Foundation 2: Digestion
The next foundation to cover in the six foundations as outlined by the Nutritional Therapy Association is definitely one of my favorites: digestion,.
After not experiencing digestive issues most of my life, I started realizing just how debilitating they can be about three years ago when a huge bout of stress set me up for a leaky gut and a host of food sensitivities and intolerances.
Through dealing with those symptoms, I have learned so much about digestion and how it should work for optimal health. If we aren't digestion our food properly, we aren't absorbing the nutrients from that food properly either, leading to a host of other issues.
The NTA lays out the digestive process in a simplistic manner, as it is a true north to south process. If one step is out of whack, the steps below it on the chain will be affected as well.
What most people fail to realize is that digestion starts with the brain, when we see and smell our food. This triggers the release of several different enzymes and starts to prime our stomach for digestion.
Then, food enters our mouth and we break it down chemically with our saliva and enzymes, as well as mechanically through the act of chewing. We must chew our food really, really well (not just gulp it down with water) to keep digestion working properly down the chain.
These first two steps are where most people go astray. If you are experiencing any form of digestive distress, take a few moments before you begin to eat to smell your food, take a few deep breaths, and chew your food REALLY well.
Once we swallow our food, it moves down our esophagus into our stomach. This mass of food is now called the bolus, and it mixes with our digestive juices found in our stomach. The stomach is meant to be a very acidic environment with a pH of about 1.5-3.0. The stomach lining is meant to handle this acidity level, unlike other areas of the body. If our stomach acid isn't acidic enough, the bolus doesn't get broken down fully and the next step in the chain isn't triggered.
This next step occurs when the bolus (now called chyme as it has become a paste) moves into the small intestine. The acidity of the chyme triggers the release of bile from the gallbladder, as well as pancreatic juices and enzymes (including sodium bicarbonate to neutralize the acidity of the chyme). Nutrient absorption mainly occurs in the small intestine.
Once leaving the small intestine, the remains of the chyme move into the large intestine which recycles all that it can including vitamins, minerals, and water. Our gut bacteria live in our large intestine, and they work to form our stool and feed off of the fiber that hasn't been broke down up until this point. Once we've taken everything we can from the mass of food, it is eliminated and the process begins again.
As you can see, this process is quite linear and each step relies on the one before it. If we don't start digestion with the brain, chew really well, have adequate stomach acid levels, or have a proper balance of gut bacteria, the entire process will be thrown off, leading to a host of digestive issues and nutrient deficiencies.
For all of these reasons and more, digestion is often one of the first areas that I address when working with any clients. I want to ensure that the changes we are making through nutrition will actually be able to benefit your body! If you aren't absorbing the nutrients from the foods you're eating, we're not helping the situation.
Interested in learning more? Message me your questions or see these previous posts for more information on digestion:
Digestion 101: What Proper Digestion Should Look Like
Digestion 101: What Can Go Wrong and How to Fix It
Digestion 101: The 4R Protocol