Your gut is one of the most important systems in your body (and let’s be honest, my personal favourite – you guys should know I’m nerdy enough to have a favourite system by now, surely!). Your gut (digestive system) is where your food is broken down from the delicious morsels you gobble up every day, into the nutrients that are then absorbed and used by your body to build every cell and perform every function.
Your oesophagus is the tube responsible for the passage of food from your mouth to your stomach. While it seems like a pretty mundane function, the tube lies flat, behind your larynx (the tube you breathe through) and in order for the food to travel down it instead of your larynx, the complex function of swallowing has to occur.
Firstly, the tongue pushes the chewed food up and back in the mouth, while your uvula (the dongly looking thing at the back of your mouth) moves up to stop food going up the back of your nose, and the epiglottis (great word! And also a flap of cartilage) covers the entrance of the larynx to prevent you choking on it (what a handy dude, that epiglottis!). The food then moves from your oral cavity through the upper oesophageal sphincter into your oesophagus, where the smooth muscles in the wall of your oesophagus constrict in progression, pushing the food down toward the lower oesophageal sphincter – the entrance to your stomach – a muscle which relaxes to allow food to enter the stomach. If you put your hands on your throat and swallow, you will be able to feel the upper part of this in action.
Caring for Your Oesophagus
- CHEW CHEW CHEW your food! As I talked about at length in Part 1 of the Going with Your Gut series chewing is an essential part of digestion. However for the oesophagus, it is important for different reasons. Chewing your food at least 15-20 times per mouthful and being mindful and aware of the food you are eating firstly will stop you from choking! Do you rush when you eat your food? And when you do, have you noticed it getting either stuck (corn chips are probably the worst culprit for this) or that you start choking on your food? Chewing and slowing down are great and simple ways to prevent this (and I’d rather you didn’t die guys, for some strange reason) and helps your saliva to bond to the food to make it slippery enough to make a smooth journey to your stomach.
While the structure of the oesophagus is designed to withstand the regular friction of swallowing, it can be damaged when reflux allows the passage of food and stomach acid back up into the oesophagus from the stomach, which can irritate the wall of the oesophagus, resulting in a burning sensation – heartburn – and if left untreated, can permanently damage the oesophageal tissue. I have written an article on natural solutions for heart burn, which I wont repeat here, but if it is something you suffer from, be sure to take a look.
- SLIPPERY ELM is a powdered tree bark that contains fibre, vitamin C, zinc, other nutrients and tannins, and is incredibly soothing to any irritated and inflamed tissue in the digestive tract. If you suffer from reflux, drinking a large glass with 1 heaped teaspoon of slippery elm thoroughly mixed in, every day, can reduce the irritation and help the tissue to heal. The remedy was originally used by Native Americans and I’ve seen it in the health food section of supermarkets, as well as health food stores. I mean, it tastes like river water, but its a whole 5 seconds of your day to drink it, so wash the rest down with water and move on, its completely worth it!
- TURMERIC is a wonder herb that is hard not to love once you realise how powerful it is. I often use this when I have inflammation and have noticed results within 20 minutes of having it. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb, so it’s another one that is great for oesophageal inflammation (such as that from reflux, Barrett’s Oesophagitis, oesophageal ulcer), because it gets to work topically as soon as you swallow it down. My favourite way to include it is to brew a lovely chai on almond milk using freshly grated turmeric, or in curries, like chicken laksa. Make sure when you have turmeric to ensure you have it with some sort of fat (coconut oil/cream, milk, almond milk) and/or black pepper, to help it absorb.
Look out for next weeks Going with Your Gut blog, all about the stomach