So, I’ve wanted to talk about the gut for quite some time, but it’s such a big topic that I didn’t know how to approach it. I wanted to start a semi series where I talk about different topics pertaining to the gut, and I think it’s important to first understand the process of eating, and the path that it goes throughout your body to be disposed as waste.
The #1 hyped up word is the “microbiome” and that is important, and it impacts everything about our health. You probably have heard that the gut is the second brain, and all of this is true, but I wanted to start earlier in the process. The microbiome bacteria is in the large intestine, but the food must first go through our esophagus, stomach, and then the small intestine. If you are having gastrointestinal distress, it might be in one of these areas as well.
I made a post on instagram earlier in the year about the issues that I’ve been having with intense bloating, and while I don’t have total healing, I have learned so much about my body and how to heal. I’ve had chronic constipation since I was a child, and it’s just been a long and terrible process of figuring all of this out. I don’t say terrible to be dramatic. It’s legit just terrible. LOL!!
I could tell you all the things that I’m doing, but I genuinely don’t think that it will be all that helpful for your personal GI journey, but it is multifactorial as I’m sure all of ours are. I think when we have severe GI issues, we jump straight to this BIG issues that could be wrong getting colonoscopies and such. I think that we first need to address some low hanging fruit before going that route. Instead of going into all of the things for you to do which I do feel are valuable, I want to talk about the anatomy first, and then the next post I’ll go more into the microbiome, how to make yours healthier, why it might be bad to begin with, and how to work towards normal GI function. There are going to be small parts of this pathway that I’m going to leave out just for keeping it simple.
When you walk into a room and smell food, you immediately start the process of digesting through salivating. Once you start to eat and begin chewing, you release salivary enzymes. There is an enzyme for each macronutrient that you consume to break it down into smaller particles for digestion. We have lingual lipase for the breakdown of fatty acids, and amylase for the breakdown of carbs.
Tip #1: Chew your food so that it can be easier for smaller particles to go through and digest better
Once the food moves from the esophagus into the stomach, the parietal cells produce hydrochloric acid. This acid is INTENSE. It’s very very acidic, and it’s very important. The lining of the gut wall has bicarb which is alkaline (basic) so that it protects the acid from burning through our GI lining. We need this acid to be able to break down proteins.
The proteins are broken down by combining pepsiogen and the hydrochloric acid to form pepsin.
Tip #2: If you have low protein on a general CBC then this could mean that you do not have enough hydrochloric acid.
Hcl acid can be impacted by things such as excessive antibiotic use, proton pump inhibitors (such as Omeprazole) and Tums. If you are someone that takes Omeprazole, and start presenting with GI disruption (diarrhea or constipation) and possibly anxiety and depression, then it’s worthwhile to look at this medication. It might be worth it to try to reduce the foods that give you acid reflux VS taking the medication to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach that’s vital for other functions.
When you have a low amount of acid, you also can get some different autoimmune disorders, and a lack of absorption of B12 which could lead to anemia. You can quickly see how these things start stacking up, and you might start with Omeprazole, and end up on Citalopram for anxiety which lowers lipido and causes weight gain, Vitamin B12 and iron supplementation due to anemia, lack of energy and disruption of proper GI motility.
From the stomach, the food moves into the small intestine after the creation of gastric juices called chyme moving it forward. There is a valve at this point, and if there is a valve dysfunction then this could be where you get a hiatal hernia or the acid goes back upstream causing discomfort. The small intestine has three components that work to extract nutrients from the food. Those 3 components are:
The duodenum extracts fat soluble vitamins (A,E,D,K) and breaks down fat. The jejunum is where we have 90% absorption of the food, and the ileum is where we have the bile salts.
The small intestine is also where you have peristalsis which is just simply the movement that you feel while you’re eating preparing your food to move into your large intestine and then to be excreted.
Tip #3: The more that you chew the less energy your body is having to put forth to do peristalsis to move the food into your small intestine. You want to eat food that soils, but before it’s soiled ;) If the food never soils, then it’s just going to be as you see it on the shelf in your large intestine, which is OBVIOUSLY not ideal for moving it through your colon.
There are hormones that are on the lining of your small intestine and your stomach that tell your body that you are hungry or full (leptin / ghrelin) and there are many different ways to manipulate these hormones (eating enough and eating higher fiber being two keys). These hormones also creates gastric juices to move into stool and if leptin levels are low due to not enough calories, then you will experience gastroparesis (slow motility).
The other organs that work in your small intestine are your liver, pancreas, and gallbladder which are all intrinsically related to the process of digestion, as well as the enteric nervous system which connects your brain stem to your digestive functions. This is your parasympathetic nervous system that you may have learned in school as “rest and digest”.
Tip #4: Allow your body to rest and digest as you are eating. Don’t eat while standing. Chew as much as possible, and of course, try to keep cortisol low and sleep abundant.
As I continue writing this blog, there are many different avenues that I keep wanting to take it and write now would be the pathway of the hormonal functions that occur when your cortisol is elevated. Your cortisol has different amounts throughout the day that are normal. In the mornings it peaks, and is lowest in the middle of the night. Imagine being stressed out late at night and eating a meal high in sugar. LAWD JESUS THE DIGESTIVE TERROR. hahaha! It keeps you wide awake due to that adrenaline and releases even MORE glucose to take care of that fight or flight going on.
Our bodies are very smart (much smarter than we are), and all of this at the end of the day affects disease processes. It’s NOT NOT NOT simply calories in VS calories out for health or weight, and I think it’s important to start learning the intrinsic nature at which our body works.
I feel so empowered after learning so much about the gut over the past year, and I will continue to write about different parts of this system and things to help as we keep strollin through the colon ;) STAY TUNED!