The Gastrointestinal system
Made up of 12 structures that include the mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, anus, appendix, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, the gastrointestinal system is a vital assembly of parts that work non stop to keep us alive, healthy, and energized. The liver, gallbladder, and pancreas are the only three solid (vs hollow) organs within the GI system and work closely with one another, as well as within the system in which they are housed. Because of their unique functions, they are grouped into a subcategory known as accessory organs.
Though these three organs must work in concert with other body systems as well as their gastrointestinal counterparts, they share a unique bond based on fat processing. Food is digested within the liver and broken down into various nutrients and minerals by the bile contained within the liver. The pancreas secretes enzymes that help the bile further break down and process the nutrients in our food. Additional bile is stored within the gallbladder and secreted into the small bowel, where fat is further processed. While each of these organs is tasked with a specific set of functions, their distinct responsibilities play a vital role in the others’ functions.
The Pancreas and its Functions

The pancreas is located behind the stomach, surrounded by the large and small intestines, gallbladder, and liver. The pancreas is responsible for processing nutrients such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, so we can in turn use them as energy sources. Through this process, we are able to effectively use this energy for everything from waking up in the morning, to a full workout later on.

The pancreas also produces insulin which controls the levels of glucose in our bloodstream. If the cells of the pancreas are unable to perform this task sufficiently, type II diabetes, known also as adult onset diabetes, may result. When the pancreas cannot keep up with your body’s need for insulin, most often because it is being asked to work harder than it should, sugar levels go unchecked, out of control, and if left untreated, can be deadly.
In fact, one of the most common disease states that affects the pancreas is diabetes. While type II diabetes is generally believed to be preventable through proper diet and exercise, individuals with type I diabetes are most often genetically predisposed to the condition or were born with a pancreas that simply does not work as it should. Those with type I diabetes need to inject or swallow insulin tablets in order to regulate their blood glucose levels. Diet and exercise are critical for those faced with either form of the disease.
Pancreatitis, another condition that affects this organ, involves painful inflammation of the pancreas. This disorder may be the result of genetics, certain types of medication, and quite often, excessive use of alcohol. Pancreatitis can result in an acute flare up that is treated relatively quickly, but can also be a symptom of long standing organ damage that will eventually progress. Treatment of pancreatitis can include medication, surgery, and severe dietary restrictions. Another factor involved in the treatment of this illness involves social conduct that includes your smoking and/ or drinking habits. Both diabetes and pancreatitis require life altering changes that you must remain committed to, ongoing.

How the Gallbladder Works

The gallbladder is a very small organ that is responsible for some very big jobs. Located just under the liver and beside the pancreas, this bile storage center releases its product into the intestines after you have eaten, and becomes fuller before you eat. Despite its importance within the grand scheme of both the digestive system and its partnership, if you will, with the liver and pancreas, it is in fact possible to live without a gallbladder. While those who have had a cholecystectomy may have some difficulties processing and metabolizing fats, the absence of this organ is not in most cases, life threatening and may in fact extend one’s life.

There are conditions that can cause the gallbladder to function poorly and sometimes, not at all. Gallstones are, by far, the most common ailment to plague the gallbladder, and are created when bile hardens into deposits that can range in size from a pebble to a golf ball. Generally speaking, gallstones can form when there is a chemical imbalance within the GI system or when a bile duct is blocked. Those who are most susceptible to developing cholelithiasis, the clinical term for gallstone development, include those of advanced age, fertile women, diabetics, individuals whose diets are unhealthy and laden with fats and low density lipids (LDL cholesterol), those who have lost dramatic amounts of weight in a short period of time, and those who may be genetically predisposed to the condition.
Cholecystitis, a condition in which the gallbladder becomes inflamed, can develop because any number of bile ducts is blocked. In fact, this condition can be the result of a build up of gallstones that block your body’s flow of bile. While this condition can also be the result of certain types of cancers and medications, the main cause of cholecystitis is the development of gallstones.
The Role of the Liver

Completing the trifecta of solid organs within the gastrointestinal system is the liver. This organ is crucial for processing the foods and medications we consume, and acts, in large measure, as a natural detoxification system. Located in the right, upper quadrant of the abdomen, above the gallbladder, pancreas, and stomach, this digestive warehouse is responsible for producing bile, staving off infections, and removing toxins. As one of the largest organs that also serves as the body’s iron storage center, the liver can be separated into two hepatic lobes, each with its own distinctive blood supply. In some ways, the liver is the organ that brings the functions of the pancreas and gallbladder together. The liver is involved not only in bile production, but regulation of blood glucose levels, protein synthesis, metabolism, and even the production of urine within the excretory system.

Perhaps it is because the liver wears so many proverbial hats that it is susceptible to so many types of diseases and ailments. One of these conditions, related to excess sugar consumption, obesity, genetics, and elevated cholesterol levels, is a fatty liver, or steatohepatitis. This condition is also referred to as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, so as to make a distinction between liver diseases that can arise from things other than extreme alcohol consumption. Left untreated, a fatty liver can progressively lead to inflammation, as well as a build of fibrotic tissue meant initially, to contain the liver’s inflammation. In its early stages, diet and exercise can profoundly turn this condition around. This is of particular import as the general public, across the planet, continues to gain weight at alarming rates.
For individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction, abuse, or dependence, as well as certain forms of hepatitis, cirrhosis can cause irreparable damage to the liver. One of the amazing functions of the liver is its ability to regenerate when damaged, as well as its desire to protect itself from further damage, by amassing a build up of scar tissue. At a certain point however, this scar tissue becomes dangerous to the organ it tried to protect, and ultimately proves fatal.
Achieving Maximal Gastrointestinal Health
Gastrointestinal health is a concern that affects the public’s welfare and demands dedication to the convictions needed to promote and maintain it. Whether your goals are to lose weight, gain weight, or fit into a cute outfit, you would do well to make your overall health the goal you work towards. How can you do that? By eating a diet rich in healthy fare, exercising regularly, relinquishing cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and consulting wit qualified medical professionals. Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC and his team of experts at Body Systems Wellness in Glendale, California, can help you achieve gastrointestinal fitness and cultivate the habits that will keep you healthy now and far into the future
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