A healthy digestive system is essential for good health because it converts food into the raw materials that build and fuel our body’s cells.
The major functions of the digestive system are usually summarized in two words – digestion andabsorption. However these two words do not cover all processes of the GI tract. For the digestive system to start working we first need to place food in our mouth, or ingest it. This is a voluntary process we are in control of. The food then gets propelled from one organ to the next with the help of peristalsis – an involuntary muscle contraction and relaxation of each organ in the digestive system. The food is mechanically broken down in our mouth; the stomach is churning the food and prepares it for further degradation by enzymes. This mechanical breakdown of food refers to the physical fragmentation of food into smaller particles.
is the sequence of steps in which large food molecules are chemicallybroken down to their building blocks by enzymes.
is the transport of the end product of digestion to the blood or lymph. In order for absorption to occur, the digested foods must first enter the mucosal cells of the intestinal wall. The small intestine is the major absorptive site.
One way you can view the digestive system is to think of it as a “disassembly line” in which food is carried from one stage of its processing to the next, and its nutrients are made available to the cells in the body along the way. The digestive system, or the alimentary canal, is often considered an area that is outside the body.
The link between stress and digestion
The link between stress and digestion can be better understood when we realize that the digestive activity is mostly controlled by reflexes of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is also known as the fight or flight response, and it can produce testosterone. When we are stressed we also release the hormone cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. Stress shuts down the digestive function and so proper digestion cannot occur during acute periods of stress. Chronic stress has also been linked with digestive issues, as the digestive system cannot operate efficiently.
In Ayurveda the digestive system is often compared to a flame. If the digestive fire is week, proper digestion will be difficult. We must cultivate our digestive fire in order to optimize our digestion and metabolism.
How to improve digestion
There are many things we can do to rebuild back the digestive system.
Avoiding specific food sensitivities is the first step. The second step is avoiding combinations of foods that are problematic.
Alkaline juices from the mouth first digest carbohydrates, and acid juices from the stomach digest proteins. Eating the two foods together results in neutralization of the digestive juices so that the food takes much longer to digest. Since the digestive time is extended the chances of fermentation and putrefaction toxins being formed by the intestinal flora is increased proportionately. Fermentation and putrefaction increase the toxic load of the body and overburden the liver, and they can create an intestinal imbalance and gut dysbiosis. Proper food combining is a helpful tool that will speed up digestion and reduce the toxic load on the body.
Here are a few signs you might need to reset your digestive system:
- You experience belching, gas or bloated stomach
- You can’t lose weight around your stomach
- You have an inflammatory or autoimmune disease
- You are feeling off lately
- You feel better when you eat prebiotics
- You feel better when you eat soluble fiber
Optimizing the function of your digestive system will also lead to better mental, emotional and physical health and is so worth exploring further!
If you are interested in learning more about digestion and metabolism, and try a monthly meal plan designed especially to optimize digestion and metabolism, then make sure you check out my online program here. We start on September 10th.
The meal plan eliminates common food sensitivities, and offers proper food combining to speed up digestion and metabolism. It also contains over 30 gluten- and dairy-free recipes, shopping lists and daily emails with more information about what you can do to improve your digestion.
I am offering an EARLY BIRD price for all registrations made before August 1st; so take advantage of this price by registering now.
Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, 11th edition; Elaine N. Marieb
Eating Alive; Matsen