When discussing health challenges people are quick to overlook digestion as a root cause of the issue, but recently people have started to overstep the bounds of what we can prove when it comes to gut health.
Now If we can’t properly break down and use the nutrients from foods we eat on a daily basis then yes we will lack the fundamental raw materials the body requires to make hormones, recover, repair and function properly.
The big thing to keep in mind is that gut health while very important is not the cure all some people are claiming it to be, and there’s a lot of claims made that are plain untrue such as gut health stopping someone from losing body fat.
Fat loss is a calorie balance equation and microbes and or poor digestion can not change that, while they may make you feel bloated that is not true body fat.
A future blog is going to be devoted to how dysfunction can take place at each stage of digestion, and how to address the underlying problem, not just the symptom of the problem.
It's important to understand how things work before trying to understand the reason for dysfunction
Where It All Begins: The Brain
We have the rest and digest (think relaxing and eating) or fight, flight and freeze (think an argument with a stranger or doing a boxing class) states.
To be able to properly digest foods you need to be in the rest and digest state, as this allows your body to prepare for the process of breaking down and digesting food.
By taking the time to cook, smell, touch and just be around your food before eating it your body is allowed to prepare for food and you dive into the rest and digest state.
The salivary glands secrete saliva, and the stomach starts to release the proper gastric juice in anticipation of food.
The Physical Gatekeeper: The Mouth
The mouth is where chemical and mechanical breakdown of the foods begin with our chewing.
Our mother was right when she told us to chew our food well as it can be a really helpful step in improving your digestion.
Saliva contains an enzyme named amylase which begins the breakdown of carbohydrates in the mouth.
The more we chew our foods and break them down, the less our stomach has to pick up the slack left by our lazy jaw habits.
Interestingly enough some indigenous cultures that eat a very high carb diet naturally have much higher levels of amylase in their saliva
Big Poppa: The Stomach
When you food is swallowed it travels down the esophagus and enters into one of the most important organs of the digestive system, the stomach.
Because you did such a great job chewing your food the brain and stomach knew food was on the way.
Your stomach prepared for the that food by releasing the highly acidic gastric juices that are necessarily in this stage of digestion.
Those digestive juices include hydrochloric acid (HCL) and pepsinogen/pepsin.
The acidity of the stomach is important for killing bacteria and parasites from outside the body and from food as well. The acidity of the stomach is important for activating pepsin which breaks down proteins.
When the food arrives in the stomach it is coated in HCL further mechanically and chemically broken down and mixed until it becomes an acidic “paste”.
I know this sounds gross but its what happens every time we eat…
This very acidic paste named chyme is then released into the upper part of the small intestine.
Small Intestine: An Organ and Gland
The small intestine secretes two important hormones into the bloodstream: Secretin and Cholecystokinin (CCK).
Secretin triggers the pancreas to release bicarbonate and pancreatic juices. Bicarbonate reduces the acidity of the chyme so it doesn’t burn the small intestine.
CCK signals the gallbladder to release bile, which is released to break down and absorb fats.
Pancreatic enzymes are released that breakdown of protein, fats and carbs once the chyme is less acidic.
Carbohydrates become glucose molecules, proteins becomes amino acids and peptides and fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol molecules.
By the time that the chyme leaves the small intestine it is almost completely digested, but not yet absorbed.
Millions of small finger like projections named villi stick up from the small intestine with the important job of absorbing the nutrient molecules.
The nutrient molecules are distributed throughout the body where needed. The leftover chyme consisting of indigestible fibers, bile and water get passed into large intestine (colon).
The Great Recycler: The Large Intestine
In the large intestine water is reabsorbed and recycled, and any lost nutrients that are still available are converted to fuel to nourish the colon cells and bacteria.
This colon also where the majority of the bacteria in your digestive system live as well.
These bacteria play numerous roles in everything from helping with digestion all the way to producing the Vitamin K2 thats import for bone and cardiovascular health.
These gut bacteria can impact mood and much more, however that is a subject for another blog! The digestive journey comes to an end with the forming and expulsion of the feces.
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