A Recipe For Healthy Digestion
If you suffer from poor digestion, you know that proper nutrition involves more than just eating high quality food. How you eat and how your body digests food are just as important as what you eat. Think of healthy digestion as a recipe with six key ingredients:
Proper Nutrients + Eating Slowly + Adeguate Amounts of Stomach Acid And Digestive Enzymes + Beneficial Gut Bacteria + A Healthy Gut Lining = Healthy Digestion and a Healthy You
Each ingredient is explained below, followed by a video that highlights the Five Pillars of GI Health and how functional medicine can restore health to your gut and vitality to your life.
Healthy digestion involves much more than just chewing and swallowing your food. It's a complex process that engages almost all of your senses, starting as soon as you lay eyes on the food you're about to eat. Your sight and your sense of smell trigger the release of digestive juices in your mouth and stomach which start the process of digestion. Eating in a hurry and not chewing your food thoroughly short-circuit this first stage of digestion, impairing the absorption of nutrients and leading to symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.
Adequate Amounts of Stomach Acid
Once the food hits your stomach, hydrochloric acid and the enzyme, pepsin, along with the contractions of the muscular stomach wall, breakdown food particles further, particularly protein. Adequate protein digestion isn't just important from a nutritional standpoint, it's also crucial to maintaining the health of the lining of your gut.
This phase of digestion is also essential for the proper absorption of vitamin B12 and certain minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper,iron, and zinc. That's why too little stomach acid - like too much stomach acid - is a bad thing. Furthermore, the acidity of the stomach plays a vital role in the destruction of pathogens like bacteria and parasites. Acid-blocking medications interfere with this function and, thus, can increase the risk for osteoporosis, infections, and nutritional deficiencies.
Sufficient Amounts of Digestive Enzymes
Once food reaches your small intestines, additional enzymes from the pancreas are secreted into your gut to complete the digestion of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Your liver also plays an important role in the digestive process by secreting bile which stimulates the release of certain pancreatic enzymes and by aiding in the absorption of cholesterol (25% of your brain is cholesterol!) as well as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Enzymes are essential for proper digestion. Without them, you cannot nourish your body. They are also crucial for detoxification because undigested food in your large intestine is a source of toxicity for your body. Although your body does produce digestive enzymes, eating foods rich in natural enzymes (raw foods like kefir, raw honey, yogurt, sauerkraut, soaked nuts and seeds, and sprouts) is key to digesting your food thoroughly. As you age, your body produces less digestive enzymes, making it even more important to consciously eat foods that supply you with additional enzymes.
Be mindful of how the food you eat is grown and prepared. Insufficient amounts of enzymes can result from: microwave use, over-cooking, pasteurization, processed foods, genetically engineered foods, pesticides, and foods grown in poor soil. Cigarette smoking can contribute to reduced amounts of digestive enzymes.
Beneficial Gut Bacteria
The small intestine is home to a massive population of bacteria and other microorganisms and their genes, referred to as the gut microbiome. Research continues to show that the health of your entire body is tied to the health of your gut microbiome. Allergies, anxiety, autoimmune illness, eczema, and asthma are only a few of the ailments that result from an imbalance of bacteria in the gut: too little good bacteria and an overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Many factors contribute to a state of imbalance: antibiotic use, a poor diet, chronic stress, gastrointestinal infections, and food allergies. Eating foods rich in prebiotics provide the good bacteria in your gut with the nourishment they need to flourish. Consuming fermented foods that contain probiotic cultures like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut supply your gut with an additional dose of good bacteria.
A Healthy Gut Lining
The largest part of your immune system resides in your gut. When the lining of your gut is healthy, you absorb the nutrients your body needs for proper nourishment, energy and healing. It also protects you from harmful pathogens that have entered your body via the food you eat.
Inflammation of your gut lining can result from medications, food allergies/ sensitivities as well as an overgrowth of bad bacteria. Although, diarrhea is one of the most common signs of acute inflammation in your gut, abdominal cramping, bloating, weight gain or loss, fatigue, and skin problems are among the many ways inflammation can manifest itself in your body.
Once inflamed, the lining of your gut becomes leaky. The nutrients you need aren't absorbed while undigested particles and harmful bacteria are absorbed. A leaky gut wreaks havoc with your entire body, facilitating the development of heart disease, diabetes, migraines, obesity, eczema, acne, psoriasis, thyroid disorders, asthma, and liver disease.
Digestion At A Glance
A picture says a thousand words. When it comes to topics such as digestion and absorption, it's helpful to see what we're talking about. The diagram below gives you an overview of the various organs involved in digestion and the basic steps involved.
A Healthy Digestion & A Health You
What Hippocrates discovered over two thousand years ago is now gradually being validated through research: "All diseases begin in the gut". If you've made it your goal to achieve optimal health in 2017, promoting healthy digestion is the best place to start. There is no "one size fits" all approach when it comes to improving your health. You're unique and the best approach to caring for your health should reflect that fact. Contact us today for more information on how you can take steps to better health.
Ali,T et al. Long-term safety concerns with proton pump inhibitors. Am J Med. 2009 Oct; 122(10):896-903.
Cote, GA, et al Abstract: Potential adverse effects of proton pump inhibitors. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2008 June; 10(3):208-14.
Fitzgerald, P. The Detox Solution. Illumination Press. Santa Monica: 2001.
Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. Pillars of GI Health.
The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.
~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord & Nantucket, Massachusetts ~