Poor digestion is a significant contributor to not feeling well. The important thing to understand with regards to digestion is that what goes in should not resemble what comes out! Food should be completely chewed down and most of the nutrients should be absorbed. Waste products should be the only thing that is the end product of a functional digestive system. When our digestive system is not functioning well, on the other hand, the end result is a range of symptoms that can be very weakening. The key to fixing our digestive system relies on understanding how it works and what might be our underlying issue?
Symptoms and Signs of Poor Digestion
The following signs and symptoms can indicate that our digestive system is sick and in need of attention:
- Abdominal pains
- Loose or hard stools (refer to Bristol stool chart in the last chapter)
- Mucus in our stools
- Unnecessary wind
- Undigested food seen in our stools
- Feeling of incomplete emptying of bowel
If any of the above only occur for a small period of time then there is no real concern. But when we have ongoing signs and symptoms of digestive health issues then we have a problem. To understand what exactly causes these digestive issues It is important to understand in simple terms how the digestive system functions.
How Healthy Digestion Works
Digestion starts in the mouth. The first step in breaking down our food is to chew it properly. Chewing not only mechanically breaks down our food but also stimulates the Release of certain enzymes that help to further digest stuffy foods like bread, pasta and other carbohydrates.
The next step in the digestive process is that we are able to swallow effectively so that food is accepted on to our stomach. The acids in our stomach allows proteins in our Food to be fragmented down. Food in the stomach is pummelled and compacted until it is a dough-like consistency. It is then passed onto our small intestine. In the small intestine bicarbonate is released to neutralise the acid from our stomach. This allows pancreas enzymes to be activated in the small intestine which further breaks down our food. Bile is also secreted into the small intestine from the liver. Bile helps us to absorb fats in our diet. Food is then broken down further into very small molecules by the enzymes produced on the surface of our small intestine. The surface of the small intestine should resemble a shagpile rug, which greatly increases the absorption surface area of the gut. Once most of the food nutrients have been absorbed, the remaining Products of digestion move to the large intestine.
The large intestine is responsible for absorbing water from our food and is also home to a setting of good bacteria that live in our gut. These good bacteria are essential to healthy digestion and produce some important vitamins such as vitamin K, which is needed for normal blood thickening. Interestingly they also help to produce a hormone called serotonin. This hormone acts on the brain and gut nervous systems to assist in iproving brain and gut function. Serotonin is known as our ‘happy hormone’ and is key to avoiding depression, but it also acts in the gut to keep the gut ‘happy’.
The last step in digestion is to effectively eliminate the waste products as faecal matter. This should be an easy process and not a painful or prolonged process. The whole digestive ride takes several hours and never stops, even when we are sleeping. So where exactly can this process go wrong and what causes digestive health issues?