Understanding How Digestion Works

Digestion in the body is a complex combination of biological interactions and chemical reactions.

Our GI tract is split into 2 halves – the Upper half which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The Lower half includes our small and large intestines. In addition to breaking down our foods for energy and nutrition, our GI tract is also home to the largest part of the body’s immune system! It produces acids and beneficial bacteria that act as defense to protect from pathogens that may enter our bodies.

The overall process of digestion begins in the mouth.

The Mouth:

  • Starts with mastication
  • Enzymes in saliva begins to chemically breakdown food into sizes your body can absorb
  • This is the reason experts suggest you chew slowly as digestion starts in the mouth
  • Feeling of a big “knot” in stomach after eating may indicate you’re not chewing your food enough
  • Chewing food twice as long as one normally would helps with portion control
  • Best to intake food at temperature of body – let cool foods warm up and hot foods cool down before swallowing!

Your Stomach:

  • Very acidic at pH 4
  • Acts as secondary defense against harmful pathogens that may not have been stopped in the mouth
  • Acids – hydrochloric & pepsin
  • As we age our stomach acid levels begin to decline causing potential for digestive issues and improper digestion
  • With aging its common to experience more heartburn, indigestion, and GERD due to UNDER PRODUCTION of stomach acid
  • Pump Inhibitors and H2 Blockers (Pepsid AC, Prilosec, etc.) shut down acid production and cause increased issues

Proper levels of stomach acid are not only necessary from an immune system perspective, but certain vitamins, minerals, food compounds, etc. can only be digested by high stomach acid. For instance Vitamin B-12 is suggested for optimal health and it can only be digested in the stomach. If your stomach acid is low then you most likely are not absorbing this vitamin and your health could be negatively affected.

Symptoms of Low Vitamin B-12

  • Impulse control
  • Pins and needles in extremities
  • Balance issues
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • White spots on the skin due to decreased melatonin

Assisting the acid that breaks down our foods are tiny microorganisms in the gut; our intestinal flora!

Good Bacteria in the Gut:

  • 100 trillion microorganisms living in the gut – intestinal flora
  • Make up about 3-5 pounds of your body weight
  • They feast on your digesting food and produce beneficial byproducts such as vitamin B & K
  • They change carbs into simple sugars and proteins into amino acids
  • Best thing to do for gut is to cut out processed foods and sugar – too much of these encourage bad bacteria growth

Overgrowth of Bad Bacteria Symptoms:

  • IBS
  • Migraines
  • PMS
  • Cancer
  • Asthma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Weight Gain
  • Food Allergies
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Yeast infections
  • Depression

Keeping your GI tract and intestinal flora isn’t a hard endeavor to take on. A clean and balanced diet of whole, natural foods is key. Processed unnatural foods can cause much damage.

Processed Foods

  • High-calorie and low nutritional value
  • Designed to be appealing to your senses with fats, preservatives and artificial sweeteners
  • Processed foods may be broken down into one or more toxic molecules
  • May produce undesirable biological effects
  • Your body may treat processed foods as foreign invader
  • Processed foods can cause ongoing mistaken attack on important components of your digestive system

To Keep a Healthy GI:

  • Avoid man-made chemicals
  • Avoid pharmaceutical drugs
  • Avoid diet rich in simple sugars
  • Avoid GMO
  • Consume RAW foods regularly
  • Consume fermented foods
  • Consume foods as close to their natural state as possible
  • Consume a balance of different types of foods