Digestion is the entry way for nutrients to be absorbed into our bodies. If we have issues with our digestion and nutrient absorption, it can lead to all other health conditions including smaller things like migraines, tendonitis, arthritis; or larger issues such as autoimmune disorders, thyroid or endocrine dysfunction, cancers, diabetes and more. Whatever the health issue, I ALWAYS look to heal digestion first, this is by far the first step in promoting optimal health.
Our digestive tract extends from mouth to anus, and also involves our brain.
Brain - The thoughts and emotions we have about food affects our digestion. If we eat with our sympathetic nervous system activated and we are stressed, our bodies prioritize handling the stress rather than our digestion. If we eat with our parasympathetic nervous system activated and we are relaxed, our bodies devote more resources to helping digestion. Also, when we think of our mood, we assume that we should turn to our brains first, but actually much or our serotonin and over 100 million neurons are found in our digestive tract, therefore being known as our "Second brain".
Mouth - Our lips, teeth, and tongue chew our food. Chewing food well---to the texture of a blended soup---reduces the workload for our stomach and helps with digestion. Our salivary glands produce amylase and digestive enzymes to break down food, primarily starting with carbohydrates. Peristalsis moves food along our digestive tract and begins with swallowing.
Esophagus - Our esophagus connects our mouth to our stomach. The cardio-esophageal sphincter is a valve that separates our esophagus from our stomach, and if this valve is weak, we may have issues with GERD and acid reflux.
Stomach - The majority of food breakdown happens in our stomach "our blender", taking about 2-4 hours. Parietal cells line our stomach and produce hydrochloric acid to break down long molecular chains in our foods to small units our bodies can work with. Our stomach and whole digestive tract has a mucosal protective lining, keeping our tissues safe from the highly acidic nature of the environment, without it we can easily experience burns or lesions known as ulcers. Food can ferment and cause gas or alcohols to build up in our stomach if it is not fully chewed or if we do not have enough hydrochloric acid to maintain this process. Drinking fluids right before, during, or right after meals dilutes the hydrochloric acid in our stomach and dampens "our fire". It is better to drink between meals leaving thirty minutes before or after to keep our digestion process hydrated yet very acidic.
Small intestine - Nutrients are absorbed into our bloodstream primarily in our small intestine. It is about 15-20 feet long.
The duodenum is the first foot and the majority of breakdown happens here. Enzymes from our pancreas enter here: protease to break down proteins, amylase to break down carbohydrates, and lipase to break down fat. Our liver produces bile which collects in our gallbladder and concentrates, also helping break down fats. If we are missing our gallbladder, we need to eat smaller amounts of fat throughout the day.
The jejunum is the second part of our small intestine and the breakdown of sucrose, lactose, and saccharides happens here.
The ileum is the last part of our small intestine.
Under the mucosal lining of our small intestine, villi and microvilli allow nutrients to flow into our digestive system. Inflammatory foods break down the mucosal lining which allows foreign particles into our bloodstream. This may cause allergies, asthma, or autoimmune dysfunction because our immune system does not recognize these particles.
Our bodies are full of probiotic bacteria that support our immune system and help our digestion. About four to six pounds of probiotics are in our digestive tract. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria.
Our appendix is between our small and large intestine and supports our immune system.
Large intestine - Our large intestine is where stools are formed from waste products: fiber, dead cells, dead bacteria, and toxins.
Sigmoid colon and anus - Our sigmoid colon and anus are the end of our digestive tract. Healthy bowel movements generally happen one to three times per day; are smooth, brown, tapered at both ends; and not hard, lumpy, or runny. The squatty potty is a stool that may help us be in a natural squat position for smooth elimination.
We can support our digestion by eating a variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods, including fermented foods for natural probiotics, or probiotic supplements.
Recommended Books on Digestion:
The Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo