am always delighted with your feedback and please feel free to share the information.