Digestion how does it work?

It will surprise you to know that the digestive system prepares itself from the mere smell, sight, sound and even thought of food. About 30% of pancreatic enzymes and 20% of stomach acid are released before we even put food in our mouth.

Amazing, eh?

That is why it is important to be mindful when we are preparing food and why we should sit with our food and savour the sight and smell of it before we dig in.

I imagine many of you, when you get in from work, are rushing about getting dinner made, while doing homework, putting the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher and possibly stopping your children from wrestling themselves off the sofa. Or maybe you’re not even sitting while you eat, it’s more like ‘grab and go’ meals, or you’re working through your lunch and eating it at your desk.

All of these things, done repeatedly, will reduce your ability to digest any food you eat.

In terms of our priorities, we have put ‘enjoying food’ near the bottom of our list. In many European countries, the preparation and eating of food is a huge part of their culture and an important part of their day. For them food is an expression of love and togetherness and is to be celebrated.

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  • Where did we lose this?

  • Did we ever have this in our culture?

  • Why do we not want experiences like these in our lives?

  • Surely it would enrich and add fulfilment to our lives as well as improving our digestion?

  • But let’s get back how our body works when we eat food…

What happens next?

When we put food into our mouths, it is the only time that we can mechanically break down the food into smaller, more digestible chunks. The act of chewing is a vital part of optimal digestion. It also activates the release of important digestive enzymes into our saliva, which are needed to break down our food.

If we fail to break down our food sufficiently, those larger chunks enter our stomach for it to try and digest it.

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What is supposed to happen in the stomach?

The stomach churns and mixes the food with stomach acid and digestive enzymes (including protein and fat digesting enzymes) to break it down further, while mucous is released to protect the lining of our stomach from the acid produced.

So far, we are relying on mindful preparation of food, adequate chewing, sufficient stomach acid, digestive enzymes and the movement of the digestive system (peristalsis) to break the food down further.

If any of these factors are not functioning properly- we are on acid blocking medication or our peristalsis is affected, for example, by stress- then our digestive function is going to be impaired.

This leaves us in a vulnerable state, even before our food reaches our intestines.

The large chunks of food sit in our stomach and ferment, creating gas which can lead to bloating, lots of flatulence, tummy pain, acid reflux…the list continues.

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Next up, the small intestine

Food from the stomach is now moved to the small intestine, a long structure spanning 6.5 metres, where more digestion and absorption (up to 90%) occurs.

It has 3 parts:

  • Duodenum

    where most of the digestion and emulsification of food occurs. As fatty food enters this region, the gallbladder is stimulated to release stored bile so that it can be broken down further. If your gallbladder has been removed, bile trickles constantly from the liver into the duodenum. Unfortunately, sufficient bile cannot be released to emulsify the fats you consume (read my article on gallbladder).

  • Jejunum

    where most absorption of nutrients occurs

  • Ileum

    where vitamin B12 is absorbed. However, if we have inadequate stomach acid, we will be unable to free B12 from its protein in order for it to be absorbed in the ileum.

Pancreas- the helper organ

Working alongside the small intestine and stomach is the pancreas.

Enzymes produced by the pancreas are vital for digestion. They are released into the duodenum of the small intestine.

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Imagine, if you have a variety of impairments along your digestive tract?

Your pancreas is not producing sufficient levels of enzymes, your stomach isn’t producing enough stomach acid, you don’t have your gallbladder, you’re not chewing your food properly.

Can you see there are many ways to impact the digestion of your food?

Imagine the lining of your small intestine is damaged, the site where most absorption of nutrients take place?

Have you ever considered this?

If your jejunum is impaired…look at how many nutrients will NOT be absorbed.

Last but not least, the large intestine

This is where the final stages of digestion, absorption, some vitamin synthesis (through bacterial activity) takes place and our poos are formed.

In the large intestine, mucous is produced, but NO enzymes. It is a place where water, minerals and vitamins, some drugs are absorbed.

It has 4 parts:

  • Cecum

    contains the appendix, which houses some of our immune cells.

  • Colon

    is broken into ascending, transverse and descending sections

  • Rectum

  • Anal canal

    where our poo is released from

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The large intestine contains millions and millions of microbes (gut bacteria). They mostly work together and live harmoniously, but some harmful species can flourish and increase in number according to the pH of our gut environment, water content, the state of the digestive process upstream or antibiotic use.

The final stages of nutrient extraction occur in the colon through microbial fermentation.

The fermentation process, created by our gut bacteria, can create different things:

  • Fermentation of remaining carbs produce gas (flatulence)
  • Fermentation of remaining proteins contribute to the smell of our poo
  • Some toxic products are re-absorbed and moved to the liver to be released in urine
  • Bilirubin (from bile) contribute to poo colour

The microbes can also produce vitamins- B12, K and short chains fatty acids (energy for the microbes).

The final stage of your digestive process is the excretion of waste products via poo.

How to improve digestion

Forgive the pun, but that was a lot to digest.

But it should illustrate how your digestion can easily be impaired along the way.

All is not lost…

I have a lot of ways to improve your digestion:

  • Make food a priority

    Take time to eat. Enjoy a meal with loved ones. Make it fun, calm and relaxing Enjoy the flavours of the meal

  • Be mindful

    Enjoy the preparation of your meal- be aware of the sight, smell and sound of the preparation.

  • Chew each mouthful at least 30 times

    This breaks the food down into small chunks and stimulates the production of vital digestive enzymes. Done correctly, the food entering the stomach will be easier to digest.

  • No drinking with your meals. Drink liquids no more than 15mins before or after

    Drinking with your meals dilute your digestive juices, making the environment less acidic. This also provides the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to enter and flourish in the digestive tract.

  • Do some form of movement after your meals

    This helps the digestive process as well as balancing your blood sugars

  • Eat smaller portions

    You don’t want to overwhelm your digestive system, especially if you are experiencing gut problems. Your tummy doesn’t have to work as hard to digest the food.

  • Eat a veggie start before your meals

    Veggies such as rockets, watercress and kale not only stimulate the production of stomach acid, they also balance your blood sugars.

  • Take digestive supplements

    *NOTE: always consult with a qualified, registered practitioner before taking any supplements*

    These will help you digest your foods properly, particularly if you are suffering from acid reflux, your gallbladder is removed, or your pancreas is not working optimally.

If you have implemented all of these changes and still experience symptoms of poor digestion, it is a sign that something else is going on.

You need to get in contact with me and I will do the digging for you.

It is important to get to the ROOT CAUSE of your symptoms and that is something I am great at.

I can help you

So, book a FREE 15 minute chat with me and we can get started, You can visit my Instagram page and follow the link in my bio or click here.

If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.