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About Your Digestive System: 6 Words to Know

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No lay person seeking medical advice wants to be bombarded with a lot of oddly-spelled and multisyllabic words. And when the concern is your digestive system, you can certainly hear words you've never heard before.

But knowledge is good, and to get started, here are just a few quick definitions of digestive system-related words that often come up. The focus is not so much on anatomy or digestive diseases, but on a few terms that aren't as intimidating as they first seem.

Known as the appetite hormone, ghrelin was discovered in 1999 and is being studied for possible use in drugs to treat obesity. Ghrelin is primarily secreted by the stomach and is a key to appetite regulation.

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
You hear it so often because it is a common and pesky stomach bacterium found in populations around the world. H. pylori frequently is to blame for peptic ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), as well as certain infections that precede stomach cancer.

H. pylori is detected through testing of the blood, breath or stool. Eradicating the infection sometimes takes a strong combination of antibiotics.

Lower GI Series
Doctors often order this diagnostic test because it can reveal many gastrointestinal conditions (especially in the colon and rectum) and because it is virtually risk-free. Also called a barium enema, a lower GI series involves cleaning out your bowels a day or two ahead of time and then undergoing an outpatient or hospital procedure.

During the procedure, a tube is inserted in your anus and fills your intestine with a special barium liquid. This helps radiologists as they take a series of X-rays of your intestine at various angles.

Food has to move through your digestive system somehow, and the secret of this process lies in peristalsis. While your upper gut squeezes its muscles together to move food downward, the lower gut relaxes itself to receive that food. It's all done in a continuous, wave-like motion that demonstrates the beauty of human anatomy.

Also known as phytos, the word represents a vast array of plant-derived compounds that are grouped together based on their chemical structure.

You might have heard of the family of phytos called flavonoids, encompassing numerous vegetables, berries, apples, soy, tea, dark chocolate, coffee and other foods, all of which are undergoing much study as to their potential health benefits.

You might hear this word in discussions of food allergies and intolerances. Villi are tiny, finger-like projections on the thin skin of your small intestine that trap food. They are essential for sorting the molecules of your digested food into pathogens, nutrients and other components. Figuring into the process is the gut-immune system and its "intelligence" in knowing what can harm you and what can't.

Of course, there are many, many other scientific-sounding words that you might hear in regard to your digestive health. You don't have to be a walking medical dictionary, but becoming familiar with a few words like these might just prove valuable.


"Lower GI Series." National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Web. 6 June 2012. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lowergi/index.aspx

Mullin, Gerard E., and Kathie Madonna Swift. "The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health." Rodale, 2011. pps. 42-3, 83-4.

Minocha, Anil, and Christine Adamec. "The Encyclopedia of the Digestive System and Digestive Disorders." New York: Facts on File, 2004. pps. 132, 135-6, 201.

Reviewed June 7, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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