On the most basic level, digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food. The goal of digestion is to reduce food to molecules so small that the nutrients can be absorbed and used by all cells.
There are three main ideas of Digestion
1. Digestion is a North to South process.
It begins in the brain when the sight and smell of food trigger the salivary glands to produce saliva. The mouth also plays a key part in digestion, you need to chew your food. You should chew each bite 20 to 30 times or about 30 seconds. I know that might seem like a lot of chewing, but trust me, it’s needed for digestion to work properly. I more often than not see people put food in their mouths, chew it once or twice then swallow it down. This is terrible for our stomachs, and if we miss the chewing portion of eating then the mouth can’t produce the saliva, which is needed to break down your food, as well as where we get the digestive enzyme amylase, which allows us to digest carbohydrates. After the chewing phase, the food then moves through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and finishes up in the large intestine where it prepares for the last process known as waste, or feces.
Just as proper digestion is north to south, digestive dysfunction is as well. Some of the obvious symptoms of dysfunction include indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, gas, stomach pain and or cramps, constipation, and diarrhea. There are also less obvious symptoms like autoimmune disease and food intolerances. Any deficiency in the body can be a result of malabsorption, which means poor digestion.
I want to point out that since digestion begins in the brain, it’s important to be in a parasympathetic state, which means you are calm and relaxed, versus a sympathetic state of stress, “fight or flight” mode where cortisol is released at a faster pace. An example of a parasympathetic state would be mindful eating, away from distractions, whereas a sympathetic state can be something as simple as eating while working at your computer or watching TV.
2. The three big organs from a nutritional standpoint are the stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder.
The stomach breaks down the food, it needs to be acidic enough to accomplish the task. Stomach acid needs to be around 1.5-3.0. The role of acid is to bathe the stomach, it works as a disinfectant to kill off any bacteria and parasites. It also activates pepsin and helps us breakdown and digest proteins. Oftentimes when we’re dealing with heartburn or indigestion, we attribute it to having too much stomach acid, in reality, it is generally linked to too little stomach acid. Drinking 4 oz room temperature water one tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar before each meal can help get the gastric juices flowing for proper digestion, however, some people may require a supplement such as hydrochloric acid.
The pancreas produces the juices and enzymes needed to further digest food. If the food we are digesting (chyme in this stage of the game) isn’t acidic enough after leaving the stomach, the pancreas will not be triggered to release these enzymes, leading to intestinal issues.
The gallbladder is essential in making sure we are digesting fats. It stores bile once the liver creates it and releases the bile during the digestion of fat. Dysfunction of the gallbladder is typically a result of poor quality fats or from a low-fat diet. If we aren’t eating quality fat, that bile is staying stored in the gallbladder for too long and becomes viscous. Undigested globules will rancidify in the colon, stress out your liver and leaves you fatty deficient.
3. Digestion is fundamental to nutritional therapy.
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 functioning.
You might be eating the most perfect diet, with all the grass-fed, wild-caught protein and all your good healthy fats and veggies but if any of the above steps didn’t work, you aren’t going to be getting the full benefits! If you are chewing properly, eating in a relaxed state, and if everything is working perfectly, once in the small intestine we absorb the nutrients from our food and then the remainder goes into the large intestine. The large intestine absorbs more nutrients, water is recycled, and waste eventually gets moved out.
And that, in its most simplified explanation, is Digestion!
• Digestion is a North to South Process
• Digestion starts in the Brain
• It’s imperative to chew our food
• We need to have stomach acid to break down our food and kill off any harmful bacteria
• There are three main organs that are the major players in Digestion, including the stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder
• Absorption happens in the small intestine
• The large intestine recycles and eliminates