The digestive system is responsible for the digestion, absorption, and assimilation of fluids, macro- and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and the elimination of waste from the gastrointestinal tract. Food and drink that we ingest is broken down by our digestive system into smaller simple particles (molecules) before it is absorbed by the small intestine and transported into the blood stream that carries the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to cells throughout the body. In the cells the molecules provide energy and nourishment to the body.
Symptoms and complaints related to the digestive tract are some of the most common reasons we take over-the-counter medications, prescription medication, or seek the advice of health care providers. Each month 44 percent of adults take antacids or other medicines to treat heartburn. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the intestines that leads to crampy pain, gassiness, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, and is one of the most common reasons for persons to visit their primary care doctor and miss work. Viral Hepatitis is caused by a number of viruses and results in inflammation of the liver. Five million people in the U.S. are infected with Hepatitis C virus that frequently leads to chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Many people (15 percent) develop gallstones and about half of these people develop symptoms of episodic upper abdominal pain and will require treatment, usually removal of the gallbladder and the stones. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the intestines of unknown cause that frequently infects adolescents and adults. Usually present in people with IBD are long standing and variable symptoms that may include chronic diarrhea, bloody stools, abdominal pains, weight loss, fatigue, fever, and occasionally problems outside of the intestines, such as mouth ulcers, joint pain, skin problems, and kidney stones.