Goal of Digestion
To put it simply, digestion is defined as “the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food (Nutritional Therapy Association, 2019). There is so much more to digestion than just eating food and having our bodies poop it out later (sorry to be blunt, but that’s what happens!). The goal of digestion is to reduce food to molecules so small that the nutrients can be absorbed and used by the cells in our bodies. Therefore, if your body is not digesting its food properly, then you are not absorbing the nutrients you need to maintain optimal health. As I learned in my training though the Nutritional Therapy Association, every cell that makes up every tissue that makes up every organ depends on the body’s digestive system to provide the nutrients it needs to keep on functioning (Nutritional Therapy Association, 2019). Some have even referred to the gut as the “second brain”, due to the strong bi-directional relationship between the gut and the brain.
The gut serves as a “gatekeeper”, both being a filter and a barrier. It acts as a selective filter by regulating the absorption of nutrients, electrolytes, and water from the gut into the circulation. Secondly, it acts as a barrier/shield to prevent harmful pathogens, toxins, antigens, and organisms that could be harmful to our health from entering into the circulation (Nagpal, 2018). There is an incredibly strong bi-directional relationship between the gut and the brain – the state of our brain can affect the state of our guts, and vice versa (Verdino, 2017). What exactly do I mean by this? Well, let’s talk about when somebody feels “butterflies in their stomach” due to being nervous. You are originally feeling the stress and nerves up in your brain, due to whatever event you are thinking about or anticipating. But in order for us to digest properly, we must be in a “parasympathetic” (otherwise referred to as “rest and digest”) state. When we are feeling nervous, anxious, stressed, etc. our bodies are in a “sympathetic” (otherwise known as “fight or flight”) state. When our bodies are in a sympathetic state, they sense that there is some sort of danger or emergency due to the heightened feelings of stress. We are unable to digest our food properly if we are in this state. This is why digestion truly begins in the brain. Even before you start eating any food, the sight and smell of food triggers the salivary glands to begin producing saliva as your body prepares to begin the process of eating and digesting.
When Your Digestion Is Off
Now I could go into the entire long process of proper digestion and what happens in our body when everything is working properly, but I’ll save all that jargon (unless you’re really interested, then maybe I’ll write another blog post on it later haha) and cut to the basics for now. While many great things are happening for our bodies when our digestion is working properly…things can also go wrong if our digestive systems are out of whack. Issues such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), candida, gut dysbiosis, duodenal ulcers, fatty acid deficiency, irritable bowel syndrome, and leaky gut syndrome are just some of the things can potentially arise if our gut health is not in check. Coming from someone that has personally experienced many of these issues firsthand – I had gut dysbiosis, candida, H.Pylori, AND a parasite all at once – it is not fun at all.
This is not meant to scare anyone. On the contrary, it is meant to empower you to take charge of your health and imagine what kind of life is possible for you if you were to be able to improve whatever health ailments you may be struggling with. Through working with a practitioner, I was able to solve digestive issues that I had been struggling with since I was FIVE years old. I cannot even begin to tell you how much my health has improved – I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this good.
Easy Digestion Tips
In the meantime, I’d like to provide you with some simple and easy tips that you can start implementing on your own today as a means to work towards healthier digestion:
- Before beginning any meal, you want to get your body into that parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. Therefore, a good habit to get into is taking 5 big deep breaths before you begin any meal. This will help your mind and your body to get into a calm state before you begin the digestion process
- Limit distractions or stressors while you eat. Avoid eating while you work, if you are able to. Avoid looking at anything that may stress you out (i.e. the news) or watching intense shows while you are eating. Practice mindful eating by focusing solely on the meal in front of you – all of the sights, smells, and tastes of this food.
- Chew chew CHEW your food! 25-30 times per bite – chew each bite until liquefied, if possible. This will aid in the digestive process, as we do not want to be swallowing large pieces of food (more difficult for our bodies to break down).
- Begin implementing a high-quality probiotic supplement into your daily routine. Be aware that everyone is bio-individual and one supplement that may work well for one person, is not always going to work well for everyone. So if you do decide to try taking probiotics, start SLOW to see how your body reacts.
- I also recommend incorporating probiotic-rich foods (i.e. sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut yogurt) into your diet. Start small with these as well to see how your body reacts – start with just one spoonful.
I am not joking when I say that working on healing my gut and improving my digestion has been an absolute game-changer for my health. Not only has it had a positive impact on so many physical aspects of my health, but I have also noticed that my anxiety has decreased and I have a much more stable mood since my gut health has improved. After all, more than 95% of the body’s serotonin (a key neurotransmitter that is responsible for our sleep, appetite, pain sensitivity, mood, and overall well-being) is found in the gut, and healthy gut microbiota play a very important role in its production (Hu, 2016; Mayer, 2016; Breit, 2018). So if you are ready to decrease your digestion/gut issues and discover how good you are capable of feeling, reach out to a practitioner today to get started on your healing journey.
– Breit S, Kupferberg A, Rogler G, Hasler G. Vagus Nerve a Modlator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Fronteries in Psychiatry. 2018;9:44. doi:10/3389/fpsyt.2018.00044.
– Hu X, et al, Alzheimer’s disease and gut microbiota. Sci China Life Sci. 2016 Oct;59(10):1006-1023. Epub 2016 Aug 26.
– Mayer E. The Mind-Gut Connection: How the hidden conversation without our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health. 2016. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY.
– Nutritional Therapy Association (2019). Digestion and Elimination Module. Olympia, WA: Author.
– Nagpal R, Mainali R, Ahmadi S, et al. Gut microbiome and aging: Physiological and mechanistic insights. Nutrition and Healthy Aging. 2018; 4(4): 267-285. doi: 10.3233/NHA-170030.
– Verdino J. The third tier in treatment: Attending to the growing connection between gut health and emotional well-being. Health Psychology Open. 2017;4(3):2055102917724335, doi:10.1177/2055102917724335.