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Good Digestion is Essential for Good Health

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

We all take digestion for granted to some degree. We see food we like; we eat it and eventually it comes out as poop. But if we are to be truly healthy, we must start with good digestion. So let’s discuss it.

Here’s How Digestion Works

The brain begins process by releasing chemicals in response to sight, smell, sound of food

The mouth is the physical gateway to the digestive system where mechanical and chemical breakdown of the food begins. The teeth physically break down food into smaller parts (mastication), the salivary glands secrete saliva to moisten the food and help with swallowing and salivary amylase begins breakdown of carbohydrates

The esophagus simply serves as a passage tube from the mouth to the stomach – when food swallowed, the bolus passes through esophagus into stomach through cardiac sphincter

Lots of things happen in the Stomach with continued mechanical breakdown of food and release of several chemicals from cells in stomach lining to breakdown the macro-nutrients

  • Mucous to protect stomach lining from acid

  • Pepsin to digest proteins

  • Gastrin to increase motility of stomach and intestines to move food through

  • Hydrochloric acid to:

-Bathe the stomach

-Disinfect the stomach

-Kill pathogenic microbes (bacteria and parasites, etc)

-Activate pepsin, so we can digest proteins

-Stimulate gastrin

-Break down proteins

Small Intestines - After the stomach churns the bolus and mixes it with gastric juice, the food breaks down even more into a paste called chyme (very acidic), it enters upper portion (duodenum). The acidic pH (1.5‐ 3.0) of the chyme triggers the small intestine to secrete mucous

There are two different types of cells in the Pancreas: The beta cells are involved in insulin production. For this conversation, we’ll look only at the alpha cells which are involved in digestion. The alpha cells releases substances into the duodenum to aide digestion and protect lining of duodenum

  • Sodium bicarbonate – neutralizes acid in chyme

  • Pancreatic enzymes – further digest food

  • CCK – in presence of fatty food in duodenum stimulates gallbladder to release bile to digest fats

Our wonderful liver has over 500 functions in the body. The main function in digestion is to make bile which is then stores in the gallbladder to be released into duodenum when fat is ingested into duodenum. The bile’s job is to emulsify fats so they can be further digested by enzymes into fatty acids and absorbed for use by the cells

And lastly, the large intestines

  • Recycles the water

  • Recycles the waste material, which nourishes the colon cells

  • Captures any lost nutrients that are still available (with the help of the bowel flora) and converts the nutrients to Vitamins K/B1/B2/B12 and butyric acid

  • Forms and expels feces

Digestion is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System, which has two branches:

  • Our sympathetic branch is our “fight or flight” system which kicks in when we are responding in a stressed state.

  • Our parasympathetic is when we are feeling rested, we can digest our food, our immune system is working well, we can detoxify our bodies of its toxins, our bodies can heal, and repair and we can regenerate which is so important for our health.

Now that we’ve seen the normal process, let’s look at what can go wrong with digestion

Brain – parasympathetic state not triggered=inadequate saliva, HCL production=inadequate digestion = problems down stream

Mouth – saliva not produced if brain not triggered

Stomach – not enough hydrochloric acid produced, so yeast, prions, bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. are not digested, resulting in overgrowth creating havoc throughout entire digestive system.

Also, food not adequately broken down-fats get rancid, carbohydrates ferment and proteins putrefy creating gas which results in acid reflux

Small Intestines -

  • Unhealthy microbiome due to ingestion of SAD (standard American Diet) full of processed foods/sugar

  • Poorly digested foods, especially proteins leak through pores in intestine wall and allow them into the blood stream where they are seen as invaders

  • Immune system reacts to invaders. Result is food allergies, sensitivities and autoimmune disorders

Pancreas –

· Chyme not acidic enough = no sodium bicarbonate release to neutralize chyme.

· No enzyme action = incomplete digestion=intestinal problems


· Low fat diet = no trigger for bile to be released to digest fats = gallbladder congestion/stones/inability of gallbladder muscle to contract

Large Intestines

  • maldigested foods disrupt healthy bacteria in colon

  • without healthy bacteria, butyric acid is not produced to feed colon cells=colitis, diverticulosis/diverticulitis/colon cancer

As I learned in my certification program, the Nutritional Therapy Association:

Digestion is a North to South Process!!! If you take care of the northern processes, the southern organs will be healthier.

Here’s some strategies to optimize your digestion

1. Choose nutrient dense whole food

  • Organic or at least non-GMO

  • Whole food vs. list of ingredients

  • Animal products – 100% pasture fed; no GMO food, no antibiotics

2. Properly prepare food

  • Don’t overcook

  • Soak grains, legumes, nuts to release phytic acid

  • Ferment

  • Raw fruits/vegetables

3. Increase hydrochloric acid production if digestive symptoms after eating

· Digestive bitters before meal – ½ tsp

· Raw apple cider vinegar before meal – start with ½ tsp. and increase by ½ tsp. up to 2 tsp. Dilute in sm. amt water if needed

  • Avoid antacids

  • Lower carbohydrate intake

  • Lower alcohol intake

4. Prepare our bodies for eating – get into your parasympathetic state with Mindful Eating strategies

5. Eat well

  • Eat only when hungry. Drink glass of water to test hunger vs. thirst

  • Snacking vs. meals

  • Practice Mindful Eating (separate handout)

  • Eat slowly, chew well

  • Stop eating when satisfied

  • Limit liquids 30 minutes before, during and 60 minutes after eating. Drink enough to aid swallowing while eating

How to Determine if Digestion/absorption is Adequate/Optimal

  1. Absence of symptoms: gas, bloating, fatigue after eating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, chronic conditions

  2. Feelings of being well: good energy, sleep, vibrancy, focus, skin condition

  3. Poop testing using the GI Map, Viome (others available too) which shows whether there are adequate numbers and strains of good microbes, and the amount and variety of bad microbes. The goal is always that you have a wide variety of good microbes in quantities higher than the bad guys

  4. Hair mineral analysis (hTMA) shows if nutrients are being absorbed (proteins, vitamins, minerals), can determine if enough minerals are available to make essential chemicals, i.e. HCL requires sodium.

If you’d like to know if your digestion is adequate, let’s talk - just fill out the form on the contact page.

p.s. I strongly recommend this book to anyone I talk to about nutrition

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

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