Digestion | May 21, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Your digestive system is amazing! You place food in your mouth and through an awesome transport and absorption system your body is able to extract nutrients to enable you to function. Unfortunately when digestion is poor it can cause uncomfortable symptoms that may lead to more severe complications and disease.
Symptoms of poor digestion can include burping, flatulence, dyspepsia (indigestion), bloating, stomach cramping, constipation and diarrhoea. Further complications such as diverticula, irritable bowel (constipation and/or diarrhoea), haemorrhoids and nutritional deficiencies can develop from poor digestive function.
Chewing your food helps to break large particles into smaller components allowing digestive enzymes, located within the mouth, to coat food for the beginning of starch digestion. This masticated foods travels down a flexible, muscular tube, the oesophagus, allowing food to pass into the stomach. A sphincter located at the top of the stomach, (the oesophageal sphincter) prevents food from returning. (For some people this is weak and can cause the food in the stomach to back flow, resulting in reflux).
The stomach contains gastric juices, a mixture of acid, enzymes and fluid, to breakdown the food and mix to form a liquid. This moves through the pyloric sphincter into the small intestine where enzymes from the liver and pancreas breakdown energy yielding nutrients for absorption through the cells in the intestinal wall.
The liver produces bile salts to help digest fats (a bit like adding detergent to to the washing up); the gall bladder stores the bile salts (the detergent container) to use when needed. The pancreas makes enzymes to digest all energy yielding nutrients and also releases bicarbonate to neutralize any acid from the stomach.
Minerals and excess water absorption occurs in the large intestine (colon) and fibre, bacteria and unabsorbed nutrients are escorted as waste towards the rectum until elimination occurs. The anus holds the rectum closed.
Peristalsis is the action of moving food along the intestinal tract. Circular and longitudinal muscles propel the bolus of food in a wave like action from the very first swallow along the intestine till it reaches the rectum where you are prompted to defecate.
Start by having regular meal times. Your body gets into a pattern of when to expect food. For most people this will mean eating approximately every 4 hours. As you get hungry your sense of smell increases and your stomach may rumble (a good sign your system is getting ready for digestion). You may start to salivate as the digestive enzymes in your mouth increase.
Visual. The sight of your food can stimulate your digestive system to get ready for work.
Ensure your food looks inviting by adding foods with various colous and textures. Imagine a green lettuce salad with, purple beetroot, red capsicum, black olives, some walnuts, linseeds and feta cheese; or a big juicy steak with carrots, peas and potatoes.
Studies have found that your taste for starch is individual, based on your salivary enzymes. Your preference for rice over potato for instance can determine the degree of salivary amylase enzyme. You could be eating too much of a food and not digesting it well or be lacking the enzymes to efficiently break it down.
Chew your food. This gives a head start to digestion. Try chewing food till it resembles liquid and if having a protein shake or juice, chew the liquid, swirl it around your mouth before swallowing, this way enzymes in the mouth cover all the food particles and digestion begins.
Adequate stomach acid - Often people mistake too much acid when the real problem is not enough.
Gastric juice is a mixture of water, enzymes and hydrochloric acid that is needed for protein digestion. Large protein chains are cleaved to more manageable amino acids, (like chopping wood).
Gastric acid is able to destroy pathogenic microbes entering the body as part of the body’s defence system and is required for the digestion of some vitamins and mineral.
Broccoli, beetroot, and spinach contain betaine which can help increase acid. Digestive bitters and bitter greens such as endive, watercress, rocket, and chicory can help stimulate digestion. A teaspoon of apple cider vinegar may help with absorption.
Digestive enzymes - found in the mouth, stomach and small intestine, split food molecules into absorbable components. They are produced in the digestive tract to digest carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Symptoms of insufficiency may include poor appetite, dyspepsia, bloating, digestive discomfort, flatulence and food sensitivity. Foods found to containing high amounts of natural digestive enzymes include; pineapple, papaya, banana, avocado, apricots, mango and honey. Consider increasing your intake of raw fruits and vegetables or choose a supplement till symptoms improve.
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Probiotics can be beneficial by improving digestion and absorption. Probiotics are used for the synthesis of some vitamins (vitamin K, biotin, vitamin B12, folic acid, and thiamine), inhibiting the growth of potential pathogens and helping with bloating and gas. Bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli can help with digestion of lactose for those people who are lactose intolerant, they can reduce diarrhoea, help resist infections and assist in inflammatory conditions. Probiotics, prebiotics and symbiotic are considered functional foods. Examples of these include yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, natto, and kimchi.
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Fibre - Dietary fibre is especially beneficial for the health of the large intestine. A healthy intestinal wall is able to block unwanted matter from entering into the body. Insoluble fibres such as cellulose (cereal brans, psyllium husks, linseeds, vegetables and fruits) add bulk to the bowel, helping with elimination and increasing transit time. These undigested fibres help microbial growth (friendly bacteria) and together can alleviate constipation.
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Add Water and you can help prevent haemorrhoids and diverticulosis (when the intestinal wall bulges in weakened areas). Fluid is needed to for digestion from the stomach to the bowel.
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Bitter Herbs/Digestive Tonics - increase salivary secretion, speed gastric emptying and protect gastric mucosa (lining of the digestive tract). Choose German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Hops (Humulus lupulus), Gentian (Gentiana lutea) and Milk Thistle (silybum marianum).
Diet - Meals filled with wholesome, natural foods - fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, meat, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy or dairy alternatives should help you provide all that is needed to support adequate digestion. Consider a multi vitamin to help supply any missing nutrients.
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Whitney, Cataldo, Rolfes, (2002) Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition 6th Edition, Wadsworth, USA
Osiecki H, The Nutrient Bible 9th edition, Bio Concepts Publishing
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013173839.htm (Enzyme in saliva shapes how we sense food texture; Perception and digestion of starchy foods varies from person to person)
Medical Microbiology. 4th edition.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7670/
Fisher, C; (2009), Materia Medica of Western Herbs, New Zealand
Sarris J. Wardle, J; (2014) Clinical Naturopathy 2e, Elsevier Australia
Mills S, Bone K, (2009), Principles and Practice of Phototherapy, Elseiver, Aust