Get to Know Your Body Better - Digestion Basics
What exactly is digestion and how does it work?Everybody has a body and I believe, as a healthcare provider, human and nutrition enthusiast, we should all be intimately familiar with how our bodies work. I would dare to say that more people take better care of their cars than their own bodies. Maybe we should start envisioning our bodies as the most important “vehicle” we’ve been given to take care of. After all, we only get one and we can’t trade it in and get a new one. So, let’s start treating our bodies like the vehicles we want them to be. I want my body to be like a fast and agile sports car/SUV. What do you want your body to be like? Well then, let’s start working on it and get the type of “vehicle” we want to travel this life in. We’ll need to start by, perhaps, “oiling” our squeaky joints and putting the cleanest and most superb fuel in our bodies to increase our “miles per gallon” and efficiency.
In this article, I want to focus a little on understanding how our bodies work, starting with digestion. This topic seems to be a hot issue with a lot of my patients and clients. So many things can affect our digestion. Anything from the types of foods and chemicals we’re consuming to stress, attitudes and thoughts can influence how effective and comfortable our digestion will be. Belching, bloating, borborygmus and back firing on a regular basis are not normal. Those things are signs that our food is not being properly digested and rotting in our gut. Yuck!!
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “You are what you eat”. That is true to some degree, but if I gave you two pebbles to eat, you’d probably hear them hit the toilet bowl in a day or two. Did you digest them? Of course not! Same with food. If you’re not breaking it down properly, your body is not absorbing it properly.
Let’s start with the mouth. We chew our food to break it into smaller pieces and mix it with saliva from our salivary glands. Saliva contains an enzyme called amylase that helps to break down carbohydrates. After we have, hopefully, thoroughly chewed our food at least 30 -40 times, the food travels down the esophagus into the stomach where it is mixed with hydrochloric acid. Now, I want to spend a little time talking about hydrochloric acid (HCl). This acid is super important. Without enough of it, we can’t breakdown foods properly. HCl is needed to digest protein and acidify the food so that we can absorb calcium, iron and most other minerals. Without proper calcium absorption, we can’t get calcium to bones, nerves, muscles and other tissues in our body. Without proper iron absorption, we can eventually develop iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. Basically, that means we need iron to build our blood and for menstruating women, this is very important.
Once food has been broken down and acidified in the stomach, it moves into the small intestine where most of digestion takes place. Here, food is mixed with bile from the gallbladder and enzymes from the pancreas. Bile helps to breakdown fats and the pancreatic enzymes breakdown carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. After the food is broken down into small enough particles, nutrients (and anything else you’ve consumed) are absorbed into the blood stream and sent to the liver for processing, clean up and detoxification. And believe me, our livers are working overtime to detox all the toxins in our foods. But that’s a story for another day!
After the small intestines have absorbed the nutrients, the left-over food particles are sent to the large intestine where good bacteria help to finish the digestion process and make numerous beneficial chemicals for our bodies, such as B12 and Vitamin K. Water is also reabsorbed, and the unused food particles are formed into stool which we eliminate, hopefully when it’s convenient.
So, why do so many people suffer from various digestive complaints such as bloating, excessive burping and gas, constipation, diarrhea and indigestions? The reasons are numerous and the solutions not always straight forward. For suggestions on improving digestion, see our April newsletter, Suggestions for Better Digestion. And to discuss your digestive concerns, come see us at Bioenergetic Wellness Center of Boerne. Call 830-322-3022 to schedule your nutritional evaluation and maximize your digestive help.