How Diabetes Affects the Digestive System

Posted by Eric Lancaster on

Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, occurs in a body that does not produce sufficient insulin or, in some cases, the body does produce it, but the cells do not respond for various reasons. The result is elevated blood sugar which affects the body in a myriad of ways.

One important bodily function that is affected by diabetes is digestion. The digestive process is basic to existence because it is the means by which the body receives nutrition from food and drink and thus creates energy to move and repair cells. Disruption of this process can cause many issues, some of them serious or life-threatening in nature.

The Normal Digestive Process
The process of digestion begins far north of the gastrointestinal tract with which we associate it. With the help of enzymes found in saliva, the mouth begins to break down food as soon as a bite of food enters the lips. At this point, the main ingredient of digestion is to break down the food into smaller pieces that can be swallowed. These smaller pieces are swept to the back of the mouth and enter a thin tube called the esophagus. The person enjoying his dinner need not think about his digestion at all since tiny contractions automatically move his food through the digestive process.

The food next enters the part of the body most people think of when considering digestion, the stomach. Acids within the stomach go to work on the food, breaking it down further. Whereas the mouth broke down the carbohydrates in the food particles, the stomach starts breaking down the proteins of the food. When the food leaves the stomach, it is a fairly liquid substance called chyme. This occurs about four hours after the food enters the stomach. The next destination for the digesting food is the intestines.

The small intestine begins sorting the components of food. Bile from the liver dissolves fat and juices in the intestinal lining continuing the breaking down of the food into macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These and micronutrients of the food, vitamins and minerals, absorb into the blood stream from the small intestine. What is left moves through the remainder of the intestines and exits the body within approximately 24 hours.

Digestion Compromised By Diabetes
The beauty of the digestive system is its automatic quality. Since no one has to perform voluntary action to digest food, digestion is controlled by the nervous system. Unfortunately, the nerves of a diabetic person are damaged by continual elevation of the blood sugar. This causes digestion to be impaired by such problems as heartburn, diarrhea and constipation. When digestion is not working properly, the nutrients in food are not absorbed as they should be. Ironically, many diabetic people are overweight from excess blood sugar while the cells in their body are literally starving and emaciated. Diabetics also tend to have poor circulation as well. This causes the immune system to slow its response, making diabetes sufferers more susceptible to infection and disease. Energy levels are often at an all-time low as well, which in turn leads to being over weight.

Probiotics May Help Diabetic Digestion
If the body is not breaking down and absorbing nutrients properly, it needs help. While not a solution to diabetes in itself, many diabetics have found success with probiotic bacteria supplementation. These digestive enzymes can aid the digestion process, allowing the body to more effectively break down nutrients, and provide their starving cells with sustenance. Some studies have even tied some forms of obesity to a poor microfloral gut environment, suggesting that supplementation may even help to reduce weight - a major contributor to type 2 diabetes.

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