What healthy digestion looks like

What healthy digestion looks like: A Naturopath’s simple guide

Digestive problems such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and reflux can ruin day-to-day life. Many people who suffer from these gut issues put up with these symptoms for years and begin to think, it’s becoming a normal part of life (which it’s NOT!).

What does a normal and healthy digestion look like? Let’s take a deeper look into how important it is to have optimal gut health.

The olfactory mucosa

Firstly – the Olfactory Mucosa, not to be mistaken with ‘old factories’, is the first line of sensory defence responsible for taste and smell. As we bring that perfectly cooked steak to our face, we can smell the juiciness so much that we can taste it, without ACTUALLY tasting it.

Smelling food before we eat it makes our brain switch on our digestion, before we start eating. The moment you take a whiff of that meal, your tongue and mouth produce saliva, preparing your body to process what is coming.

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After that whiff of food, your mouth is full of saliva and ready to start chewing. Saliva contains enzymes, minerals and anti-bacterial substances that help to break food down. The enzyme lipase focuses on breaking down fats, and amylase focuses on breaking down carbohydrates.

Afterwards, protein is now ready to be broken down. Once this food travels down the oesophagus, it reaches the stomach. For people with loss of sphincter tone associated with Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), this condition is one of the major causes of reflux (not an issue with acid as many people may think!).

Protein digestion

Once protein reaches the stomach, parietal cells secrete hydrochloric acid and enzymes called proteases, which break protein down into small chains of amino acids. We produce 1-3 litres of gastric juices per day that helps to break down our food, and to turn soluble nutrients and convert them into their bioavailable state (such as iron, B12, Vitamin D, iodine).

For some people take Protein Pump Inhibitors (PPI) for reflux, or have low hydrochloric acid (vegan/vegetarian/stress), this process is impaired. Hello bloating and reflux!

We need the right amount of hydrochloric acid to break down amino acids for your body and liver detoxification. For many people with low stomach acid this process is impaired and can lead to sarcopenia, low muscle mass, as well as skin and mood diseases.

The small intestine

The small intestine is where most of our digestion and absorption occurs. Enzymes are released by the pancreas to initiate carbohydrate digestion. Protein is also further broken down here alongside fats.

The small intestine is very important because it’s involved in the absorption of essentials vitamins, amino acids and minerals for your body. If you have damage or dysfunction to the small intestine such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), you are at risk of further issues throughout your whole body.

The small intestine also produces a compound called Secretory IgA (SIgA) which plays an important role in immunity, repelling any pathogenic microorganisms to provide a healthy balance of commensal bacteria (the microbiome). SIgA also reduces inflammation within the digestive tract.

Certain factors affect our production of SIgA such as medication use, high stress, poor diet, inactivity, infections, gut inflammation and poor gut immunity. This creates a non-ideal environment within the gut, leading to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria associated with disease.

What if I think my digestion isn’t working well?

Do you have unresolved gut issues that need attention? Melissa is a Clinical Naturopath and gut health nerd. Melissa uses evidence-based practices to resolve your complex gut issues and to help you get your life back again.