Digestion: The basics to help fuel your daily grind
With all the stress I have in my life, the last thing I thought I was effecting was my digestion. Hell, for the past few years I’ve completely shifted what I ate and how I thought about food. I thought I was doing a pretty damn good job of eating the right foods to provide my body the fuel I needed to perform optimally. Enter NTA and a wrench in my daily grind…I have come to the realization that over at least the past 2 years I have been “thriving” off of cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline).
Between CrossFit, running, hiking, biking, etc. I’ve worked out at least daily, if not multiple times a day, especially when training. Add on top of that getting slammed at work, running around like a crazy person trying to meet deadlines, and being a perfectionist with the inability to delegate responsibilities. Don’t even get me started on my house…I was definitely running on adrenaline throughout most days which were evident when I’d come home too drained to do ANYTHING…would curl up on the couch with some chips & guacamole, a glass of wine, and watch Friends until I went to bed.
Unfortunately for me, even though I have made most of my meals the past few years which I thought were nutrient dense, chances are I wasn’t absorbing the nutrients. FAN FUCKING TASTIC. We cannot digest food in a sympathetic (fight-or-flight/stressful) state as all the blood within our bodies is directed to other parts, specifically, our muscles and brain, ready to fight, instead of being directed our digestive system.
2017 is the year of a lot of changes for me. #1 priority was reducing my stress, I knew it had gotten out of control, but this whole digesting thing made me even more determined to manage it.
HOW IT ALL WORKS
Digestion all starts with our brains, when we see and smell our meals – that is what kick starts the processes within our bodies so that we can breakdown the food we are eating and absorb the nutrients. Without absorbing the nutrients, we AREN’T FUELING OUR BODIES! How can we expect to have all the energy we need to do what we want during the day?! Most importantly though, we need to be in a parasympathetic state (relaxed) in order to digest food. When we stop for a moment to appreciate and smell our food, we start salivating. Our saliva contains enzymes that start breaking down carbs, specifically starches, so it is important to take the time to chew food and mix it with our saliva so that the food starts to breakdown and be less of a burden on the rest of the digestion process.
At the same time we start salivating, hydrochloric acid (HCl) and pepsin is released into our stomach. Protein is broken down into amino acids within our stomachs by HCl and pepsin; HCl is not released when we are in a sympathetic state/stressed out. HCl also disinfects your stomach, including the food we consume so if there’s a little bacteria/pathogen it won’t make us sick. The optimal pH level of our stomach is between 1.5 and 3. If our food is not acidic, it will not flow through our digestive system. Instead, it’ll sit in our stomachs until it is forced through into our small intestines. While it sits in our stomachs: the proteins will putrefy, carbs will ferment, and fats will rancidify -> burp much?
Most of our nutrients are absorbed within our small intestines. The acidic food triggers 2 hormones into the bloodstream – secretin and cholecystokinin (CCK). Secretin stimulates the release of pancreatic juices from our pancreas, including sodium bicarbonate which raises the pH of the food to neutral (7.0) so it doesn’t burn the mucous lining of our small intestines and enzymes which continue breaking down proteins, carbs, and fats. CCK stimulates bile to be released from the gallbladder which emulsifies and absorbs fat. This all happens within the first part of your small intestine, the duodenum.
Once broken down, the food continues through the small intestine where the villi and microvilli lining our gut absorb the nutrients into the bloodstream. Whatever is not needed and absorbed, continues into the large intestine where, well you know, your poop is formed, but also more nutrients are absorbed/recycled. Before waste is formed, within the ascending colon of the large intestine, we start: recycling water, waste material which nourishes the cells within our colon, and convert nutrients to Vitamins K, B1, B2, B12 and butyric acid.
CHANGES I’VE MADE
Digestion is a NORTH to SOUTH process, any issues that occur in the beginning create a burden for our organs further down. Here are a few things I have started incorporating into my life to help fuel my body properly:
- RELAX – I know every meal is not realistic, but I make a conscious effort to eat at least eat 2 meals sitting down without any distractions (breakfast and dinner). I’ll fully admit, I usually do work through lunch, but all others I sit at the kitchen table.
- APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (ACV) – Before most meals (like 15 minutes) I take about a teaspoon of ACV to try to stimulate the release of HCl. If I am working from home, I will take ACV, but if I’m at a client or the office, I haven’t gotten to the point of taking a shot of it before lunch.
- BEET JUICE – Beet juice helps stimulate bile flow from the gallbladder. I’ve increased my fat consumption significantly over the past year so figured it wouldn’t hurt to add a shot of beet juice daily.
- BONE BROTH & COLLAGEN – In college I developed seasonal allergies and then in the past year, there’s some funky rash that developed around my mouth. Allergies/intolerances/sensitivities develop because undigested food is able to pass through the gut lining into our bloodstream. Bone broth and collagen help repair our gut lining. A healthy gut will prevent undigested foods from entering our bloodstream and therefore causing allergic reactions.
Do any of you suffer from digestion issues? Try incorporating some of the changes I’ve made and see if it makes a difference. Remember, none of this is a quick fix and consistency is key!