We need our Digestion system working well to support almost all our body functions. If we’re not digesting our food, we’re not gaining the nutrients, minerals, vitamins and energy that our cells need to function.
Recently, research has even demonstrated a clear connection between the gut and the brain – meaning what’s happening (or not happening) down there can impact on your mental health, mood, and outlook on life.
So how does it all work? And what can go wrong?
Essentially Digestion is a north to south process. It begins way before food even hits your stomach. Digestion actually begins in the brain; when we see and smell food our brain starts preparing our body to begin the digestive process. Just by thinking about eating we start releasing hormones in our saliva that help break down carbohydrates.
But before we’ve even tasted that delicious Paleo grass-fed burger, things can go wrong – are you eating on the run? Standing up in your kitchen? Stressed out at work chowing down while you frantically answer email or put out some other fire? All of these actions put our nervous system in a sympathetic state – which is the enemy of digestion. For digestion to work optimally we need to be in a para-sympathetic state; this means taking time to slow down (if only for 15 mins), sit down, and appreciate our food.
All going well we put some of that yummy burger in our mouth and start chewing. Ideally you’re chewing a minimum of 20 times – say whaaaat? Yup, 20 times. Most people will gulp a sambo down in 20 bites total, not 20 chews per mouthful. So what happens when you don’t chew your food properly? It passes down the oesophagus and into the stomach with large food particles still in tact which are harder for the stomach to break down.
Now, the stomach likes a really acidic environment to do it’s work, but if we’re eating in a stressed state and not chewing properly it doesn’t know to release enough stomach acid to break down the food, so it passes the undigested food down to the small intestine and that where things really start to rancidify – literally!
Undigested food in the small intestine starts to ferment as it feeds the bacteria. This causes symptoms such as gas, burping, bloating, etc. The undigested food can cause the tight junctures in the small intestine to seperate, create intestinal permeability, where the food particles literally ‘leak’ into the blood steam and cause an immune system assault (more on this topic in another post).
From the small intestine that festering waste matter passes to the large intestine where vitamins, minerals and water are supposed to be reabsorbed into the body. But at this stage the rancid matter continues to ferment and the body then eliminates the waste without absorbing the final nutrients.
So, here are my top 5 points for practicing good digestive hygiene:
- Make time to eat – sit down, preferably at a table away from distractions, and concentrate on eating and actually enjoying your meal.
- Chew – like a zillion times. Then chew some more.
- Eliminate food that cause digestive upset – if you are constantly bloated or can see pieces of food in your poop, work with a professional to identify what you might be allergic or intolerant to.
- Give yourself a 4-5 hour break between meals – this allows your digestive system time to repair between all that work its doing.
- Stop eating and drinking 2 hours before bed – for optimal digestion and quality sleep.
That’s it folks. What are your top tips for digestion? Please leave your comments below.