How Water Supports a Healthy Digestive System

Among its many functions in the body, water is critical to healthy digestion and supports the process from start to finish.

If you’re like many people, healthy digestion might be more top of mind than it used to be. Part of this renewed interest in digestive health may have to do with an abundance of emerging science on the importance of maintaining a healthy “gut microbiome” – the collection of bacteria that inhabits the digestive tract and which affects the health of many systems in the body.

And so, to keep your digestive system healthy and happy, you may be aware of the importance of taking in probiotics (the “good” bacteria) as well as prebiotics (such as certain forms of fiber that serve as “food” for the probiotics) and adequate fiber, which helps move waste through your system and promotes regularity.

But there’s something much simpler and more basic to keeping your digestive system running smoothly: water. Water is involved in literally every step of the digestive process, which is just another reason why staying adequately hydrated is so critically important to your health.

How Does Water Aid Digestion?

Starting at the very beginning of the digestive process, water is a major component of your saliva.

Saliva serves several functions:

As the food passes into your stomach, watery gastric juices are released. These juices also contain enzymes, which begin to break the proteins and carbohydrates in the foods you eat into smaller parts, preparing them for their trip to the small intestine where much of your food’s digestion occurs.

By the way, there’s no truth to the myth that drinking water with meals will dilute the digestive juices so much that they can’t do their job. Adequate fluid with meals helps promote the process.

Water is also needed to produce the mucus that coats the inside of your stomach, which protects it from highly acidic digestive juices.

How Water Supports a Healthy Bowel

As the food moves through the small intestine, there’s a lot of digestive activity that water facilitates:

As the digestive process continues in the large bowel, water is critically important, too:

The lower bowel is also where your body takes up most of the minerals that you eat, and the watery environment there facilitates their absorption.

There’s no question that healthy digestion relies on adequate fiber (and probiotics are a good idea, too). Exercise is also important – when you move your skeletal muscles during exercise, you’re stimulating the smooth muscles of your digestive tract at the same time, which helps promote regularity. But don’t forget the simplest and most basic thing of all – make sure to take in plenty of fluids every day to keep your system running smoothly.

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.