Essentials, FDN, Health

Your Digestive System – Part 1: Misunderstood & Under-Appreciated

EPSON MFP imageYou know that saying, “You are what you eat,” it is not really accurate and rather simplistic. You can consume the highest quality, most nutrient dense foods available and your cells may still be malnourished, starving and dysfunctional. Just because you put it into your mouth doesn’t ensure that your body is capable of taking advantage of it.

So what could go wrong? A lot! There are many opportunities for your digestive system to function less than optimally, and that leaves you with healing opportunities.

Let’s take a journey through a wonder of nature that we shove food into multiple times a day.

Your digestive system consists of a tube that begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. Most people consider their digestive system to be located in their body. The opposite is true. Your digestive system runs through your body, or your body surrounds the digestive system.

It is not until food passes through the lining of your digestive system (mucosal barrier) that it can enter the body, hopefully by way of the hepatic portal system into general circulation and finally into the unique and individual cells that make up your tissue, glands, organs and systems of your body.

Let’s begin at the mouth and work our way down.

Mastication: Remember this: Drink Your Food and Eat Your Water! Digestion begins in the mouth. Food should be chewed until it is liquified. Enzymes from saliva mix with the food to begin breaking down carbohydrates into its base elements of sugars.

Not properly chewing food can leave food stuff too large for the stomach to break down.

A dry mouth or tongue indicates dehydration. If you can’t produce saliva, then you can’t properly prepare food stuff for further digestion in the stomach and intestines.

Eat your water means to consume small amounts, just enough during meals to get the food chewed and swallowed. If you drink large amounts during a meal all you will do is compromise digestion in the stomach by diluting stomach acid (HCL).

Stomach: The stomach contains additional digestive enzymes that further breaks down carbohydrates into sugars while beginning to break protein down into amino acids.

HCL (hydrochloric acid) is incredibly important to digestion. Most people believe that its primary function is breaking down food stuff. While HCL assists in this process it has an even more important role.

HCL being so acidic sterilizes your stomach contents. It kills unfriendly bacteria, germs, fungi and parasites.

If you have had bleeding stomach ulcers, the odds are that you have H. pylori, a rather potent and troublesome bug that alters the stomach environment. This can be tested for and eradicated.

Antacids are a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. and a very problematic product. The symptoms of excess HCL are the same as too little HCL. Very rarely does the body produce too much of anything, much less HCL. It is more common for HCL levels to be low. Taking OTC and Rx drugs to decrease HCL is often the worst thing you can do. While the symptoms decrease, the body’s ability to protect itself from foreign invaders is severely compromised greatly increasing your odds of a pathogenic infection or infestation while reducing the further breakdown of food stuff.

Antacids also contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the body and highly correlated with Alzheimer’s disease.

It was mentioned earlier to eat your water so that you don’t dilute the acidity too much. While you want to minimize water intake during and right after meals you do need to ensure you are otherwise properly hydrated.  If you are dehydrated, and many of those reading this are, a lack of adequate hydration creates an internal body environment that pulls moisture from the mucus membrane of the stomach lining. This mucus protects the stomach from the acidity of HCL so that it does not burn a hole through the stomach.

The suggested amount of water intake is roughly one half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. This is clean, pure water, not tea, coffee, soda, juice, vegetables etc. Plain water. You can also add a pinch of sea salt to your water as it will allow the water to absorb into the body more readily and well as aid in HCL production.

Small Intestines: Your small Intestine is roughly 25 feet long containing multiple sections. Each section is lined with specific receptor sites that absorb particular nutrients. If any particular section is damaged, your body’s ability to take advantage of the respective nutrient(s) is reduced.

Just about all the nutrients from food are absorbed within the small intestines. Some, such as alcohol and refined / processed sugars are absorbed through the stomach.

It is at the top of the small intestine that fats are able to be effectively broken down into fatty acids. The liver, by way of the gall bladder releases bile. The bile blends with the fat to form an emulsion that is the perfect environment for additional digestive enzymes from the pancreas to do their thing.

Once the nutrients are absorbed at their respective receptor sites, they are sent through the portal vein to the liver for processing. From there it is released into general circulation in your blood stream and transported throughout the body to each cell.

Large Intestine: Your colon is 5 to 6 feet long and about 3 inches in diameter. The colon is a rather specialized organ that produces certain vitamins and recycles water for the body.

Your colon is, or should be, home to trillions of bacteria, some are friendly and some are not. In a healthy colon the optimal ratio is 85% friendly to 15% unfriendly. Many people have the inverse ratio which is a significant catalyst for poor health.

Your body has a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria. If it were not for bacteria, we would not be alive. Friendly bacteria produce a number of vitamins including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, A and K. They also produce a lactic-acid by-product that helps stimulate peristalsis (movement) of the colon.

Peristalsis is the rhythmic waves of contraction of the digestive muscles that push food along the colon and triggers bowel movements and minimize constipation.  A healthy balance of bacteria is important if you want to have regular daily bowel movements.

Since I mentioned bowel movements, I should also mention that if you are not having at least one good movement each day of at least 12 inches in length, you have digestive issues that are hurting your health.

What makes many of the unfriendly bacteria unfriendly is that their waste material is toxic to our bodies. As I have mentioned in earlier blog posts, cellular malfunction is at the root of most health problems. Cellular malfunction is caused by two catalysts, malnourishment and toxins. I hope you are starting to see how everything in your body is connected.

The colon does even more. When you are dehydrated, the colon squeezes as much water from the stool as possible for use elsewhere in the body. In a dehydrated person, this may create constipation, if chronic the stool may become impacted.

The constipation can create additional issues. The longer waste material remains in the body, the more likely that toxins will get reabsorbed back into general circulation to get redistributed and stored in tissue.

While the removal of toxins is important to for health, hydration is more important for survival in the present moment.  The body will compromise other functions and do what is needed most when survival is an issue.

It should be obvious that your digestive system is rather complex and can have a significant effect upon your attempts to build and maintain health. If you are honest with yourself and mindful of your body’s attempts at communication you may discover some signs and symptoms that all is not well within your digestive system.  What follows are two lists, one specific to digestive function and the other related to toxicity which is strongly related to digestive function by way of the liver and gallbladder.

Symptoms of Digestive Dysfunction:

  • Gas – Fatigue after eating
  • Bloating – Abdominal Distention
  • Headache – Constant Hunger
  • Burping – Bowel Irregularity
  • Reflux – Muscle and joint pain
  • Neck, shoulder, middle and lower back pain

Symptoms of Toxicity:

  • Fatigue – Nervousness
  • Headaches – Arthritis
  • Low back pain – Neck Pain
  • Asthma – Cardiac irregularities
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Acne, rash or other skin problems
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the upper right abdominal region
  • Sciatica (pain down the back of the leg)
  • Allergies and other food intolerances
  • Eye, ear, nose and throat problems

Closing Thoughts: Consider the information above and if you show signs of dysfunction, start with the basics.

  • Drink your Food and Eat your Water
  • Get Hydrated (keep in mind that given the wrong circumstances, you can get dehydrated in less than 24 hours and it takes longer to rehydrate the body’s cells)
  • Eat your meals in a quiet, mindful and relaxing environment to minimize stress that will decrease blood flow to the digestive system and thus slow it down.

 In Part 2, we are going to look at another readily available source of information that will shed light on the health and function of your digestive system.

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