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!).
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.