Digestion, So How Does it All Work?
Good digestion starts in the mouth, with how quickly we eat, how effectively we chew and the food choices we make all having an impact. Good digestion is key to good health. The digestive system provides nutrients for the rest of the body by breaking down food. The digestive system has a domino effect, e.g. if you don’t chew properly it effects the rest of the process.
Taste and flavour send messages from our taste buds letting the brain and stomach know that food is on the way. Saliva contains salivary amylase, an enzyme, which begins the digestion of carbohydrates. If eat too quickly or consume a lot of bland foods this initial digestion does not occur, and food is thrown down to an unprepared stomach.
The stomach is a muscular pouch full of acid. It plays a vital role in digestion by;
- Sterilising food which protects us from foodborne pathogens
- Stimulates the production of pepsin (enzyme for breaking down proteins)
- Facilitates the production of intrinsic factor, a substance which allows for the absorption of vitamin B12 which helps keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy
- Encourages breakdown and absorption of minerals
Liver and Gall bladder
Vital for digestion of fats, absorption of fatty acids and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins e.g. vitamin D. The liver produces bile which is stored and concentrated in the gall bladder. Bile is then released into the small intestine where starts to work on any fats we have eaten. Bile provides lubrication for the bowel helping to allow regular elimination of waste.
The small intestine is responsible for breaking down food and absorbing the nutrients we need. When foods gets to the small intestine it produces digestive enzymes to break food down, this process releases nutrients which are absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into bloodstream.
Large intestine (bowel)
The bowels main job is to eliminates solid waste. A healthy bowel is one that empties regularly. Fibre is important for bowel function by ensuring smooth transit. The bowel should contain friendly lactic producing bacteria which contribute to gut health.
Common digestive problems
Bloating, wind and gas
We have all experienced one of these things, here are some tips to help combat them;
- Slow down and try to chew food slowly, this gives your body more time to prepare everything it needs to digest the food
- Eat more bitter flavoured foods e.g. rocket, chicory and radicchio as these flavours stimulate good digestion
- Consume probiotic rich foods
- The good bacteria to use for bloating and wind are
- Lactobacillus plantarum which inhibits fermentative bacteria and encourages growth of other friendly bacteria. It also improves function of stomach and intestine promoting good digestion (Bodkins contains this species of bacteria – yay!)
- Lactobacillus casei and lactobacillus rhamnosus – are often used in synergy to improve health of bowel
- Bifidobacterial lactis – research suggests it can reduce intestinal discomfort
One of the main symptoms is having fewer than 3 bowel movements a week. If you are experiencing this then try;
- Make sure to drink enough water, low fluid intake often leads to constipation
- Try and have a diet rich in fibre. If you can’t get enough through your diet take a natural fibre supplement e.g. psyllium husk or FOS (fructo-oligo-saccharides) which is fibre extracted from raw fruits and vegetables and has a naturally sweet flavour. These will draw water into the colon forming a gel which adds bulk and softens stool making it easier to pass and maintain bowel movements
- Cut back on tea, coffee and fizzy drinks as they contain caffeinewhich is a stimulant so it can cause you to have a bowel movement. But it can also cause dehydration, which can have the opposite effect and lead to constipation
- Magnesium supports good muscle function, helps keep bowel moving, foods high in magnesium are green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocado, banana, figs, salmon, mackerel, tuna, chickpeas and plenty more1
Sometimes its normal to have diarrhoea but if you are experiencing it on a regular basis perhaps consider;
- Water water water! Hydration is key again
- Fibre, soluble fibre e.g. oats, sweet potato, mango etc will absorb water and therefore help to make a more solid bowel movement
- Foods rich in vitamin A are important in supporting the health of mucous membranes lining the gut, these foods include effs, orange and yellow veggies, broccoli, spinach and many more!
- Good bacteria can slow down the bowel by reducing inflammation, ones to look out for are S.Boulardii, L casei, L Rhamnosus and S.Thermophilus
- L-Glutamine, an amino acid, has been shown to reduce inflammation in intestinal mucosa and slow down diarrhoea
Overall tips for better digestion
- Eat a balanced diet high in fibre, as it helps food more effectively through digestive tract. Veg, fruits and wholegrains are good sources
- Stress is difficult to avoid but it affects our digestive health, so try and unwind and take time for yourself, perhaps try some mindfulness!
- Water ensures nutrients are digested and absorbed properly, so stay hydrated!
- Exercise helps keep foods moving through the digestive system and can alleviate stress which is linked to digestive issues
- Good bacteria, which is naturally present in the digestive tract, helps balance gut microflora alleviating indigestion and bloating. You can help your gut bacteria out by consuming probiotic and prebiotic rich foods… perhaps a jar of Bodkins!