This is the first part of some educational segments on various systems that have a big impact on their overall health. The first will be on Digestion. I hope you find it helpful!
Do most people truly know what healthy digestion feels and looks like? I’m gonna go with no, not the majority. I wish I could meet my 28 year old self and tell her many things. But, most importantly I’d share what I’ve learned over the past 15 years about digestive imbalances and how to heal it early or prevent it altogether!
I suffered through lactose intolerance for many years without realizing the cause of my numerous bathroom visits. Did I mention we would talk about poo, cause yeah, that’s part of digestion and impossible to leave out of the conversation! Then, after the birth of my son, I had a terrible yeast overgrowth (gut dysbiosis) issue that caused fatigue and brain fog I have never thought possible! All of those burbs, flatulence, and consistencies of stool are all cues our body is sending you about the health of your digestion. However, without the education to translate and decode it, it might feel like your body is speaking to you in another language!
So why is digestion so important? I mean, you eat, you poo…right?! What’s so complicated? As long as you’re eating healthy foods, you should be good. Well…not exactly. See, you are what you absorb, more than you ‘are what you eat’. And every cell in your body depends on the digestive system to provide the nutrients it needs for structure and function. So if there is an imbalance in the digestive process, this can often cause downstream health issues. Not to give a full on biology lesson here, but it truly helps to understand all of the parts of your digestive process and I think pictures help. Below is a simple diagram from Wikipedia that should guide you when I start spouting various organs and sections of organs.
Digestion could be thought of as a north to south process – starting at the brain and ending in elimination. In a healthy digestive process, your body would be in a parasympathetic state (often referred to as rest and digest). This is because digestion actually starts in your BRAIN. What? Ok, before I lose you, this is a real thing. Just thinking about your food, preparing it, smelling it. This all prepares your body to start the digestive process. Your salivary glands even perk up and get ready to receive food into your mouth.
So you have thought about your food, its on your plate in front of you. So now you place the food into your mouth and chew. Yumm! The longer you chew, the better broken down the food particles are before you send them down your esophagus and into your stomach. Additionally, enzymes for carbohydrate digestion start releasing in the MOUTH. So chew those carbs up until its like a smoothie consistency (typically 20-30 times).
Once you swallow, the food travels to your stomach and gets ‘washed’ with HCl (or stomach acid). Something you may not realize is how important protein consumption is for your stomach acid levels to be optimal! Protein stimulates the release of a hormone (gastrin) which tells the body how much HCl to produce and essentially jumpstarts protein digestion. Note that the stomach is not actually absorbing many nutrients. Its mainly preparing the partially digested food (now an acidic liquid called chyme) to go into the small intestines where nutrients will be absorbed into the body.
As the chyme moves into the small intestine, the gallbladder releases bile and the pancreas releases pancreatic juices which help to further break down the macronutrients into nutrients that the body can absorb into the bloodstream. The small intestine is surprisingly long, averaging 20 feet and covered with villi and microvilli which create a type of brush boarder which helps to increase the area in which to absorb nutrients from the chyme.
The large intestine absorbs the few remaining nutrients, but mostly it is absorbing water. The microbiota in the large intestine have been sitting there patiently waiting for prebiotic fibers (from your fruits and veggies) to make valuable nutrients like B vitamins and some important amino acids. A balanced microbiome is critical to optimal digestion, so keeping these “bugs” happy is important! Any sort of imbalance and your body will send you signals through digestive upset and sometimes even skin irritations (like acne or eczema). As for what’s left, well, its the remaining waste (toxins, fiber, and dead microbes) that’s eliminated (yep, poo).
Still reading? All of this is to explain how things SHOULD work. If you’re not properly digesting and breaking down your foods, the undigested macronutrients in the chyme will irritate the small intestinal lining and over time cause what many refer to as “leaky gut”. This is because the junctions of the lining, which should be tight, open up due to inflammation and allow undigested food particles into the blood stream. This can cause inflammation throughout the body and present in many different ways.
The overall take away is that if every upstream (northern) digestive system is out of whack, then everything downstream (south) will suffer. And if your digestive system is under stress, your entire body will feel the effects via inflammation. It may not be right away, but over time, they can add up to many common health concerns. Your digestion is paramount to your overall health!
I’m currently studying to be a NTP (Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) and will graduate in late fall 2020! I am so Excited to pursue my passion in this way. And as an NTP I can help you address your digestive concerns and teach you ways to support your body. Around the holidays, I’ll be taking on a limited number of clients but feel free to reach out on my social media outlets if you want to learn more!