How Your Body Works: A Day in the Life of Your Gut

One gabby gut shares how a bad day can affect your mood, your immunity, and, yes, your digestion.

By Hugh O'Neill from Reader's Digest Magazine | May 2013

day in the life of your gutMy Secret Balancing Act

I think I just felt the Gut Flora I mentioned earlier kick in. These guys—a teeming mass of around 100 trillion microorganisms that live on my lining—are pretty spectacular. Most of them are solid citizens, little worker bees that help with digestion by breaking down nutrients and keeping various germs in check. That’s why I beg The Body to eat more fiber and yogurt, like she did today for breakfast. These “prebiotics” (think oatmeal and blueberries) and the yogurt’s probiotics are like diligent hall monitors, allowing the good GF to do their jobs without distraction from the mischief-makers.

That’s right—some percentage of the GF are a little, well, misguided. And when these bad bacteria run rampant, The Body knows it. I get out of whack and make her feel gassy, bloated, and gross. (So long, skinny jeans.) Some experts say that when I have too many of certain microbes, I might make The Body gain weight, trigger autoimmune diseases, and bring on depression. (Geez, way to make me feel bad.)

The Body starts plugging away as soon as she gets to her office. I’m starting to feel a little parched—is she really too busy to stop for a water or snack break? When lunchtime rolls around, I’m anxious (that 3:30 meeting is getting closer) and famished—a bad combo. I know she’s going to wolf down that Grande Taco Sampler way too fast.

Once the chewed-up, mushed-up lunch arrives in my stomach, I go to work. I start giving it a good massage, flexing my muscles in gentle, rhythmic contractions to break it down. Then my chemicals kick in—hydrochloric acid dissolves the tortilla, beans, and guacamole with the help of those massaging muscles. It’s potent stuff. Think of me as a washing machine, but instead of wringing out stains, I wring critical nutrients from The Body’s food.

I’m one sophisticated piece of machinery, if I do say so myself. By the way, my stomach is probably smaller than you think. Picture a hollow sac, about the size of an empty fist, located just below the ribs on the right. But I’m super-stretchy. On Thanksgiving, for example, I’ve been known to hold a quart, maybe a quart and a half, of turkey, stuffing, and Aunt Jody’s candied yams. And I’m savvy enough to process each food group—proteins, fats, and carbohydrates—at different speeds and with the help of different digestive enzymes. Fat takes longest, FYI. So this hearty taco lunch, which is loaded with fat, along with protein and fiber, will take me several hours to process.

Serge Bloch

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