Healthy Digestion

Healthy Digestion

To a Naturopath, healthy digestion is the cornerstone to health. “You are what you eat” and “You are what you don’t eliminate.” Digestion, absorption, and elimination are what makes up our body, what fuels our metabolism, metabolic processes, and what creates our immune system.

Optimal digestion depends on adequate enzyme production in the stomach and small intestines, a healthy mucosal cell lining in the G.I. tract including adequate immune cell protection, proper assimilation, and elimination.

When digestion is inadequate it robs the body of vital nutrient building blocks for all vital processes. Proteins are needed to build tissue and are the building block for neurotransmitters, the communication system of the nervous system. All cells have an outer lipid (fat) membrane which is the control panel for all metabolic processes. Fat also provides the myelin surrounding nerve cells and is responsible for nerve conduction. All hormones begin with a fat molecule in the form of cholesterol. How hormones function and the efficiency as to how they are broken down is dependent on the amount and quality of fat in the diet and how well it is absorbed. Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and provide energy.

What is not broken down and absorbed must be eliminated from the G.I. tract and what is not eliminated or absorbed efficiently becomes a source of toxic waste for the body to deal with. Food may sit in the digestive tract too long when enzyme production is inadequate, absorption is inadequate, and transit time is too slow. As a result the rotting food gradually becomes a source of irritation to the cells lining the digestive system. Inflammation can begin weakening the intestinal lining that normally maintains a barrier to keep large molecules from entering the blood stream. The term that has been used to describe this is “leaky gut syndrome.” As large food molecules gradually make their way into the blood stream it becomes a stress on the immune system to clean them up and break them down. Food proteins can be recognized as foreign and stimulate the production of antibodies. An overproduction of antibodies has been hypothesized as a possible contributor to food allergies and autoimmune diseases. Antibodies produced from abnormal proteins of digestion in some way get confused and begin to set up an attack on various tissues of the body. Another stress these abnormally large molecules create is to the liver. The liver is the organ of detoxification and anything in the blood that is not supposed to be there is broken down and eliminated through complex chemical reactions that require a large source of nutrients and energy. As the liver already has a big job protecting us from toxic exposure in the air, water, and foods we eat, undigested food proteins become a burden that often over-saturates its capacity. Toxins that cannot be handled end up stored in fat cells. Weight gain is often not always the result of eating the wrong food or even too much food but of an ineffective digestive system.

Poor digestive function and overwhelmed liver function cause a cascade of problems and stress to other organ systems and functions in the body such as stress to the adrenal and thyroid glands which regulate metabolism, stress hormones, and blood sugar. An overactive immune system and excess proteins in the blood stream can create acidity which contributes to inflammation everywhere, there again contributing to problems like arthritis and heart disease.

Conditions that indicate the digestive system is impaired include heartburn or reflux, ulcers, irritable bowel, constipation/diarrhea but also can be associated with other problems like inflammatory joint disease and allergies. Working on improving digestion, healing and strengthening the mucosal cells lining the digestive tract, and eating a diet that promotes good digestion and metabolism are some of treatment goals for almost any digestive complaint or condition. Optimizing digestive function and health will also prevent the chronic progression of many other disease processes.

Digestive enzymes are a good place to begin improving digestive function and health. The stomach uses primarily hydrochloric acid to begin the breakdown of primarily protein. Making an acid in the body that tightly regulates pH requires a huge amount of energy and bimolecular resources. People who are depleted, consistently eat a poor diet, and have other health stresses are often deficient in HCL. Inadequate HCL will cause food to sit in the stomach too long where it ferments and causes irritation to the stomach lining. This is one of the most common reasons for heartburn. The small intestines use alkaline enzymes from the pancreas which complete the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. They are also natural anti-inflammatory support for the body. Lower abdominal bloating, cramping, and mild nausea are often symptoms of insufficient pancreatic enzymes.

Dr. Mikel’s experience and education help her formulate individualized treatment approaches, including diet assessment and education for your specific symptoms and underlying cause. Digestive health can be a cornerstone to your future health and ability to heal.

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