Digestion 101 - Simple Tips to Improve its Efficacy
Did you know that poor digestion could be the cause of your headaches, skin problems, and/or menstrual discomforts? Abuse of the stomach may also be directly related to arthritis, heart attacks, allergies, impotence and cancer. Most people are familiar with the common symptoms of a sluggish digestion: these include gas, bloating, belching, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, heartburn, constipation, ulcers and a general feeling of uneasiness. However, less people are aware of the severity of not maintaining a healthy digestive system.
Dr. John Matsen, a naturopathic doctor and author of the book Eating Alive – Prevention Through Good Digestion, believes “the malfunctioning digestive system may result in almost every disease known to mankind.” He has helped thousands of patients with numerous complaints, and has successfully reversed chronic disease in scores of individuals, by simply improving the effectiveness of their digestion.
Human beings are meant to thrive, and in order to do so we need to be well nourished. Food is where we get the important minerals, vitamins, amino acids and other goodies that support our structure and provide us with energy. Health would be guaranteed provided people eat a complete, whole food diet. But choosing the right foods is not always easy, or enough. Our body has to be able to properly use, or assimilate, the nutrients that we are feeding it. The stomach has a big job to do, and many people take it for granted and, because of this, are not receiving the maximum health benefits they are entitled to.
I would like to share with you a few very simple suggestions based on scientific facts and the physiology of the body that, if followed regularly, will send your digestion soaring and keep you in a state of good health – or bring you back there if you’ve managed to lose you way.
1. Chew Chew Chew Your Food!
Chewing food is extremely important for more than just keeping the teeth strong. Firstly, the digestion of carbohydrates begins in the mouth by the secretions of the salivary glands. If you chew on a green pea long enough it will actually start to taste sweet. This is because the starch is being broken down into a simple sugar by your saliva. So, any cooperation and effort on your part will be greatly appreciated by the stomach, as this will ease its job that much more.
Secondly, the more proteins are chewed, the smaller the pieces entering the stomach. The smaller the protein pieces, the more the food’s surface area will be open to the action of the hydrochloric acid, which begins its digestion. This will put less strain on the pancreas as well, because it’s the job of the pancreas to make an enzyme that breaks down protein particles not already broken down in the stomach.
Lastly, chewing allows you to eat slower, thus giving more time for the stomach to signal to the brain that it’s no longer hungry. This helps prevent overeating, one of the worst enemies to your digestive system and your total health.
I used to sing this song to my son during meal times if I noticed that he was swallowing too soon. It’s based on the famous children’s tune called Row Row Row Your Boat.
Chew Chew Chew your food
All that’s in your mouth
That’s what teeth were made for
To help you stomach out
2. Avoid Drinking While Eating!
You may have heard this at some point in your life but may not really understand why it’s useful. Let’s take a look at this idea in detail. When ingesting proteins or fats, the body signals parietal cells in the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid (also known as Hcl). Carbohydrates also need Hcl but they require less of it since their digestion begins in the mouth. Hcl is crucial to proper digestion, and without enough of it, one can experience symptoms of gas, bloating and discomfort after large meals.
Stress can stimulate Hcl output. Over consuming food decreases Hcl production over time. Drinking with meals dilutes Hcl. This creates problems because it takes that much longer for the food consumed to pass through the digestive system. Slower digestion means any undigested food has more time to putrefy and ferment. Under these circumstances, there is much more opportunity for bacteria and harmful parasites to exist. Yeast and other beasties feed off of undigested particles in the gastro-intestinal tract, and then multiply so long as they are given fuel to do so.
In order to rid our bodies of these bad critters, we want to ensure that the food we eat is passing through us swiftly. One of the easiest ways to do this is by allowing our Hcl to work at the highest concentration possible, and by not diluting it. If it is absolutely impossible for you to eat without drinking, you may take tiny sips of room temperature water. Otherwise, do your best to drink a half hour to fifteen minutes before meals and wait until at least one half hour to one and a half hours after a meal to begin drinking again. When I implemented this recommendation, my symptoms were gone in two days. Try it, it might work for you too!
3. Never Eat if Feeling Stressed!
Something distinct happens to our bodies whenever we’re overcome with stress, and the only thing that can be done to correct this is to remove the stressor. There are two parts to everyone’s nervous system – the parasympathetic and the sympathetic – the latter is directly involved in a process you’ve most likely heard of called “fight or flight”, which is the body’s natural reaction to danger. Certain things are characteristic of what the body goes through in order to prepare itself for this so-called danger, which may in reality be nothing more serious than drinking a cup of coffee.
The effects are as follows: first, the endocrine glands release a hormone called adrenaline, which activates the liver to release stored glycogen to use as energy in response to emergencies. This glycogen becomes glucose in the blood stream and this creates a condition of elevated blood sugar levels, which can lead to the onset of adult diabetes and hypoglycemia if this pattern continues for too long.
Another reaction is that when threatened, one’s cardiovascular system expresses an increased heart rate and blood pressure. Changes in blood flow patterns include taking blood away from the digestive system – thus decreasing digestion and kidney function – to put it into the skeletal muscles, getting them ready to either face the fear or flee the situation.
However, most of us are stressed for reasons other than those requiring us to physically fight or take flight and this causes a surplus of energy is us that, if unused or unspent, can turn inwards to wreak havoc on our very own cells. Not a pretty picture by any definition. Yet scores of people continue to exhaust their bodies repeatedly because many are not even aware that they are feeling stressed to begin with.
My advice is to take your time to fully enjoy and savour each meal, being conscious of your emotions and surroundings. Do your best to live in the moment, and be as fully relaxed as possible when consuming food at any time of the day.
Hopefully I’ve given enough information to keep some of you thinking for a while and have been able to convince at least one of you to take the digestive process seriously. Listen to your body always! It is so simple to prevent and reverse nagging health challenges.
Our bodies want to be healthy and well. It’s natural for them to remain in a state of balance and homeostasis. It’s our job to give our bodies the tools they need in order to do this. The first tool is awareness, the second is practicing good eating habits and working toward positive lifestyle changes. The final tool is in believing that your body can and will be in its best shape possible!