This is a 2 part article on Reflexology and the Digestive System. Below is Part 1: “About the Digestive System”. The next article (and continuation) Part 2: “What Can Reflexology Do?” will follow Part 1.

Before I get into the reflexology (which helps to lessen the symptoms of digestive issues) I think it’s important to talk about the digestive system as a whole.

The Digestive System is represented by more organ reflexes on the feet than any other system. The best place to start our journey on this long and winding pathway is with the first step in the digestive process.

Believe it or not, your digestion system kicks in before you even put food into your mouth. Just a whiff of mom’s homemade cherry pie or even the thought of how delicious that salad is going to be – begins your digestive process with salivation – so your body is already preparing for that first scrumptious bite.

The food we consume is the fuel for our bodies, and its nutrients give our cells the energy and substances they need to operate. But before food can do that, it must be digested into small pieces the body can absorb and use.

About the Digestive System

Our digestive system is a wondrous series of organs and glands that processes food. In order to use the food we eat, our bodies have to break the food down into smaller molecules that it can be absorbed; it also has to excrete the waste.

For the most part, our digestive organs (i.e., the stomach and intestines) are tube-like and act as containers for the food as it makes its way through the body. From start to finish it’s much like a long, winding tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus, with a few other organs attached along the way (i.e., the pancreas and liver).

The Digestive Process (Movement of Food through the System):

I’ll be talking more specifically about each organ of the Digestive System in future Reflexology Newsletters and on my Blog – but today I’m going to talk about the whole system, so let me briefly go through the organs involved: The digestive process begins in the mouth.

Food is partly broken down by 2 processes – the first is the mechanical action of chewing and the second is the chemical process involving the salivary enzymes whose function it is to break down starches. This explains why carbohydrates, like bread, become sweeter as we chew them.

Let’s start from the beginning: We first chew each tasty morsel which begins its mechanical and chemical digestion. Once swallowed, the food moves from the mouth down the esophagus.

The esophagus is the part of the digestive system that connects the mouth to the stomach. A movement called peristalsis creates a wave-like flow that carries the food down the throat. This one-way movement allows for unexpected bends and twists the body might take and lets us eat and drink even if we’re upside-down.

The stomach – this organ is fairly large and shaped much like a pouch or sack. Once the food gets to the stomach, it’s churned and mixed with the acids that help to break it down, to a more liquid state (called chime).

The small intestine – There are three parts to this organ, the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum.

Where the stomach ends, the duodenum begins and it’s here where the food, now called chime, meets with bile (an emulsifying agent for fat) from the liver via the gallbladder. In addition, digestive enzymes from the pancreas enter the system there.

Continuing through the jejunum and ileum the nutrients from the food are absorbed and the waste that is not useful continues through to the large intestine.

The large intestine: This is the end of the line for the waste from our digested food and where most of the water is removed and recycled in the body.

Also referred to as the colon, the large intestine begins with the cecum, where you’ll find both the ileocecal valve and the appendix located in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen.

Next, the waste travels first up through the ascending colon and then across the middle of the body via the transverse colon and finally down on the left-hand side of the lower abdominal cavity in what’s known as the descending colon.

Not quite ended, the last few areas to pass through are the sigmoid colon, the rectum and anus… the end of the line where solid waste is stored temporarily, until excreted.

How is the digestive process controlled?

1. Hormone Regulators

The functions of the digestive system are controlled by hormones that are produced in cells that line the stomach and the small intestine.

Amazingly it’s the job of these hormones, once released into the digestive tract via the blood stream, to then send their messages from the digestive system to the heart and then returning back to simulate the digestive processes through the stimulation of digestive fluids as well as peristalsis.

2. Nerve Regulators

Two types of nerves help control the action of the digestive system.

The first type is referred to as extrinsic, meaning outside. These are the nerves that move from the brain and the spine to control the releasing of the chemicals acetylcholine and adrenaline.

The first chemical mentioned, acetylcholine can cause the muscle layer to push with added force so that the food increases in it’s speed and motility.

The second type of nerves are called the intrinsic, or inside nerves and they create a dense network of fibers that are woven into the walls of the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines.

Once these hollow organs are stretched by the food inside them, the intrinsic nerves are triggered into action.

Digestive System Problems

Also known as the alimentary canal, the digestive system can house a myriad of issues (maybe that’s why some are called ailments). The good news is that many of these conditions are common and only cause mild discomfort. They usually clear up on their own. However there are some including Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crones, an inflammatory bowel disease that can be long lasting and bothersome.

Coming up next… “Keeping Digestion on Track” and “What Can Reflexology Do?