Weird Digestive System Facts

Think your digestive tract is all about chew, swallow, churn, expel? Your body begs to differ. And according to our 21-Day Tummy book, a better understanding of this complex machinery may help you improve digestive health and lose weight. Here's your stomach explaining how it all works.

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Chewing might trim belly fat.

Chewing might trim belly fat.Sally Anscombe/Getty Images
Taking time to chew your food makes me, your stomach, happy—and it’s essential for proper digestion. Chewing breaks food into small enough pieces for the rest of your GI tract to handle and signals that it's time for me to begin producing acid. Bonus for you: Chewing may keep you slim. One study of 450 Japanese women found that those who ate foods that required the most chewing trimmed more than an inch from their bellies, compared to those who ate the softest foods. Try for at least 40 chews per bite; it's not only good for digestion, but also helps people eat less.

Certain spices help keep us slim.

 Certain spices help keep us slim.Joff Lee/Getty Images
Because fat is challenging to digest, it makes me bloated. Spices, especially ginger and curcumin, help you digest fat, which makes my job a little easier. A 2011 study showed that spices stimulate the body to secrete more bile and also promote activity in the pancreas, both of which are required for breaking down fat.

I can hold up to a half a gallon.

I can hold up to a half a gallon.Vstock/Getty Images
When I’m empty, I have the volume of about one-fifth of a cup, or 1.6 fluid ounces. But don’t test me! I have the capacity to hold a whopping 8 cups (64 fluid ounces) if you overfeed me. That’s a lot of stretching! But hey—just because I can hold that much, doesn’t mean I should.

Saliva helps with taste.

Saliva helps with taste.Sean De Burca/Getty Images
Guess how much “spit” you produced today? You won’t believe it: six cups! Saliva is one of the body’s most underappreciated fluids. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to taste or swallow food—or even form words!

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I regenerate my lining completely every four to five days.

I regenerate my lining completely every four to five days.RubberBall Productions/Getty Images
Talk about a transformation! That’s because I churn out a powerful fluid called hydrochloric acid, which helps break down foods in much the same way that laundry detergent cleans stains. It’s so potent (strong enough to dissolve the metal zinc) that I need to keep regenerating so the acid won’t injure me.

Try more aerobic exercise.

Try more aerobic exercise.Martin Barraud/Getty Images
As long as you wait at least an hour after you eat to work out, I’m a big fan of regular exercise because it makes me more efficient. Aerobic exercise is my favorite. It keeps the digestive tract muscles in good shape so they contract more easily and push food through so I don’t get backed up.

Acid reflux isn't always obvious.

Acid reflux isn't always obvious.Fuse/Getty Images
Swear you don’t have acid reflux because your throat doesn’t burn? Fine, but I know better. In some people, acid reflux affects the throat or lungs more than the chest, so your symptoms resemble those of a cold, like a sore throat and cough.

Deep breathing might improve reflux.

Deep breathing might improve reflux.Anna Zielinska/Getty Images
I’m not a fan of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) meds—they mess with my ability to produce acid and do my job. But you can use breathing exercises and train your diaphragm to improve your symptoms and decrease your reliance on meds. Deep breathing can reduce the amount of air you swallow and can strengthen the muscles surrounding the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that connects me to your eating tube. An Austrian study showed that breath-training exercises helped GERD sufferers feel better within a month.

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Stress does make for stomach trouble.

Stress does make for stomach trouble.Klaus Vedfeit/Getty Images
The enteric nervous system, which operates the GI tract, communicates with the central nervous system. When you’re stressed, the central nervous system sometimes decreases proper blood flow to me, which can lead to tummy problems.

Get the plan for a slim, happy stomach!

Get the plan for a slim, happy stomach!Reader's Digest Association
The 21-Day Tummy plan features breakthrough science to soothe and shrink your tummy. With a specific meal plan to lower inflammation and balance gut bacteria, the 21-Day Tummy melts belly fat and eases the top five most common digestive complaints, including bloating, gas, and heartburn. Learn more about the plan and buy the book wherever books are sold.

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