Proper Digestion The Key to Optimal Health

According to the GI Alliance, each year 62 million Americans are diagnosed with some type of digestive disorder. Digestive disorders can cause compound effects on health. Because digestion is the main way we get nutrients needed to fuel our entire system, maintaining proper digestive health is key to your overall health.

The Vital Digestive Process

The digestive tract is made up of coiled hollow tubes that span up to 30 feet in most adults It comprises the stomach, the small intestine, and the large intestine/colon. Additionally, the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder contribute in important ways to the digestive process. There is a lot going on when it comes to digestion!

The Mouth: The mouth is where food enters the body. The teeth then along with saliva break down food until it can be swallowed. Good digestion really begins in the mouth. Try getting into the practice of thoroughly chewing food into an almost liquid state prior to swallowing. This creates less work for the rest of the digestive system, so more nutrients can be extracted during the process.

The Esophagus: The esophagus is a hollow muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. At the end of the esophagus is a ring-like muscle that controls the passage of food into the stomach. This ring also prevents food from going back up into the esophagus.

The Stomach: Food leaves the esophagus and enters the stomach where it is further liquefied. Digestive acids found in a healthy stomach environment help break food down even further. This is where chyme is formed, a thick semifluid mass of partially digested food. Gastric juices are an important part of digestion in the stomach. Gastric juice is secreted by gastric mucosal glands, and should contain a healthy ratio of hydrochloric acid, mucus, and proteolytic enzymes (enzymes that breakdown protein). Pepsin aids in breaking down protein and lipase breaks down fats. The pancreas helps produce lipase, so it may need support if this enzyme is lacking in the digestive process, whereas pepsin is secreted by peptic cells in the stomach.

Small Intestine: Food is slowly released from the stomach into the small intestine and then slowly traverses the nearly 20-foot-long portion of the digestive tract. The small intestine is crucial for absorption of nutrients. Here millions of villi aid in the absorption of nutrients, while other organs like the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder empty secretions into the small intestine to support the digestive process.

Large Intestine/colon: Any unabsorbed material from the small intestine moves into the colon. Any remaining liquids and electrolytes are absorbed from the digested material. This is where the vitally important good bacteria go to work to further break down the undigested material. Any undigested material will solidify and pass from the body as feces through the rectum and anus during a bowel movement.

For proper digestion along the whole digestive process, you need to chew food thoroughly, balance stomach acid, and balance your microbiome by protecting it and feeding it properly. Here are ways to do this:

You Need Balanced Stomach Acid

The dangers of low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria). Low stomach acid means you will not be able to breakdown food properly, namely protein which is an important macronutrient needed for growth and repair in the human body. Symptoms of low stomach acid could include belching, upset stomach, bloating, nausea after taking supplements, heart burn, fatigue, diarrhea, hair loss, food cravings, weak brittle fingernails, undigested food in stool, iron deficiency anemia, low vitamin B12, low calcium and magnesium. It can even disrupt the nervous system and thyroid function. It can also lead to allergies, autoimmune disorders, and skin issues like acne and eczema. Taking digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar daily can help rebalance your hydrochloric acid.

You Need a Balanced Microbiome

Gut bacteria or microbiota are microbes that exist within the gut, namely the small and large intestine. In a healthy gut, there is a symbiotic relationship that fuels a healthy immune system. When an imbalance exists pathogens can proliferate. Imbalances in the gut bacteria can be brought on by infectious illnesses, unhealthy diets, or the prolonged use of antibiotics or other medications. This imbalance is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is a broad term to explain all sorts of gut disturbances that have the root cause of an imbalanced microbiome. By keeping a healthy microbiome, many diseases can be avoided.

Microbiota help to synthesize certain vitamins like B and K and amino acids—proteins. Many people suffer from low B12 levels. The key enzymes needed to form B12 aren’t found in plants or animal foods[1]. They are derived in the gut. Low B12 levels nearly always point to an unhealthy microbiome.

You Need to Feed Your Microbiota

The food and drink that enters your body plays a large role in determining what kinds of microbiota live in the colon and contribute to your overall gut microbiome. Among the most beneficial dietary habits contributing to a healthier gut is eating a diet high in fiber. Fiber plays a vital role in the type and amount of microbiota in the intestines.

Dietary fiber can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from microbiota living in the colon. Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are released as a result of fermentation. SCFAs are becoming more widely knowns for their health benefits like stimulating immune cell activity and balancing blood glucose and cholesterol.

Foods that support increased levels of SCFA are foods high in indigestible carbohydrates and fibers such as inulin. These fibers are sometimes called prebiotics. Prebiotics feed our beneficial microbiota. Foods that naturally contain prebiotic are raw garlic, raw onions, raw leeks, raw asparagus, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of prebiotic fibers.

In addition to prebiotics, probiotics are also needed for a healthy microbiome. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like kefir, pickled vegetables, kombucha tea, kimchi, miso (fermented soy), and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).

The key to adding in high fiber foods is to do so slowly. If your gut microbiome needs work, adding these foods in too quickly may cause gas and bloating. You may temporarily need a probiotic supplement and/or enzymes to assist the digestive process at first. The goal is to move away from these supplements and allow your gut to function optimally all its own. Additionally, you should begin to take foods that are known to cause digestive issues (gut dysbiosis) out of your diet. These are processed sugar, processed flours/breads, corn, wheat (gluten), dairy, caffeine, and alcohol.

If you need help restoring gut health, contact Dr. Christina for a Holistic Wellness Assessment to assess your digestive system function using a Galvanic scan. This scan can help detect food and chemical stressors unique to your lifestyle/diet, so you can know what is triggering your health issues. Learn more at www.ivyvitality.com/services.

[1] Morowitz, M.J., Carlisle, E., Alverdy, J.C. Contributions of Intestinal Bacteria to Nutrition and Metabolism in the Critically Ill. Surg Clin North Am. 2011 Aug; 91(4): 771–785.  
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