This topic is huge. This article will explain the basics of human digestion. For more information about gut health, join me on Saturday to talk about things such as IBS, Candida overgrowth, and Celiac Disease.
Digestion works from top to bottom. This means it begins in your mouth? Right? Well yes, kinda. When we eat is not just the function of eating, swallowing, and digesting. How we perceive eating a meal, affects what happens the rest of the way. For example, if I’m scarfing down a Starbucks breakfast sandwich in the car on the way to my son’s swim practice (which I NEVER do), what happens physiologically from there will be impacted. So while our mouth does the first action in digestion, the environment creates context. That context can greatly impact how your food is digested. First, you have to have to chew your food. This is necessary for obvious reasons, but saliva contains special hormones, electrolytes, and enzymes that break down food for the rest of the way. For example, amylase is an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates. If it can’t do its job, it won’t be done in the small intestine and beyond. This can contribute to problems like candida in the gut. If you’re scarfing more than chewing, the rest of the digestive process is more belabored. While your mouth and saliva are the mechanism, you must provide the proper amount of chew time for good digestion the rest of the way. It is recommended to chew 30 times per bite, and to be sitting down with no other distractions, like writing blogs or watching Netflix. (I don’t do that either.)
Now, let’s talk about the stomach. This muscle is a vessel where food is broken down well enough to be sent to the intestines. It does this by using acids that need to be a particular acidity: a PH of 1.5-3. This is very acidic, and is not pleasant when we feel acid of the stomach in areas we shouldn’t like the chest and throat. People often feel they have too much acid. BUT, Dr. Jonathan Wright came to the conclusion that “approximately 90% of Americans produce too little hydrochloric acid.” How can that be? Dysfunction of digestion often begins with fermentation. Fermentation is good as long as it’s happening in the right place, like the large intestine. But, if fermentation is happening in the stomach, bloating, belching, and heartburn can occur. This happens when the pyloric sphincter, that is the opening for food to go from the stomach to the intestines, stays closed because the stomach is not acidic enough. It won’t open until the PH levels are right, and the food is ready to move on to the next stage of digestion. So the food sits there, bloating you and developing gasses that make you feel bad. THIS is what an "acidic" stomach feels like, and ironically, is caused from a stomach that is not acidic enough.
Additionally, without the proper PH in the stomach, pathogens, yeast, bacteria, and parasites are free to make their way into the intestines where they have a bug party. Bug parties are necessary in your gut. You need good bugs, though. If the bad bugs take over, here are some things that can happen:
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Candida (yeast overgrowth)
• Permeable mucosa lining that can lead to leaky gut
• Celiac disease (caused by or contributing to gluten sensitivity)
• Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
• Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
As mentioned, I will go into each of these in more depth on Saturday if you are interested. If you are a CrossFitter that is still reading this far in, you might be wondering, “so what.” As very active people, who are fatiguing many systems in the body on a daily basis, proper nutrient absorption is necessary for good health and recovery. You may be eating a pristine diet, working out 5 days a week, mobilizing daily, drinking plenty of spring water, being an A+ individual in the gym. But, if your body is not digesting and absorbing all the benefits from your diet, you are at a major disadvantage. And, like all things, tack on stress, and likely you’ve now made your gut angry and inflamed even more. Furthermore, research is suggesting that bad gut flora is related to behavioral issues such as depression, autism-like behaviors, and fatigue. Even more amazing, research has found that certain bacteria in the gut can create more resistance to diseases like muscular sclerosis, as well as other autoimmune diseases, like arthritis and colitis. So, how do you know what’s going on with YOUR gut. Well, the best place to look is at your poop. We’ll go more into this on Saturday at about 10:15. ☺ You guys know I love a good heart to heart about bowel movements. Until then, happy pooping!