“It’s not only what you eat, but also how well you absorb it”
As announced, I would like to follow up today with a deeper look at your digestive system, one of the most complex, often underrated, and ignored body systems.
Your gut is not only the realm of enzymes, bacteria, and fungi, it is also a relevant part of your immune system. Did you know that your microbiome is responsible for 70% of your immunity? Or that your microbiome contains about ten trillion microorganisms, consisting of a minimum of 1000 species outnumbering our human cells by far…
Your gut is not only a disassembly line of food, or a waste management site for all kinds of debris we put into our bodies. Without a healthy digestive system, you might not be able to absorb enough Protein or Fat thus missing out on important building blocks for your tissues, your hormones, your brain. Additionally, you might not get enough micronutrients like Minerals and Vitamins, such as Vitamin C and D, Calcium and Magnesium which are desperately needed for bone health as well as for supporting your immune system.
Moreover, there is a strong connection between your gut and your brain. Whenever you had that “gut feeling” or experienced diarrhea before an exam, you know what I am talking about…
Our gut contains a mesh-like network of 100 million neurons (sensory nerve cells), connecting us directly with our brain and vice versa. Their communication relies heavily on the presence of gut-bacteria with receptors for so called neurotransmitters, our chemical messengers. Think of a missing post box, which makes it impossible to deliver a letter…One of the most famous neurotransmitters is Serotonin – called the “happy” neurotransmitter. 60% of our Serotonin is made in the gut. Without it, we feel more vulnerable, anxious, and depressed. Meanwhile mental health issues are strongly connected to gut health.
Most probably you are born with a healthy digestive system. You usually inherit your microbiome from your mom. During your journey through the birth canal you encountered all kinds of bacteria, giving you a proper starting point for your own immune system. By being nursed you grew your microbiome step by step.
Over time, our modern lifestyle, stress, medication, processed foods, take their toll on our digestive system. Many of us are bothered by bloating, acid reflux, diarrhea or constipation experiencing embarrassing moments or even suffering from severe pain.
What are the most common reasons for an impaired digestive system?
· Eating habits – too much, too fast, too late
· Too much sugar
· Not enough whole foods such as fiber, fruits and vegetables
· Not enough fluids
· Frequent use of antibiotics
· Overuse of stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, or tea
· And probably most relevant in this challenging time - Stress
How does digestion work? How do we absorb nutrients? And what about elimination?
Let me introduce you to your digestive system:
It all starts, with the smell or the looks of food, even imagination works... try to think about your favorite food, may it be chocolate, strawberries, or bacon. Can you feel the juices accumulating in your mouth? Saliva is the first step of digestion. It contains several enzymes which help to break down our food. Most important Amylase which we need to digest carbohydrates like sugar. Your brain switches on relaxation mode and the production of digestive juices like hydro-chloric acid, bile and enzymes are triggered.
By chewing your food properly, you are not only crushing your food in handy portions, but you mix it with your saliva-enzymes. When this bolus reaches your stomach, you have set the stage for the hard work of your stomach.
One of the stomach’s main tasks is the disassembling of Proteins. For this process a sufficient amount of hydro-chloric acid is needed, the production of which is increased by the distention of the stomach. Additionally, mucus to protect your stomach lining against the acid and more enzymes like pepsin are produced.
Usually your food stays in your stomach for about 3-4 hours. When the partially digested acidic food moves on to the next step it needs to be neutralized, as the sensitive cells of your small intestine would otherwise get seriously harmed. This is one of the many jobs of your pancreas. It produces sodium bicarbonate (yes, the same stuff you find in your antacids) to neutralize the acids and pancreatic enzymes to further digest sugar, fats, and starches. Imagine it as your very own pharmaceutical plant producing just the right chemical, in the right amount, at the right time.
The main part of digestion and 90% of absorption takes place in our small intestine. The enzymes produced by the pancreas and the bile released by your gallbladder, help to break down our food into the tiniest particles, which will be absorbed by the lining of the small intestine. As this lining has millions of folds acting like a brush to absorb all those precious nutrients, the integrity of this lining is crucial for our health. The remainders of your food then move on into your large intestine, where they are basically ridden of fluids, condensed, and prepared for elimination. To get things moving, your intestine needs fiber from fruit and veggies as well as some gentle support by exercise.
Can you imagine what happens to your digestive system when you just pull over your car in a rush, heading to the next drive-through? Will there be enough saliva produced to help break down that burger bun? Will there be enough crushing and mixing when you gulp it down with a sugary soda? Will there be enough stimulation to produce hydro-chloric acid or sodium bi-carbonate or enzymes to digest this meal? And what about fiber?
What happens when things go out of balance?
Most probably the production of hydro-chloric acid and enzymes will be reduced. Having not enough digestive juices can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and in consequence to nutritional deficiencies as well as to such uncomfortable conditions like acid reflux, bloating or irritable bowel syndrome. Especially in stressful situations our digestion will shut down, as our body’s only goal is survival. Who cares if that burger in your stomach is digested properly, when you need all your energy at hand to run away from a tiger? Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle often involves stressful situations, but biologically we are still hunters/gatherers when it comes to stress reaction. Traffic jams, noise, violent tv-shows, financial worries, being bullied at work, are all perceived as stress, potentially compromising your digestive health.
On the long run we may develop gall-bladder issues, hormonal imbalances, or unexpected weight-gain to name a few. We may experience bacterial overgrowth or chronic inflammation triggered by undigested food particles. Undigested sugars and starches for instance feed fungi like Candida.
What can you do to strengthen your digestive system?
Choose whole food over processed food, homecooked meals over take-out
Increase your intake of veggies and fruits, as they contain natural enzymes
Relax, and chew your food properly, make time for eating
Drink plenty of water, ideally filtered, in between meals
Avoid refined sugars, sugary beverages
Avoid artificial sweeteners, additives, and colorings
Try to de-stress, e.g. go for a walk, take a deep breath, practice mindfulness
I am fully aware that this information is neither a complete description of the functionality and complexity of our digestive system, nor an individualized recommendation. Yet I do hope that I caught your interest for this fascinating biosphere within ourselves, for its potential in keeping us alive and kicking as well as for signs and signals when things take a downturn.
As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, I truly believe that everyone is biochemically unique. If you would like to further explore and learn about your individual digestive status, I would be more than happy to accompany you on that journey to your very own well-being.
Please feel free to give me a call at 905-580-9946 or check-out my website www.4yourhealthonly.com
I will be there for you,
The information on this page is NOT intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the care of a qualified health care professional. This content is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases. Always consult with your primary care physician or licensed healthcare provider for all diagnosis and treatment of any diseases or conditions, for medications or medical advice as well as before changing your health care regimen.