Digestion is Fundamental

One of the body’s fundamental foundations of health is digestion. Proper digestion is just as important as the food that we put into our bodies. We are what we absorb and assimilate. Digestion needs to be working properly to get the most out of our food.

Let’s talk about how the digestion process should function. Where does digestion start? The mouth maybe? It actually starts in the brain, with the thought, sight and smell of food. The brain sends signals and we begin to salivate, and gastric juices begin to fill the stomach. Pancreatic enzymes are released to ready the stomach for digestion, absorption and assimilation of the meal we are about to eat.

As we chew, the teeth break food down into small particles mixing with saliva and its enzymes. Downstream the stomach is being primed with digestive enzymes. As we swallow, the food passes into the esophagus and becomes the bolus. The bolus inches down the esophagus into the stomach where the stomach acid and digestive enzymes denatures and breaks down the food. The process is chemical but also mechanical as the stomach churns physically moving the food with the gastric secretions. The resulting denatured food and secretions becomes the chyme.

One of the many jobs of the liver is to produce bile which is stored and secreted by the gallbladder. When fats are consumed, cholecystokinin signals the release of bile into the duodenum, the first section of the small intestines. The bile mixes with dietary fats and emulsifies them, making it possible to digest  and assimilate them into your body’s cells and tissues.

The pancreas secretes hormones such as insulin and glucagon, but it also secretes additional digestive enzymes as well as sodium bicarbonate to raise the pH of the chyme to neutral after it passes into the duodenum of the small intestines.

The small intestines are where vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, fats and bile salts are absorbed. The small intestines also release mucus, secretin and cholecystokinin.

The large intestines are the place of water absorption and the uptake of any left-over vitamins and minerals. The flora of the large intestines produces vitamins K2, B1,B2,B12 and butyric acid. The large intestines also are responsible for the elimination of fecal matter.

This is the process when everything is functioning correctly. If there is disruption in the process, you can experience symptoms such as belching, bloating, gas, diarrhea, gurgling, constipation, undigested food in stools and chronic inflammation. Conditions such as autoimmunity and depression have a link with digestive dysfunction. There are many scenarios  that can lead to digestive dysfunction. We will examine a few here.

  • Since digestion begins in the brain, it’s important to be in a parasympathetic state which is dominant when you are in a rest and digest state. The fight or flight mode of the sympathetic state is not ideal for digestive function. If you don’t take the time to chew your food properly, your brain doesn’t get the message to trigger the proper digestive processes for the foods you’re eating. The production of saliva is not triggered. The break-down of starches by salivary amylase doesn’t begin and the pancreatic enzyme amylase can’t effectively break down starches which can feed candida overgrowth further down the digestive track. Improperly digested food can putrefy, and ferment causing damage to the intestinal lining contributing to intestinal permeability and autoimmunity.
  • Stomach acid plays a major role in our digestion. Factors that can inhibit stomach acid production are stress, excess refined sugar and carbohydrates, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies, and excess alcohol consumption. If there isn’t enough stomach acid in the stomach, the pyloric sphincter doesn’t receive the signal to open to allow the chyme to move from the stomach to the duodenum. Stuck in the stomach, the chyme begins to rot, causing gas and pressure to build up which can cause a back flow into the esophagus, burning the delicate tissue.
  • Gallbladder issues can happen due to the consumption of bad fats as well as low- fat diets. Low fat diets don’t stimulate the release of bile and it becomes thick and sludgy similarly bad fats will have the same effect.  The gallbladder tries to contract but is unable to release the viscous bile and gallstones and inflammation can develop. Undigested fats can rancidify in the colon and stress the liver leaving you deficient in fatty acids.

This is not an exhaustive discussion of digestive dysfunction. However, these examples show  how our lifestyle and behaviors can have a direct influence on our digestive health. Here are a few suggestions for how you can improve your digestive and over- all health:

  • The practice of mindfulness will allow you to be in a rest and digest mode as you eat your meals. 
    1. Take a few slow deep breaths 
    2. Eat your meals without distractions
    3. Express gratitude for your meal
    4. Enjoy and taste each and every bite
    5. Eat slowly and thoroughly chew your food
  • Include plenty of the following therapeutic foods in your diet
    • Pineapple, apple cider vinegar and papaya  to aid in digestion
    • Beets, radish and dandelion root to support the gallbladder and liver
    • Beets and radishes can act as a laxative
    • Cabbage juice for healing stomach and duodenum ulcers
    • Bone broth, ginger and okra soothe and heal the digestive tract
    • Chard, kale and spinach for fiber
    • Fermented foods as probiotics
    • Water to aid as a stool softener, and elimination
  • Movement and Meditation
    • Relieves stress
    • Moderate exercise keeps digestion moving without causing digestive distress 

Digestive health is key to feeling your best. Digested dysfunction can be quite debilitating. Try out the practice of mindfulness and these therapeutic foods. If you are needing guidance and support  through nutritional therapy I would love to work with you!


Wright,J. Lenard, L. (2001) Why stomach acid is good for you; natural relief from heartburn, indigestion, reflux and GERD. M Evans, Lantham, MD

Sanfilippo, D. (2016) Practical paleo. Victory Belt Publishing. Las Vegas, NA

Ballantyne, S.(2017) Paleo principles. Victory Belt Publishing. Las Vegas. NA

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