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Most people think Digestion starts in the mouth, but it actually starts in the brain before you’ve even taken that first bite. In fact, at just the thought of food, you begin producing saliva which has digestive enzymes that break food down. Understanding this along with the other intricate details of how digestion works, should be the beginning of any health journey.  

Good digestion leads the way for a healthy gut. And all health begins in the gut.

The obvious fact is, we need food to live. But it’s digestion that provides us with the nutrients and raw materials our bodies need to live and function properly.

“Every cell of the body depends on the digestive system to provide the nutrients it needs for structure and function.” 

Food matters. There is zero doubt about that. Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

However, taking this a step further, you could be eating the healthiest, best quality, most nutrient dense foods on the planet, but if you’re not digesting them well you’re not getting the benefits from them. 

Digestion must be working properly to get nutrients in. We also need the proper nutrients to have a well functioning digestive system. It’s a beautiful balance once it’s working properly. But without coming back to this foundation and only addressing symptoms like heartburn and constipation, you’ll never achieve optimal health. And your health will continue deteriorating.

The conditions of a dysfunctional digestive system doesn’t stop at the obvious ones. Other systemic conditions that have roots in digestive dysfunction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Allergies
  • Depression
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chemical sensitivities
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease


And not only that, but digestive drugs themselves are associated with many more conditions. 

  • Kidney disease
  • Bone fractures
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Dementia
  • Stomach cancer
  • Liver disease 

One fumble in the digestion process means food isn’t broken down, nutrients don’t get into your blood and tissues, your gut goes haywire, and your immune system rebels. 

We need optimum digestion to keep our body healthy in every way. 

How to Improve Your Digestion 

Digestive problems can be painful, embarrassing and frustrating. But making even a few small changes can make a huge difference in your digestive health. 

Stress, food sensitivities, how you eat, low stomach acid, pancreatic function, stored trauma are all possible explanations why your digestion isn’t working correctly. 





Stress Management

Digestion happens when we are in a Parasympathetic state. This is our “rest and digest” state. The flip side of that is our Sympathetic state, known as your “fight or flight”. Both of these states are part of our enteric nervous system, which also regulates digestion. 

In fact, you have neurons (like in your brain) that line the whole digestive tract. And when these neurons get the message that food is being eaten, they send messages to your brain to start intestinal contractions. 

But if your body is in the Sympathetic fight or flight state, your body will not get the memo that its time to digest and sweep things along the digestive tract and digestion will stall. When digestion stalls, you will feel it.

Being in a sympathetic state also blocks the signals to let your stomach, liver, gallbladder and pancreas know it’s time to start releasing the digestive juices necessary like stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile that are required to break down food.

Stress can cause digestive issues like spasms in the esophagus, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, low stomach acid (which is often misdiagnosed as high stomach acid), and GERD. 

While working on the longer-term solutions to chronic stress, there are some immediate things you can do to improve digestion right away. We need to activate our Parasympathetic nervous system before meals to give our body the chance to produce the enzymes needed to break food down and send signals to keep the digestive process moving throughout your entire GI tract. 

  1. Take a few deep breaths right before eating
  2.  Sit down while eating and don’t multitask 
  3. Take smaller bites and chew your food more thoroughly 
  4. Don’t eat on the go 




Address Low Stomach Acid

Low stomach acid, also known as hypochlorhydria, is a major cause of poor digestion. We NEED stomach acid to digest our food properly and it has several roles:

  • Kills harmful bacteria you ingest
  • Activates pepsin, an enzyme released by your stomach to break down food
  • Stimulates the pancreas to release more enzymes
  • Prevents food from backing up into your esophagus
  • Breaks down proteins into amino acids (raw materials needed to build neurotransmitters and repair and rebuild tissue)

There are many symptoms of low stomach acid including: diarrhea, gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation, hair loss, brittle fingernails, bad breath, belching.

Long term use of PPI’s is one of the worst offenders of poor health. This is one of the most dangerous ways we suppress symptoms without getting to the root cause. 

Work toward getting to the root cause. Until then, you’re body will continue to suffer.

Functional Tests To Discover Digestive Dysfunction

Food Sensitivity Testing

If you’re not digesting food properly or experiencing digestive symptoms, chances are high you have food sensitivities. These are different from food allergies. Food sensitivities are immune-mediated reactions that are often delayed after eating making it really hard to pinpoint which foods you’re ractive too.

Common reactions to food sensitivities include headaches, bloating, skin issues, diarrhea, chronic cough, runny nose, or fatigue. 

Food sensitivities are a symptom, not a root cause. But to support digestion and repair your gut, pinpointing and removing offending foods reduce inflammation and keep your body out of a chronic state of stress. 

Everytime you eat a food yoru sensitive too, it’s a stress on your body. And your body responds by going into that Sympathetic state which automatically impairs digestion. Knowing what foods create this reaction allows us to remove them temporarily so we can work on restoring function so your body can begin digesting foods again the way you are designed to do. 

GI Map Testing 

The GI Map is another powerful gut test I run on every client. It gives us the most relevant markers for understanding how your digestion is affecting your health and gives us a more complete review of your digestive health than tests conventional doctors offer. 

It helps us discover:

  • If you have any pathogenic parasites, bacterial, viral or yeast infections
  • Your levels of beneficial bacteria (and whether you have enough of the “good guys”)
  • How well your producing digestive enzymes 

Running a GI Map allows us to “look under the hood” and find anything that’s keeping your gut stuck. 

From chronic health problems like thyroid issues, hormone imbalances and IBS to digestive issues like constipation or bloating, there are answers that reside in the gut and the GI Map gives us answers! 

Conclusion 

Instead of using medications to suppress your symptoms, put the effort in improving your own digestive function.

Imagine all the ways your body’s cells, organs and tissues would work better when they’re under less stress and able to take in nutrients more efficiently. Suppressing symptoms don’t take that stress away, it just manifests in a different way. Remember the list above (anxiety, autoimmune diseases, etc..)

“Digestion needs to be front and center.” 

Running functional labs that can help us identify and eliminate the things (food sensitivities, pathogens, etc) getting in the way of the health your body wants to achieve. Organisms in the digestive tract such as bacteria, parasites and viruses can be the underlying cause of many digestive conditions, food sensitivities and chronic illnesses. 

Until you look under the hood and remove the dysfunction at the root, you’ll keep chasing symptoms.  

If you’re sick of treating symptoms and ready to explore the world of functional gut testing and get to the root cause once and for all, let’s talk! 

SOURCES

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32294476/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991651/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31019676/

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Kristen Barrett, FNTP, FDN-P

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