Everything You Need to Know about Digestion
So much depends on proper digestion and so much can go wrong when your digestive system isn’t working properly. It’s important to understand how your digestive system works, what it really does and how both good and poor digestion affects your health, weight, fat loss and muscle growth.
You don’t have to have a degree in physiology to get a working understanding of the digestion process or how to help optimize your own digestive system to help you feel great, lose weight and build lean, sleek muscle. Here’s what you really need to know.
How Your Body Digests Food
Your digestive system includes several different parts of the body, including your teeth, salivary glands, stomach, small and large intestines and liver. All of these parts (and many others) work together to complete a process that takes as long as 50-60 hours in most women.
Digestion starts in the mouth. When you place a forkful of food in your mouth, your teeth begin to pulverize it so that it can be combined with enzyme-loaded saliva and swallowed. The enzymes in saliva are enough to start the digestion of starches, which is why starchy foods like bread give you such a quick (but short) burst of energy. Proteins and fats, however, have to move on to the stomach to be fully digested.
Once the food is swallowed, it is moved through your esophagus to the stomach. There, it is broken down even further by the acid and enzymes in your stomach. Protein is broken down next, but fats take the longest to digest as they also need bile (produced by the liver) in order to be broken down enough to be absorbed.
Once the foods have been thoroughly mixed with the digestive enzymes needed to process them, the foods are moved on to the small intestine where the second part of digestion takes place. The first task is to take the food in and break it down; the second is to allow the nutrients to be absorbed into the blood stream.
This happens in the section of the small intestine called the duodenum, where tiny, finger-like projections called microvilli grab onto the micronutrients and absorb them through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream. Anything left over (like fiber) is passed on to the large intestine to be gotten rid of as waste.
The Importance of a Healthy Digestive System
When your digestive system is damaged or sluggish, it impacts many areas of your health and your body.
One of the most common digestive issues is a slowing of the entire process. This can happen when you eat too much at one time, when you eat a lot of processed foods (which contain ingredients that the body can’t metabolize) and when your digestive tract (small and large intestine) are bogged down with built-up toxins and waste.
When your digestion slows down like this several things happen. Many of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are destroyed by your stomach acid before they can be absorbed. When this happens you end up losing a lot of the nutrients you are eating, even if you’re eating a lot of fresh, whole foods.
Another problem is with nutrient absorption. If you have a great deal of toxins and stored waste in your digestive tract, the microvilli aren’t able to absorb the nutrients that do make it through the stomach to the duodenum. There is simply too much build-up creating a barrier between the microvilli and the food, so they can’t “grab onto” the nutrients. This also happens when you have undiagnosed Celiac disease or a gluten allergy. In that case, the microvilli become flattened, which decreases the surface area of the microvilli to the extent that they absorb fewer and fewer nutrients. In the case of toxin and waste build-up, the result is vitamin deficiency. In the case of Celiac disease, people can actually begin to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition.
In both cases, vitamin deficiency leads to a compromised immune system, which responds with inflammation. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many of the most prevalent diseases in this country, including obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, stroke and dementia.
A lack of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants also means fatigue, poor memory and mental focus, impaired ability to fight illness (even cancer), the inability to build muscle and even trouble with losing fat. A lack of many antioxidants will cause an imbalance in hormones that influence fat loss, such as cortisol and leptin, making it very hard to lose stored body fat and very easy to pile on more. There are also many key vitamins and minerals that influence how much muscle you can build, how quickly and how soon you recover from a strength-training workout.
As you can see, healthy digestion is extremely important to your overall health and fat loss/body shaping goals. You may find that correcting a sluggish or overwhelmed digestive tract
is exactly what you need to finally get your energy back, lose that fat around your belly and start seeing better definition all over your body.
How to Help Your Digestive System Function Optimally
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to heal your digestive system all on your own.
One of the best things you can do is identify any potential sensitivities or allergies. Gluten-sensitivity and lactose intolerance can really knock your digestive system out of whack, but eliminating those foods can fix the problems within just a couple of weeks.
If you suspect that you might have a problem with gluten or dairy, eliminate them from your diet for two weeks. Then reintroduce them one at a time. If you begin to feel fatigued, nauseous, gassy, have diarrhea or constipation, stop eating that food and you may want to see an allergist to determine if you’re sensitive to it or actually allergic.
The next best thing you can do is to eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet. Processed foods such as chips and other snacks, fast food and packaged meals are loaded with unhealthy fats, preservatives, nitrates, pesticides and other nasty things. That’s in addition to the incredible amounts of sodium, sugar and calories. They have nothing to offer you but more stored fat and more toxic build-up in your digestive tract.
Next, load up your diet with the healthiest, most nutrient-dense whole foods. That means tons of fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organic dairy, eggs and meat and healthy oils like coconut and olive oil. Eating fresh, whole foods provides you with enough of the macronutrients you need (protein, carbs and fat) and also ensures that you can absorb the micronutrients in that food.
Juicing is one great way to get plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits into your diet. Fresh plant-foods, especially eaten raw and whole, are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Juicing is an easy way to get plenty of those, even when you don’t have a lot of time to cook or eat a sit-down meal.
Fresh vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds are also important to a healthy digestive system because of the fiber they contain. First, that fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which keeps your blood sugar within healthy ranges and prevents high levels of insulin and cortisol from being released. Once all of the nutrients have been absorbed from fiber-rich foods and the remaining fiber proceeds to your large intestine, that fiber actssomething like a whisk broom, sweeping away toxins, waste build-up and fatty deposits and carrying them out of the body.
Another key to healthy digestion is getting plenty of water each day. Without proper hydration, your liver and kidneys can’t function and aren’t able to produce the digestive enzymes you need. Dehydration will also cause you to become constipated, which leads to waste build-up and compromised microvilli.
So eliminate any foods to which you might be allergic or sensitive, get rid of the unhealthy foods in your diet, fill it with fresh, whole foods and get plenty of water each day. By taking these steps, you can get your digestive system functioning the way it was designed.
You’ll be amazed at the difference these things can make in just a couple of weeks. Your skin will clear up and take on a healthy glow. Your energy level will skyrocket. You’ll start to see stubborn fat finally melting away. You’ll begin to see more definition in your muscles. You’ll be more focused at work or school. The list of benefits just goes on and on.
Forget about “fat-burning” pills and supplements, “X-Hour energy drinks” and other unhealthy or just plain ineffective solutions. By giving your body what it needs and eliminating the things that work against it, you can transform your health and your body naturally and safely.
I use two supplements to make sure my digestive track stays “healthy”:
1 – DIGESTIVE ENZYMES – needed for every chemical reaction that takes place in the human body, digestive enzymes become a MUST HAVE in your supplement cupboard. NO MINERAL, VITAMIN OR HORMONE CAN WORK WITHOUT ENZYMES. Enzymes digest food, help the immune system work and build minerals into bone.
Minerals make up enzymes and enzymes are needed for the proper digestion of food. If food cannot be digested, its nutrients cannot be absorbed and used.
2 – PROBIOTICS – needed to heal the digestive track, probiotics OR good bacteria, easily become my one of my TOP supplements I take on a daily basis. Probiotics replenish the healthy bacterial flora in the intestinal tract that is destroyed by prescribed antibiotics or antibiotics that are fed to food we eat.
Here is where I get my supplements mentioned above. I actually took them to my Naturopath and she said they are pretty good!!