So now that we’ve learned how digestion is supposed to work, let’s talk about some of the problems you could encounter. As I showed in the last post, there are a lot of steps in digestion which means there are ample opportunities for things to go astray. This post will go into some of the more common digestive issues, and then in the next post we will talk about some tips to solve them!
- You are not relaxed before you start to eat
- One of the first problems that could occur is that we are not in a parasympathetic state when we sit down to eat. As a culture, we are almost always stressed. If we sit down to a meal in this state, we are not giving ourselves the chance to “rest and digest”. Without being in a parasympathetic state, our bodies won’t even start to produce the necessary stomach acid or digestive enzymes that we need to break down food.
2. You aren’t chewing your food
- After the brain, the next step is the mouth. We need to chew our food properly (at least 30 seconds!) in order to give saliva a chance to begin breaking down the food in our mouths. As we said in the previous digestion post, carbohydrate breakdown begins in the mouth. So if we are not taking the proper time to chew our food, carbohydrates will not be properly digested. Later on in the process, the pancreas is involved in further completing carbohydrate digestion, but if the carbohydrate is not in the correct state (from us not taking the time to chew), then the pancreas is unable to finish breaking down the carbohydrate and therefore undigested starch enters the colon (yuck- it’s as bad as it sounds)
3. You don’t have enough stomach acid
- Once the food moves from your mouth, down your esophagus, and into the stomach we need enough stomach acid to break down our food. We spoke a bit earlier on the importance of stomach acid, but this is where a lot of problems can occur. If your stomach is not at a pH of about 1.5-3.0 (VERY acidic) then your stomach does not have enough HCL (hydrochloric acid/ stomach acid). Some of the things that can contribute to low stomach acid include stress, excess carbohydrate consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies and excessive alcohol consumption. Also, you may be taking acid suppressors/ reducers (tums, pepsin, etc.) which are diluting stomach acid on purpose and further worsening the problem. Low stomach acid can lead to a variety of problems such as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), continued acid reflux, ulcers, and parasites.
4. You have a history of eating a low fat diet or being a vegetarian/ vegan
- The gallbladder plays a slightly different role in digestion. If we have gallbladder dysfunction this is usually related to a history of a low fat diet, a vegetarian diet or vegan diet (one without animal fat), or a diet with poor quality fats. If we are eating a low fat diet, our gallbladder will not be triggered to release bile (which is supposed to digest fats). Similarly if we eat a diet with poor quality fats, the bile in our gallbladder becomes sticky, or viscous. There is then no release for this bile (in the case of a low fat diet) or the gallbladder will try to release, but is unable to get rid of the viscous bile (in a poor fat diet) and therefore the bile ends up remaining in the gallbladder. Our fats will then not be properly digested and the bile can actually harden and turn into stones in the gallbladder, or at least become very painful. Gallbladder issues make it very difficult to digest fats, and therefore you may feel sick after eating a higher fat meal.
5. You have “leaky gut”
- This can be a whole post in itself, but I will try to summarize briefly. At this point, I’ve talked about a variety of problems that could lead to our food being improperly digested. What happens then? Undigested foods impact the villi and microvilli of our small intestine. Think of villi as little hair-like follicles along the lining of our intestines. The lining becomes impacted by these food molecules that are too big (and undigested) and therefore some of these molecules will start to pass through the wall. Our bodies actually see these foods as foreign invaders, because they don’t recognize foods in this size. So our bodies can actually start to launch an immune attack against these foods. Now foods that were supposed to be nourishing can be seen as allergens. This is called “leaky gut” and it is extremely prevalent in today’s culture.
6. You are eating a good diet, but still have distress
- The poor large intestine now has to deal with this mess. These maldigested foods full of parasites, microorganisms, and undigested fats now try to pass into the colon and can wreak havoc. This can lead to many issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and celiac disease. Not to mention gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc. Even if you are eating a great diet, or taking a high quality probiotic, there are many other steps that you may be missing.
As you can see, there are quite a few steps along the way that can be problematic. Some of the things you experience are obviously related to digestion, like gas and bloating, but some are not obviously tied, like depression, fatigue and allergies. Digestive distress is incredibly common in our society and can be extremely detrimental if not addressed. If you are experiencing consistent problems and having trouble troubleshooting, you may need to work with a professional (schedule a free evaluation with me!) to learn more about digestion and supplementation.
Next up will be some tips to solve our digestive woes- so stay tuned!