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The Benefits of a Healthy Digestive System

Did you know that over 80% of people can correctly identify the primary components of the digestive system? Yet almost a quarter (24%) of people never think about looking after their digestive system.

4 in 10 people have at least one digestive symptom at any one time.

Almost half (43%) the UK population have experienced digestive discomfort, of those its suggested only 41% have never visited a doctor – rising to 61% of those aged 25-34. This article highlights what you can do to help keep your digestive system healthy and happy. 

What is the digestive system and why is it important?

There are many different organs which make up our digestive system.

The hollow organs that make up the gastrointestinal tract (GI) are:

  • The mouth
  • Oesophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Anus

The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the solid organs of the digestive system.

Bacteria in your GI tract, known as gut flora or the microbiome, helps to protect our body against harmful bacteria thus working to control your immune system and helping to digest and absorb certain minerals and vitamins.

Parts of your nervous and circulatory systems also help our digestion. Working together, nerves, hormones, bacteria, blood, and the organs of your digestive system digest the foods and liquids you eat or drink each day.

Your digestive system breaks nutrients such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water into parts small enough for your body to absorb and use for energy, growth, and cell repair.

  • Proteins break into amino acids
  • Fats break into fatty acids and glycerol
  • Carbohydrates break into simple sugars

How does the digestive system play a role in keeping us healthy?

If our gut isn’t in good health, we will not absorb optimal amounts of nutrients.

Did you know that you have brain cells in your gut?

The Microbiota-brain axis refers to a bidirectional information network between the gut microbiota and the brain, which may provide a new way to protect the brain in the near future. Inside the gut is a neurotransmitter known as serotonin which helps to regulates your mood. If we can nurture the serotonin in the gut through what we eat, then we have the potential to boost our mood.

When our serotonin levels are normal, we typically feel happier, calmer, more focused, less anxious and more emotionally stable. However, on the flip side poor gut health can inhibit production of serotonin and therefore inhibit our mood, which could trigger depression and effect memory retention.

A Research study in 2007 looked at the link between the poor diet and depression and health interventions. The results found that 30% of the people who received the health diet intervention and support with their nutrition recovered from depression compare to 8% who only received social support interventions.

It’s important we work to keep the gut healthy, as we would with any other organ in the body. Our gut health reflects our lifestyle habits, so making healthier lifestyle choices when we can is one of the best ways to avoid issues with your gut. Doing regular physical activity, staying hydrated, having a good night’s sleep, managing stress levels and having a nutritious diet can help to look after your digestive health.

Top tips on how to keep a healthy digestive system

Eat more fibre or veg - A diet rich in fibre can help digestion and prevent constipation. Aim for the recommended dietary intake of 30g of fibre a day, most people in the UK do not reach this target. Many sources of fibre act as prebiotics, which help to feed the probiotics in your gut.

For a healthy bowel, you need fibre from a variety of sources, such as:

  • wholemeal bread
  • brown rice
  • brown pasta
  • fruit and veg
  • beans
  • oats

Keep drinking, especially water - Fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing water. Without fluid, the fibre cannot do its job and you'll get constipation. A good way to make sure you're getting enough fluids is to drink a glass of water with every meal. Avoid caffeine drinks as they can cause heartburn.

Avoid processed foods - Fatty foods, such as chips, burgers and fried foods, are harder to digest and can cause stomach pain and heartburn. Cut back on greasy fried foods to ease your stomach's workload. Try to eat more lean meat and fish, drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, and grill rather than fry foods.

Limit alcohol consumption - Moderate drinking will not hurt your digestive system, but binge drinking increases acid production in your stomach, and can cause heartburn and aggravate other digestive disorders. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 8 or more units of alcohol in 1 session for men and drinking more than 6 units in 1 session for women.

Consume Probiotics - Probiotics are also called friendly bacteria that are found naturally in the gut. They have been linked to benefits such as irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhoea. Probiotics can be found in live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, fermented foods. There are probiotic supplements available however consuming probiotics through whole foods can provide a greater source of nutrients overall. It is best to adopt the “whole foods first approach” however do speak with your GP before taking any form of supplements.

The role of our digestive system is often overlooked and taken for granted. However, a healthy digestive system can positively affect all areas of wellbeing.


YouGov. Online survey carried out in April 2010 involving a nationally representative sample of 2,287 adults (aged 18+ years). Data on file.