“You are what you eat’ is only partly true. A more accurate way to describe it is ‘you are what you eat, digest, absorb and don’t excrete’.
In the modern western world, we rush around, eat poor quality processed food, don’t sleep enough, and stress about everything. This has a hugely negative impact on many of the systems of the human body including the digestive system.
In 2007 the British Society of Gastroenterology commissioned a systematic review, that was intended to draw together the evidence needed to fill the void created by the absence of a national framework or guidance for service provision for the management of patients with gastrointestinal and hepatic disorders.
When looking at the following facts, please consider that many of the figures are from 2004 and secondly, that many cases of symptoms or disease go unreported by people.
• About 1 in 6 admissions to hospital are for the primary diagnosis of gastrointestinal disease
• 1 in 6 main surgical procedures carried out in a hospital are carried out on the digestive system
• Dyspepsia (describes pain or discomfort in the upper GI tract) symptoms typically affect between 20 and 40% of the UK population, depending on the diagnostic criteria used.
The digestive system is an extremely important system.
Here are a couple of facts as to why we believe digestion should achieve more attention than what it currently does.
- The human digestive tract has as many neurons as the entire spinal cord
- All neurotransmitters that have been found in the brain are also found in the digestive system
- There are more bacteria in the gut than there are cells in the body – bacteria help you survive, synthesise vitamin K and metabolise food
- 75% of the body’s immunity is found in and around the digestive system
What’s The Digestive System & How Does It Function
So we have established that the brain is what initiates the digestive process, now it’s the responsibility of the mouth to do two primary things:
a) Mastication (increases the surface area of food)
b) Start the breakdown of carbohydrates via amylase being secreted from the salivary glands
Food then travels down the oesophagus ,enters the stomach where the next stage of digestion occurs. It is important to realise that the stomach is mainly a digestive organ and very few things are absorbed in it.
The exception to this will be vitamin B12, alcohol and things like aspirin. Protein is themain macronutrient that is digested in the stomach.
HCl(Hydrochloris acid) is crucial in order to sterilise our food. As a note, the stomach is the only part of the digestive system to have 3 layers of muscle where the rest of the system has 2 layers.
Food usually stays in the stomach for anything between 1-3 hours. This will largely depend on the size of meal, macronutrient density & level of stomach acid to name just a few variables. Food is then released into the first section of the small intestine, the duodenum.
It is here that protein digestion is finished, fats are being digested and where carbohydrate digestion is also completed.
The pancreas is also responsible for secreting enzymes that further break down protein and carbohydrates.The final working role of the pancreas with regards to digestion is to secrete bicarbonate to neutralize the acidic chime (liquid mixture of food and digestive juices) that is released from the stomach. It is known that the small intestine has a relatively neutral PH.
Optimal time for food to be broken down and absorbed in the small intestine is around 2 hours.
The remains of the digestive process then pass into the large intestine (colon) in a semi liquid form. The main function of the large intestine is to dehydrate it and form a more solid stool. Minimal absorption occurs in the large intestine. The only notable absorption will be water and electrolytes.
There are no absolutes here but it is considered that 10-12 hours is the average time that food spends in the large intestine before being excreted.
What Can Go Wrong?
As explained, the brain is responsible for initiating digestion. In the modern world we are constantly rushing. We rarely take time to sit and embrace the food that is in front of us. When we rush, we usually don’t take the time to chew our food either, which can lead to less surface area being achieved in the mouth, thus the stomach acid will have less area to work with, resulting in the small intestine having to work harder to achieve total breakdown of food & absorption of nutrients. It may sound obvious but the simplest way to improve your digestion would be to chew your food more.
In the mouth you do not usually find many problems, however a lack of saliva is certainly one, thus no initiation of the initial carbohydrate breakdown.
The most common issue with digestion is low stomach acid levels. If stomach acid
levels are low then the ability to break down protein is reduced. Also your ability to sterilize the bacteria in the food you eat is compromised.
Many people currently suffer with acid reflux symptoms, which they go to the doctor with and are prescribed antacids. This will lower stomach acid even further, which in turn will open up the body to potential infection and malabsorption of protein.
A much more likely cause of acid reflux in many people is low stomach acid, thus meaning food remains in the stomach too long.
It is worth mentioning that infections, deficiencies and disease will all come as a result of dysfunctional physiology. Of course there are people with genetic pre-disposal but in truth they make up a tiny percentage of the world’s population. We always like to say ‘Genetics load the gun and lifestyle pulls the trigger’.
How To Fix The Digestive System
The remove phase considers looking at any potential bacteria, infection, or food intolerance or allergy.
Replace stage is based around correcting deficiencies indigestion.
The repair stage focuses on addressing the damage to the digestive tract.
This stage focuses on repopulating the gut with good bacteria.