In my blog post last month, I overviewed the core foundations of health that I focus on in my work with clients. It is my belief that when we help these foundations come back into balance, the body in turn is able to heal itself… both physical and mentally. In review, these core foundations are as follows:
- Incorporate a Nutrient-Dense, Properly Prepared, Whole Food Diet
- Optimize Digestion
- Balance Blood Sugar
- Essential Fatty Acid Balancing
- Mineral Status
Last month I shared information about what a Nutrient Dense, Properly Prepared, Whole Food Diet is, and provided some useful tips on how to start incorporating this kind of diet into your lifestyle, especially for kids. This month I want to shed some light on how to Optimize Digestion.
Digestion is a North to South Process
Do you or someone you know experience any of the following digestive symptoms?
- Nausea or Vomiting
- Irritable bowel, diarrhea, or constipation (or a combination of both)
- Gas or belching
- Intestinal/stomach pain
- Bad breath
- Feeling excessively full
- Undigested food in your stool
- Cravings for certain foods
- Brain Fog
The list goes on…. These symptoms are far too common. Although common, they are not “normal,” and there is a great deal that Nutritional Therapy can do to help.
Have you ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat?” It’s actually a false claim! You’re not what you eat, but what you absorb. You see, if your digestive system is not functioning optimally, even if you are eating a healthy diet those important nutrients could be passing right through you and some foods could be causing damage to your gut.
The goal of digestion is to reduce food to molecules so small that nutrients can be absorbed and used by the cells of the body. Digestion only works when the body is in a parasympathetic state. So, it is important to sit, relax, and enjoy your meal. If you are standing up, looking at a screen, reading, or are upset, it is hard to properly digest your food.
Digestion is a north to south process. It starts in the brain where it is triggered by the sight, sound, and smell of food. This begins the production of saliva in the mouth and triggers the secretion of gastric juices (also known as stomach acid). The enzymes in your saliva break down nutrients and pre-digest them them so that the stomach and intestines don’t have to work so hard. This is especially true for carbohydrates. This is why it is essential for you to “chew, chew, chew.” Chewing your food thoroughly ensures better digestion.
Once you swallow your food, it passes through the esophagus into the stomach, where the digestion of the macronutrient protein begins. The stomach is designed to be the only highly acidic environment in the body, with a pH of about 1.5-3.5. This low pH helps proteins to be properly broken down. It also serves as a layer or protection in that it kills any pathogens that we may ingest. The stomach also continues the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats.
When the contents of the stomach have reached the proper acidity level, there are ready to move into the small intestine where they are bathed in enzymes and bicarbonates. Bile, produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, helps the breakdown of fats. The breakdown of all nutrients continues until the are ready to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestines and travel through the blood stream as needed though the body.
Once the foods we eat are digested to the tent that they can be, they enter the large intestine, or colon for one last chance to be recycled before the remanning waste is eliminated through the anus as stool.
When things go awry
When a client comes to me reporting a lot of digestive upset (e.g., stomach pain, diarrhea or constipation), rather than taking steps to halt these symptoms at the lower level, almost always we need to address issues further north up the chain. Addressing issues such as a need for hydrochloric (stomach) acid and/or digestive enzymes, supporting bile flow and the breakdown of fats, healing and sealing a damaged or leaky gut, and balancing the microbiome is crucial to helping a client to get over the challenging symptoms they are experiencing. Did you know that heartburn and reflux is not a sign of too much acid, but rather a symptom of acid deficiency? If you have had your gallbladder removed (which is sadly far too common these days), your body will not properly break down fats and bile salts could be beneficial. In my Nutritional Therapy assessments, I analyze how your unique body is functioning and address these issues from this north to south point of view, targeted to the individual. Learn more about Nutritional Therapy here.
The Note on the Gut and Mental Health
Did you know that the majority of your neurotransmitters are actually produced in your gut? Reportedly 60% of people experiencing IBS also experience significant anxiety and depression. Results from a recent research study confirm the genetic basis that IBS is a gut-brain disorder, in which neither psychological symptoms produce GI symptoms, nor chronic GI symptoms cause anxiety or depression. Anxiety and IBS symptoms are two sides of the same coin. In other words, what happens in the gut is mirrored in the brain and vice versa. For more information on the gut-brain axis, read my blog post here.
Take away tips to support your digestion:
- Take three, slow deep breaths before taking your first bite of food. This sets up the whole digestive process for success.
- For heartburn or reflux, try adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar and water or a few drops of digestive bitters before each meal.
- Incorporate beets, dark leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables to help support the liver.
- Remove offending foods that are causing intestinal inflammation (gluten and/or dairy are two of the biggest offenders).
- Support your microbiome with quality fermented foods and/or a quality probiotic supplement.
- Be sure to eat fiber, and drink plenty of filtered water.
For more targeted and individualized support, please reach out for a FREE discovery call today!