Mealtime Partners, Inc.

Specializing in Assistive Dining and Drinking Equipment

September 2013 Independent Eating and Drinking Newsletter

Independent Eating...   is a Wonderful Thing

September Topics:

  • The Digestive System

  • Diseases of the Digestive Tract

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The Digestive System

Mealtime Partners Newsletters provide a lot of discussion about eating and drinking. However, little time has been spent discussing the digestive system. Many people who have difficulties with eating and drinking have problems with their digestive system. Commonly, those who are unable to eat and drink independently are impacted by multiple disabilities. The greater the number of impairments, the greater the likelihood of problems associated with eating and drinking, such as chewing and swallowing safely, and with their digestive system. Some of these problems will be discussed in a second article but this article will provide a brief overview of the human digestive system, what it is, how it works and where things happen within the system.

The digestive system is a series of tubes of different dimensions that are joined together and that run through our body from the mouth to the anus. The digestive system starts at the mouth. The mouth is connected to the esophagus. The esophagus is connected to the stomach which, in turn, is connected to the small intestines. The small intestines are followed by the large intestines, colon, rectum and anus. The digestive system is our body’s way of processing food and drink to change it into a form that can be absorbed into the body and provide nutrition and energy to the body. The digestive system holds the food from when it is eaten until the unwanted materials are excreted.

How the digestive system works: Food is taken into the mouth and ground into particles by the teeth. As the food is being ground up, three sets of salivary glands in the mouth release saliva that moistens the food and allows it to form into a bolus, or ball of food. The saliva contains enzymes that start the digestive process for starches (or carbohydrates) that are in the food that is being eaten.

The food then passes from the mouth, through the pharynx (throat) into the esophagus which is a muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. A bolus of food is moved down the esophagus and passes through the esophageal sphincter (the valve at the bottom of the esophagus) into the stomach.

The stomach is a muscular sack that serves as a temporary storage area for food. While food is in the stomach, the stomach provides hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes that continue the breakdown of the food that was started in the mouth. Because the stomach contains strong acid, the stomach is lined with mucous cells which protect it and prevent the acid from trying to digest the stomach itself. Carbohydrates, which have already been mixed with digestive enzymes in the mouth, digest the fastest in the stomach. Proteins take longer to digest and fats are the slowest food component to digest. While food is in the stomach, the muscles of the stomach churn it around and move it towards the pyloric sphincter at the lowest point of the stomach which opens and allows it to pass into the small intestines. By the time it leaves the stomach, the food is mixed with fluids and becomes a liquid sludge.

The small intestines are comprised of 3 sections: the duodenum; the jejunum; and the ileum. When the food “sludge” is passed into the small intestines more digestive juices are added to it. First, the pancreas releases enzymes that further help break down the food. The liver supplies bile. Bile is generated by the liver and is stored in the gallbladder. This bile is an essential part of the body’s ability to breakdown fat. An analogy of the impact of bile on food is how dishwashing liquid emulsifies grease in a frying pan.

Once food is in the small intestines it begins to be absorbed through the walls of the intestines. Water, nutrients, and minerals, including salt, are removed from the digested food mix. About 90% of what was ingested is absorbed by the body. The remaining materials which are typically fiber from the food are waste and will continue descending into the large intestines. Waste materials sloughed off of the body are also mixed with the waste digested materials. The large intestines are greater in diameter than the small intestines. The large intestines extract water from the materials that pass through it; additionally it extracts a small amount of nutrients. As water is extracted from the remaining materials the waste matter passes into the colon where it remains until it is expelled by a bowel movement.

The human digestive system is a very complex mechanism that is controlled by hormones. Some of these hormones are responsible for stimulating appetite while others suppress the appetite after food has been eaten. Additionally, hormones trigger the release of the various enzymes necessary for digestion.

The Mayo Clinic provides a slide show of how the digestive system works which can be found at:

Whether it is eating or drinking
Mealtime Partners has a HANDS-FREE solution to independence
Child using the Mealtime Partner Woman using the Front Mounted Drinking System
The Mealtime Partner Dining System on Legs The Front Mounted Drinking System
To maintain a healthy body, lots of fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods should be consumed without the need to hurry the pace at which they are eaten.

Additionally, plenty of water should be consumed, all day long. For those individuals who are unable to lift or hold a utensil or who are unable to pick up a cup, maintaining healthful consumption can be difficult. Mealtime Partners products provide a solution. For more information about our dining and drinking products, please visit the Mealtime Partners website.

For more information about the most flexible assistive dining system available please visit: The Mealtime Partner Description, or call us at 800-996-8607. For information about all of our drinking products and for considerations for selecting the appropriate drinking system, click here.

Diseases of the Digestive Tract

The previous article in this Newsletter gave an overview of how our digestive system works. The description only covers the digestive system when it is working properly. However, there are many reasons that it does not work as described. The following describes some of the more common problems experienced with the digestive system. It is not intended to be a complete list, but rather a short overview of some of the diseases that are common to those individuals who have eating difficulties.

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) (at the base of the esophagus) opens and allows stomach contents, including stomach acid, to ascend into the esophagus. It is also described as acid reflux. It causes a burning sensation in the back of the throat and at the top of the stomach.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of GER. It is described as frequent occurrences of acid indigestion. It can be caused by the LES relaxing too much and allowing food and liquid to back flow. It can also be caused by anatomical abnormalities like a hiatal hernia.

Celiac Disease is a disease of the immune system. When gluten is consumed by people who have celiac disease, their body reacts by attacking their small intestines damaging the delicate finger-like surfaces of the small intestines, called villi, that absorb nutrition. Once the villi are damaged they are unable to absorb nutrition from the food that is eaten. The result can be gas, diarrhea, tiredness, itchy rashes, anemia, brittle bones, and other health problems. The only treatment currently available for celiac disease is to avoid eating food with gluten in it. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley.

Cirrhosis is caused by heavy scaring of the liver that prevents proper blood flow through the liver and thus stops it from functioning properly. Heavy alcohol consumption is the most commonly associated cause of cirrhosis but it can also be caused by a wide variety of drugs. It can also be caused by hepatitis, or obesity that causes fatty liver disease. The liver is responsible for making proteins, fighting infections, cleaning the blood, digesting food, and storing a form of sugar that will be converted into energy.

Crohn’s Disease causes inflammation and swelling in the intestinal tract. The inflammation can cause pain and the bowel can empty frequently causing diarrhea. Scar tissue can build up in the intestines if the inflammation lasts for a long time. This, in turn, can restrict the passage of food being digested and cause pain and cramping. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and can be mistaken for ulcerative colitis and other IBDs.

Gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying) occurs when food does not progress from the stomach to the small intestines, or the movement of the food is very slow. Typical symptoms are nausea, blotting, and a feeling of fullness after very little food is consumed. The vagus nerve controls the emptying of the stomach. If it is damaged, the process no longer works properly and digestion slows, or even stops. Many occurrences of gastroparesis have no known cause; however, diabetes, with its associate high blood sugar, can damage the vagus nerve.

Management of many of these diseases is dependent upon eating a correct diet. But regardless of what one needs to eat, the speed at which food is consumed impacts digestion significantly. When an individual is fed by another person, the pace at which they are fed tends to be rapid. A slower pace is more desirable to help digestion. Assistive dining equipment, like the Mealtime Partner Dining System, allows people to pace their meal appropriately for their want and needs. For more information about this Dining System, click here: Description of the Mealtime Partner.

Did You Know? Did you know that a recent study suggests that there are potential treatments for many diseases of the digestive system like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, and for the management of weight. The study, published in this month’s Science magazine entitled "Gut Microbiota from Twins Discordant for Obesity Modulate Metabolism in Mice", describes an experiment that transplanted gut bacteria from human twins into mice. One of the twins was obese and the other twin was thin. The mice had been raised in a sterile environment and, therefore, were bacteria free. Five weeks after the gut bacteria transplant, the mice who had receive bacteria from the obese twin were 15 to 17% fatter than those who had received bacteria from the thin twin despite them receiving the same diet.

An article in the New York Times expands the discussion of transplanting gut bacteria. To read the full article, click on the following link: Gut Bacteria from Thin Humans Can Slim Mice Down.

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