Poor digestion is a major contributor to not feeling well. The important thing to realise about digestion is that what goes in should not resemble what comes out! Food should be completely broken down in the gut and most of the nutrients should be absorbed. Indigestible waste products should be the only thing that is the end product of a functional digestive system. When our digestive system is not working well, however, the end result is a range of symptoms that can be very debilitating. The key to fixing our digestive system lies in understanding how it works and what might be our underlying issue.
Signs & Symptoms 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
- Mucus in our stools
- Excessive wind
- Undigested food seen in our stools
- Feeling of incomplete emptying of bowel
If any of the above are transient and only occur for a short 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 begins 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 starchy 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 passed on to our stomach. The acidic in our stomach allows proteins in our food to be broken down. Food in the stomach is pummelled and compressed 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 an environment of good bacteria that live in our gut. These good bacteria are essential to healthy digestion and produce some essential vitamins such as vitamin K, which is needed for normal blood clotting. Interestingly they also help to produce a hormone called serotonin. This hormone acts on the brain and gut nervous systems to assist in improving brain and gut function. Serotonin is known as our ‘happy hormone’ and is key to preventing 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 effortless process and not a painful or prolonged process. The whole digestive journey takes several hours and never stops, even when we are sleeping.
When it comes to digestion what goes in should not resemble what comes what comes out!
Food should be completely broken down by a healthy digestive system.
Holistic Medical Doctor, Author Healthy Habits, 52 Ways to Better Health