A great place to start.
We have all heard the saying “We are what we eat” but I prefer to say we are what we absorb. I also respect the fact that we are what we feel and will most likely choose foods accordingly.
So let’s start with where digestion really begins. The sound, sight, smell and texture of food sends signals to the brain to prepare the gut to receive food. This is why preparing our own food more often is an essential step in a healthy digestive system. As we begin to prepare our food, salivation, digestive enzymes and hormones begin to prepare the body to receive food. This is a great time to let try some mindful techniques. Like being grateful for the soil and sun that grew the food and the farmer who raised that animal.
Ok, so our food is prepared and it is ready to begin its journey through our bodies. We start with chewing. Such a simple act but so vital in the first step of breaking down our food. As we chew, saliva starts to break down a small percentage of starch with an enzyme called salivary amylase. It is VERY important that we take advantage of our teeth and chew our food until it becomes a paste. This eases the burden on our digestive system and will increase the accessible surface area of our food for our digestive enzymes.
So we have chewed and chewed remembering to put our fork down between bites and really appreciate all the flavours. Next stop, the stomach. Here our food gets further pulverized by peristalsis and then liquefied into a substance called chyme. Protein digestion occurs in the stomach when chemicals found in gastric juices, primarily hydrochloric acid (HCI) and the enzyme pepsin, break apart protein chains made up of amino acids. This crucial step that can take from 3 – 5 hours is so important for the remaining part the digestive process. Many of us are suffering from issues that begin at this very stage due to not enough HCI being created. Without enough of this very strong HCI, we become susceptible to microbes lurking in our food. We are also going to suffer from acid reflux and belching as the food ferments rather than breaking down.
After the stomach, the soupy chime gets passed into the small intestine where most of the digestion and absorption of nutrients occurs. The small intestine has two extremely important functions: (1) it allows nutrients such as vitamins and minerals to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and (2) it blocks foreign substances from entering your bloodstream. I have heard the small intestine referred to as the gateway between the outside world and your body. If we think about that for a moment, we can understand why it is also being recognized as a major part of our immune system. The average length of the small intestine in an adult human male is 6.9 m (22 ft 8 in), and in an adult female 7.1 m (23 ft 4 in). So let’s picture the surface area of the small intestinal mucosa that averages 30 square meter or the area of a tennis court. Covered in finger like villi, the three sections of small intestine (duodenum, jejunum and ileum) absorb different nutrients. Poor diet, food allergies and medications can lead to this surface area thinning and allowing harmful substances to path through into our bodies. These factors may also cause those precious nutrient absorbing villi to stop working properly or at all. Many of us are suffering from ailments that can be traced back to the key nutrients we are not properly absorbing and the harmful substances we are absorbing. The intestine is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells that are renewed every 4–5 days. In fact the cellular age of our body is approximately 15 years with each type of cell having its own turnover rate. For example the liver is every 300 – 500 days and a red blood cell after traveling over 1600 kms is about 120 days. Really think about that, if every 15 years we can replace almost every cell in our body, our potential truly is limitless. If we heal our gut and begin receiving optimal nutrition, every cell we create will be healthier than the last. Our bodies have given us this gift of self renewal, take advantage of it.
After your small intestine has absorbed all the nutrients it can, your large intestine is the last stop before waste leaves your body. The average person can have anywhere from 7 to 25 pounds of impacted fecal matter in their gut!! This is another contributor to our gut health as all that fecal matter decays, ferments and potentially gets reabsorbed. Ideally our waste will contain a large amount of undigested fiber as it is essential in helping the colon remove toxins and ease in the passing of stool. Along with indigestible waste material and water, our fecal matter is teeming with Bacteria known as gut flora. These beneficial bacteria play a vital role in maintaining a healthy intestinal environment. They break down some previously undigested materials, but they also act on food residue to make vitamins like vitamin K, vitamin b12 and biotin. And finally excess water is reabsorbed into the body to prevent dehydration.
We have almost made it through our digestive system but I want to mention one last thing since we are talking about poop. What is the best position to have a bowel movement and what should our stool look like?
A picture says a thousand words!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_stool_scale
Use a squatting position. No I’m not suggesting you take out your toilet just get a stool for your stool!
Until next time, Happy digesting!