When talking about stomach issues, the word “digestion” gets thrown around a lot. We find this to be a little concerning, as many people don’t quite understand what digestion really is or means. All they know is that they have issues with it, as many people in our society do. From poor diets to busy schedules, our lifestyle behaviors surely don’t help our bodies’ natural ability to digest foods.
Here at in2Great, we wanted to explain the digestion process so that you can better understand why this process is so vital to your health. This way you can encompass new changes into your daily routine to support your digestion and optimize your health.
What Is The Digestion Process?
Digestion is a north to south process that begins in the brain. The sight and smell of food trigger the salivary glands to start producing saliva. This is where the phrase “making your mouth water” comes from. So the next time your mouth starts watering after you’ve walked by a restaurant or bakery and got a whiff of their fresh-baked goods, you’ll be aware that it’s your brain telling your body to get ready to chow down.
The mouth is the physical gateway to the digestive system where mechanical and chemical breakdown of the food begins. One solute in saliva is the enzyme, salivary amylase, which helps start carbohydrate digestion. Many people don’t know this fun fact, but food starts digesting before you even swallow it! The longer your food is in contact with those salivary amylase enzymes, the easier it can break down in the following steps. Hint hint… this is why taking the time to chew your food is so important! Not only does it help to physically break down food into smaller pieces, but it also helps the chemical break down. Even when you are “starving,” try your best not to inhale your food in two bites. Your gut will thank you later.
Food enters the stomach as bolus, which is just another word for a rounded mass of chewed food. The stomach continues the mechanical breakdown of the bolus, along with a number of chemical activities, turning it into chyme. Chyme is a pulpy acidic semi-fluid mass that consists of gastric juices and partly digested food.
Chyme then enters the duodenum (first part of the small intestine) and travels through the rest of the small intestines and stimulates the production of other enzymes. This is when your digested food mixes with bile from the gallbladder and more digestive juices from the pancreas. This is where the bulk of nutrient absorption happens.
It then gets to the large intestine where water and waste materials are recycled, nourishing the colon cells. It captures any lost nutrients that are still available (with the help of the bowel flora) and converts the nutrients to Vitamins K/B1/B2/B12 and butyric acid. Then whatever remains (the remnants) are eliminated as feces.
What Organs Assist In The Digestive Process?
- Pancreas – Produces pancreatic juices and enzymes to further digestion.
- Gallbladder – Stimulated by Cholecystokinin (CCK) to produce bile for the liver to distribute.
- Liver – The digestive function of the liver is to secrete bile into the digestive tract to break down fats.
What Are Ways To Improve Digestion?
Many people come into our clinic with digestion issues, including upset stomach, constipation, bloating, heartburn, and more. While there may be other underlying problems that are contributing to your digestive issues, there are things you can start doing today to help your symptoms.
Digestion occurs under parasympathetic control. This is why it’s also known as “rest and digest”. You’ll want to avoid “fight-or-flight” hormones like, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which can prevent digestion. To do this, try out some stress management techniques. This can include meditation, breathing, or even getting some fresh air outside a couple of times a day.
Also, we recommend taking a look at your schedule. Are you overbooked? See what tasks or events you can decline in order to give your mind and body a rest from the “go, go, go” routine.
Be Mindful- Slow Down And Chew Your Food
This is very important, as stated earlier! Eat meals slowly and chew food thoroughly in order to break down carbohydrates and activate other enzymes before moving onto the next stage in digestion. Do you ever mindlessly eat in front of the television or while scrolling through your phone? Before you know it, you grab for the next bite, and there’s nothing on your plate! Mindful eating can help you be present when eating to ensure slow consumption. Mindfulness can help increase enzymes, gastric juices, and bile as well as improve nutrient absorption and stimulate rest and digest dominance.
It’s vital to stay adequately hydrated throughout the day so that your body can properly transport nutrients through your digestive tract. While you should drink more during the day, try to limit your liquid intake at mealtime to avoid diluting the gastric juices. Read our previous blog on why hydration is vital to your overall health as well.
Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods increase bioavailable nutrients and are easier to digest. They help improve your gut microbiome, which is associated with a plethora of other bodily functions and organs. Consuming fermented foods have also been shown to reduce phytic acid, which is an anti-nutrient according to a study on food grains.
Give These Fermented Foods A Try:
Go For A Walk
Movement is important not only for reducing stress but also for stimulating the natural inflammation and muscle contractions necessary for digestion. If you suffer from slow digestion, a 15-minute walk after each meal would be a great way to improve digestion.
Give Yoga A Go
Yoga can increase circulation and stimulate internal organs using different poses or positions. While it is usually recommended to practice yoga on an empty stomach, doing certain yoga poses right after a meal helps promote smooth digestion. Some poses include twists that act like a massage for your digestive organs and increase blood flow to that area.
Contact In2Great Functional Medicine Clinic
If you want to maximize your health, optimizing digestion is key. Maybe these suggestions can bring a quick fix to your digestion issues, or maybe your digestive problems are the symptoms of a larger underlying problem. If you are worried that other things are causing your gut and digestive issues, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Get in contact with in2GREAT Functional Medicine Clinic in Kansas City if you want more insight on how to achieve optimal digestion and receive personalized care. Fill out their contact form or give them a call at (913) 308-0174.