SOME GUT PHYSIOLOGY
The Roles of the Key Players…
There are two types of digestion: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical breaks down the food into smaller pieces while chemical ensures that the compounds found in the food is absorbed.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU ABSORB!
is a more accurate statement rather than you are what you eat.
We can eat the healthiest foods if the absorption of nutrients do not take place!
Efficient mechanical and chemical digestion are both needed to achieve optimal digestive health.
The gut runs from the mouth to the anus. Most of us only think of the gut as the stomach. It is so much more complex than that! The gateway players of the gut are the teeth and the mouth. Let’s talk a little about saliva. Its purpose is to protect us from harmful bacteria and other unwanted invaders. It contains opiorphin, which is a more powerful painkiller than morphine.
During the night we produce very little of it. This is a perfect opportunity for those bad bacteria party-goers to throw a party in the mouth. TOOTH BRUSHING cleans up the mess after the party and really important to achieve that healthy oral microbiome. Oral bacteria can translocate and influence the gut microbiome. It has been associated with a number of systemic diseases!
From the chemical digestion perspective, saliva begins the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats by producing enzymes, such as amylase and lipase. CHEWING stimulates salivary production, therefore please chew the food properly!
Once the food gets delivered to the stomach where it’s temporarily stored and turned into a creamy paste. Acids (HCL), enzymes (pepsin and lipase), and intrinsic factor (needed for Vitamin B12 and iron absorption) are released. Carbohydrates leave the stomach fairly quickly, after about 2 hours, protein meals remain longer, and fat stay the longest. As you can see the stomach is the second stop for breaking down food.
Having sufficient level of acids and enzymes are extremely important for OPTIMAL DIGESTIVE HEALTH!
For example, HCL (hydrochloric acid) plays a role in:
destroying harmful bacteria
signalling to other digestive juices to do their job
Most of the absorption takes place in the small intestine and it is the hardest worker of the gut! Always follows one rule: move forward. Except for vomiting, of course, when it sends the content right back up. A good friend of the small intestine is the pancreas because it releases digestive juices into the small intestine, and to the liver to complete the chemical digestion process.
Once the food exit the small intestine the cleaning up process begins. You know that growling noise? No, it is not coming from the stomach, and the stomach is not rumbling when we are hungry. What happens is the stomach opens its doors and sweeps any leftovers into the small intestine which then travels to the large intestine. There is a constant, cyclic pattern of movements until the intestine is clean. The clearing up process can only take place if there is a long enough break between meals. The fancy name we need to remember here is Migrating Motor Complexes (MMC) which are waves to sweep up the residuals.
Why good MMC function is important?
Primarily, it prevents bacterial overgrowth and ensures speedy toxin clearance. While snacking might be beneficial to keep the blood sugar in check. It stops the MMC form doing its job. Confusing I know!
You might ask: Are we designed to GRAZE?
In my view, that entirely depends on the individual. Since we are all biochemically unique, food transit time, food composition, and MMC functionality are both varied in everyone.
The large intestine is a much more laid back type. It can work backwards and forwards. Has no housekeeper to clean up any mess, instead, it enjoys hosting a diverse world of bacteria. Both, good and bad guys are welcome to stay. Other chores it loves are absorbing water and electrolytes and forming the POO! Anything isn’t absorbed (indigestible) in the small intestine gets reabsorbed here and voila POO is ready.
THE MOST FAQ IN MY PROFESSION IS: WHAT IS HEALTHY POO?
Form, urgency, colour, and whether one needs to strain are more reliable measures of transit time than frequency. POO consistency is a good indicator of the colon’s bacterial world. All of these, however, again is unique to you. What is important is to look out for changes in toilet habits. POO is a very good indicator of your health so prepare for POO talk:)
The liver is the largest organ with over 500 different functions. The main functions are:
bile production: bile is needed for healthy POO and for emulsifying fats. It is stored in the gallbladder and enters the small intestine through a passage. Insufficient bile production is a common cause for constipation, fat malabsorption, gallstones, and nausea.
carbohydrates, protein, and fat metabolism: excess glucose not needed by the muscle cells are stored in the liver for later use. Not shockingly, the liver cannot store excesses endlessly so they get converted into fat and stored in fat tissues. Guess where toxins love to deposit themselves? IN FAT TISSUE!
hormone metabolism: hormones must be inactivated and they should exit our body via faeces or urine. Some hormones are inactivated by the liver while others are transformed into a more active form.
production of heat
removal of ammonia
READ MY BLOG ON LIVER FOR LIFE
Let’s not forget about the pancreas! Such a delicate player. The pancreas produces 4 significant compounds:
digestive juices to break down carbohydrates, protein, and fats
bicarbonate to neutralise HCL in the small intestine
insulin: a hormone needed for glucose uptake
glucagon: a hormone that signals the liver to release excess glucose when blood sugar levels are low
The digestive juices should get activated once they reach the small intestine, however, this can go wrong if the pancreas is inflamed and the juices become active while inside the pancreas, resulting in self-digestion of the pancreas.