What’s the BIG Deal with Digestion?

Chew. Swallow. Digest. Poop. Sounds easy enough.

Unfortunately it’s just not that simple.digestion-illustration_acs

With today’s Standard American Diet, we continue to see a steady increase in the frequency of digestive issues among the population. Digestion is the center of health – the ability for our body to function properly relies on an adequate digestive process. This imperative process functions from north to south, and if one step is not working, it will throw off the rest.

Almost every disease can be linked back in some way to poor digestion.

So you can get a better idea, let’s take a look at some of the nitty gritty details of digestion (I will spare you some of the more scientific terms and information – trust me, there’s A LOT to this!).

  • Digestion starts in the brain. The actual sight and smell of food triggers our salivary glands to begin producing saliva.
  • Once in the mouth, our teeth start to mechanically breakdown the food, while saliva starts the chemical break down process.
  • The chewed up food continues south entering the esophagus and then is passed into the stomach.
  • The stomach continues both the mechanical and chemical by churning the food and using gastric juices such as stomach acid, then it will travel through the duodenum to the small intestines.
  • This is where your gallbladder and pancreas join in to help by releasing bile and pancreatic enzymes.
  • Around this time, your food should be pretty much broken down – carbs should be glucose molecules, proteins should be polypeptides and amino acids and fats should be fatty acids and glycerol molecules.
  • As the food moves through your small intestines, millions of villi and microvilli work to absorb all the wonderful nutrients (assuming you are eating food that contains some nutrient value) into the blood stream where they are carried through the entire body for use in all of our other systems.
  • What’s leftover – indigestible fibers, bile, water, sloughed off cells – goes through to the large intestines.
  • The large intestine will recycle the water, captures any last nutrients and with the help of your bowel flora and convert them to specific vitamins that can only be produced within the body.
  • Everything else will be poop. Yep, that’s it. The next step doesn’t really need much of an explanation.

So, that was the (not so) extremely short version… Get the picture?

With so many things going on – there are a lot of things that can go wrong!

  • We must be in a relaxed state to digest. If we are rushed, stressed or heightened in anyway, our brain will not give the message to the salivary glands and that first step of chemical breakdown will not occur. This, along with not taking the time to chew, will cause inadequate breakdown, placing a heavy burden on the stomach.
  • The stomach is a very large and important part. (Check back for our blog about the importance of stomach acid!) Inadequate stomach function will result in undigested proteins.
  • Approximately 90% of Americans produce to little stomach acid. Stress, alcohol, excess consumption of carbs, nutrient deficiencies can all result in decreased stomach acid. When this is an issue, it can result in an environment where bacteria, viruses, parasites and yeast can thrive and cause long-term damage in the GI system.
  • Too little acid and a diet low in healthy fats or intake of poor quality fats can cause dysfunction in the gallbladder, resulting in inadequate emulsification of fats.
  • Undigested foods, from any of the above dysfunction, will slowly destroy the lining of the small intestine. This will allow the passing of undigested proteins and fats through the lining into our bloodstream, causing the immune system to be overwhelmed which can lead to autoimmune conditions. It is not a coincidence that with the increase of digestive issues, we are also seeing a fast increase in autoimmune conditions. 

With digestive dysfunction, foods that were once useful to the body, will become putrified proteins, rancid fats and fermented carbohydrates within our system – wreaking havoc along the way.

When things go wrong, even the simplest part, digestion will be negatively affected – and so will our bodies. Autoimmune conditions, digestive diseases, diabetes, and even heart disease are so greatly affected by digestion.

Here are some simple ways that you can support your digestion on your own:

  • When you eat –  just EAT. Relax and allow your body to be in a parasympathetic state.
  • Drink a mixture of 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar in 8oz. water before your meals to help naturally increase your stomach acid.
  • Avoid refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and poor quality fats (you can learn more about fats HERE).
  • Love yourself some beets! Beets are great for supporting the gallbladder which will help you produce quality bile to break down all those healthy fats you will be eating.
  • Eat raw, fermented foods with your meals such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and other cultured vegetables, These foods contain enzymes and probiotics that will help with healthy digestion. Make sure to look for a good quality, organic, raw product.

Here’s to a happy digestive system!

Jessica Sullivan, LMSW, SFG, NTP

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