Last week we talked about exactly how your digestive system should work plus gave you the homework to pay close attention to your own digestive system—if you haven’t read that part of the series, or you need a little refresher, you can click here to read it.
In this article, we want to talk about where digestive issues start. The digestive system is a complex part of the body. It has a lot of organs and it compounds upon itself to absorb all the nutrients we need—dis-ease within the system works the same way.
Where Things Go Wrong in the Digestive System
As complex as is it, there are only two main ways trouble starts in the digestive system. For most people, there can be something happening in one part of the body that causes a cascade of issues, and for other people the issues actually come from what they eat.
In the Body
Let me draw your attention to two important things to remember about the digestive system.
That different macronutrients are broken down in different parts of the digestive system (1) and that different types of secretions break down different types of nutrients (2)—carbohydrates in the saliva, proteins by hydrochloric acid in the stomach, and fats are emulsified by bile in the duodenum.
A lot of common digestive issues start when these macronutrients aren’t properly broken down before they enter the next stage of digestion.
In the upper GI tract, you have the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. At the enter and exit of the stomach, there are sphincters that open and close to allow food through, and these sphincters are activated by specific chemicals.
The sphincter at the top of the stomach, or the bottom of the esophagus is opened and closed by a correctly balanced level of gut flora and hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
Not producing enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach is a really common problem—in fact, it’s the main cause of acid reflux. You see, when you don’t produce enough of the acid, that top sphincter stays open, so the esophagus is exposed to the (very acidic) juices in your stomach when you do start to digest your food—note, this is where people tend to take antacids, which can help with occasional instances, but for chronic acid reflux should not be recommended.
Because protein is broken down in this stage of digestion by the hydrochloric acid, it’s possible that your body isn’t able to completely transform the proteins in your diet to their respective amino acids before they move to the lower part of your digestive system.
That means undigested proteins will move through your bowels, offering no additional energy—actually it takes more energy because the intestines will work to break down and pull nutrients from the protein later, which could cause issues like constipation, gas, and bloating in the lower GI, but the actual issue starts as an inactive part of the upper GI.
If undigested proteins or carbohydrates have now made it into your duodenum, the job of neutralizing the stomach acid and emulsifying fats can be stifled because the bile released from the gallbladder and the enzymes from the pancreas can have a more difficult time reaching the fats mixed with the undigested protein or absorbing the right things into the portal vein to the liver.
When undigested proteins make their way into the bloodstream, the body can create antibodies that attack the undigested foods, this is how allergies to old favorite foods are formed.
Additionally, it isn’t uncommon that the body doesn’t produce enough healthy bile to break down all the fat—this is especially common in people that don’t eat a balanced diet with healthy fats or who are working with a sluggish liver.
The gallbladder is the sort of organ that if you don’t use it, you lose it. In this case, that means that without consistent, good fats in your body, the bile in your gallbladder isn’t released and it can crystalize—this is how gallstones are formed.
Fat is absolutely crucial for our bodies—it is our main energy source, how our body lubricates, how we create new hormones and how we remove old ones—so we need to make sure that we’re able to properly absorb it.
Without the proper means of breaking down fats, we see issues like gas, bloating, greasy stools, and chronically dry skin.
What you Consume
We won’t harp on this one—chances are if you’re here, you’re well aware that the food you eat makes a big difference in your digestive system and you probably have a pretty healthy diet.
We do want to draw your attention to a one really important thing here though.
In the digestive article, I mentioned that after fat is emulsified, the broken down macronutrients are sent through the portal vein straight through the liver. That means it doesn’t go through the extra filtration system in the intestines. I hate to be a fear-monger but most pesticides are fat soluble (I think you can guess where I’m going with this). The emulsified fats take those pesticides with them (woosh) straight to the liver. Now the liver is taxed with the extra job of removing those pesticides… but the liver has literally 200 other jobs to do, so it’s possible that it doesn’t get all the pesticides out the first time, or that it doesn’t fully do another job that it has. Pesticides in your bloodstream or stored in fat in the body can be problematic in the long term, causing DNA disruption along with cellular malformation.
These are just a few examples of very common issues that come up within the digestive system. There are countless symptoms of digestive issues and these give you a good place to start ruling out more serious issues—And since we know that digestive issues can cause a whole slew of other things in the body, this is where we always start.
Luckily, it’s the body is resilient and there are ways to help yourself heal if you are suffering with chronic issues. Here’s how you can work with your body to keep your digestive system working the best as possible.
6 Ways Keep your Digestive System Healthy
There are some generalizations that we can make about your digestive system but truthfully, everyone is different. If you’re having chronic digestive issues, we suggest talking to your naturopath about the specifics. That being said, here are a few ways to keep your body in check:
1—Watch your Diet
We’re not telling you to change anything… yet. If you’re working with chronic digestive issues look at what you’re eating and try to identify where the first breakdown is. The solution might be as easy as chewing your food more or eating your protein at a different time of the day.
2—Make the Changes You Know Will Help
It’s hard, I know. But if you know that cheese with bread makes you sluggish (hello) or that a steak for dinner flares up your acid reflux, try to limit your intake of those things. There isn’t a magic pill to take that actually heals your digestive system—everyone’s body is different so find what works for you and stick to it.
3—Stimulate and Balance with Sanandi
One of the biggest indications for uncomfortable digestion starts with sluggish movement in a part of the system. Our Herbal Digestive Extract is perfect to balance the digestive system with 25 drops in warm water just after each meal.
It boosts healthy bile creation and secretion with herbs like dandelion while bitter herbs of wormwood and artichoke help to stimulate secretions in the upper GI.
Mint and ginger make an appearance to soothe any indigestion that bubbles forth while milk thistle and burdock get to protecting and stimulating your liver. With continued use, aloe and calendula to fortify the mucosal lining throughout the whole digestive system.
Our bodies have a finite amount of energy and we can’t break down pesticides so we have to push them out through our detoxification channels. Help your liver out by focusing on organic when you can. If you can’t afford it or it isn’t available where you are, try to find organic meat and dairy and do your best to eat whole foods.
We don’t say this lightly and the detox we suggest is very simple—only veggies for at least a week. No caffeine, dairy, sugar, meat, or wheat. If you can eat soup for dinner and drink a smoothie for breakfast, that’s wonderful. Give your liver a little break from anything heavy and you’ll find yourself able to realign in no time.
6—Don’t Overdo It
Sometimes we start out with a manageable issue and we end up reading every blog and doctor’s article, there are 10 over the counter medications on the nightstand, the issue gets worse, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Take a step back, try to identify where the breakdown is in your health, and then start down the path to rectify the issue. If you need help, seek it out. Talk to a naturopath or a nutritionist and align your health goals with the way your optimal body works.
Do you have any tips for keeping your digestive system healthy? Let us know in the comments below.