Here’s something to chew on: Get your digestive system in order
- Category: Commentaries
- Published on Tuesday, 29 November -0001 18:00
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
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Dr. Timothy Moore
Ph.D., N.M.D., C.N.
When it comes to the digestive system, I don’t think I would be too presumptuous in saying that most people, including children, know much about how digestion works. Food that goes into the body is absorbed in the blood stream and waste is excreted. Right?
A better definition might be “the mechanical and chemical breaking down of food into smaller components, to a form that can be absorbed, for instance, by a blood stream.” This is called catabolism, the process of breaking down living tissue into waste matter.
In mammals, food enters the mouth, then chewed by the teeth, and broken down by the saliva glands. Then it travels down the esophagus into the stomach. Acids break down most of the food and the leftovers travel through the small intestine, large intestine, and then excreted out the body.
Healthy digestion requires support for all the different components of digestion. Those components are:
Chew thoroughly. Thorough chewing mixes food well with saliva, which moistens the food particles and provides a means for enzymes, like amylase and lipase, to get to the pieces of food and begin the process of starch and fat digestion. Chewing also signals the body to begin the digestion process, alerting the stomach to prepare to make stomach acid, and signaling the pancreas to prepare to secrete its contents into the lumen of the small intestinal tract.
Ensure adequate amounts of digestive factors. After chewing, the food’s next stop is the stomach, where an adequate amount of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) is the next necessity. Stomach acid is required for adequate breakdown of proteins. Without adequate stomach acid, not only is protein digestion ineffective, but also digestion of vitamin B12 is seriously affected.
Identify and eliminate food allergens. When a food allergic reaction occurs, the immune system perceives specific food molecules as hostile invaders, and forms antibodies, which latch on to these allergens to assist in their removal. As part of the immune system’s defensive action against food allergens, inflammation can occur along the intestinal tract lining, interrupting the absorption process and causing damage to the lining. Gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases – such as diverticulosis or inflammatory bowel disease – and celiac sprue (intolerance of gluten found in wheat products) also result in damage to the intestinal wall.
Support the gastrointestinal barrier. The gastrointestinal cell wall is the barrier between what you ingest and the inside of your body; therefore, the integrity of this barrier is vital to your health. Support for the mucus that covers the cells in the gastrointestinal tract is very important, especially in the stomach.
Provide a healing environment for the small intestine. Research studies have shown that the small intestinal tract barrier can become leaky under some conditions. That is, the cells loose their attachments to each other, resulting in a wall with holes between the cells instead of the cells forming a strong, connected and continuous surface.
When this “leaky gut” happens, molecules can get inside the body that normally wouldn’t be transported through the intestinal cell wall. The cells that line the intestinal tract need fuel to continue their process of nutrient uptake. The preferred fuel for these cells is the amino acid glutamine, which can be obtained from proteins.
The small intestinal tract cells also require energy to maintain integrity of the cell wall, and production of energy requires healthy levels of vitamin B5. Mushrooms, cauliflower, sunflower seeds, corn, broccoli, and yogurt are concentrated sources of vitamin B5. The intestinal tract cells also require a number of vitamins, so adequate overall nutrition is necessary.
Learn how to deal with stress effectively. Research has shown that the intestine responds negatively to stress, during which the intestinal lining becomes leaky, absorption is less effective, and your body is unable to selectively take up the nutrients it needs.
Foods with a calming effect include herb teas, such as chamomile. Alcohol, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates, such as table sugar, should be avoided. Eating meals at regular times and in a relaxed environment can also help decrease stress.