It takes guts to be optimally healthy
The average person never gives a thought to his or her digestive tract unless it is calling out for help. How does it speak to us? Here are some of its common distress signals: heartburn; nausea; a “silent but deadly” accident in a packed elevator; traveler’s constipation; its evil twin traveler’s diarrhea; or the ability to belch out your school’s fight song after dinner.
Some signs of poor digestion are less obvious but show up as worrisome results on tests for bone density, immunity, cardiovascular risk factors, etc. So, while it is easy to think of the digestive tract as just a pipe from our mouth to the exit, it is one really complex and crucially important pipe. The condition of our digestion system can mean the difference between vibrant health and long term suffering followed by an untimely death. Really? Yes indeed. First let’s start with some reasons to love your digestive system.
• Vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and plant antioxidants help us think more clearly and have more energy as well as repair tissues and protect us from cellular damage in every part of our bodies. But eating the most nutritious organic food or taking sophisticated supplements isn’t much help if the intestinal system isn’t working to properly break the foods and pills down, absorb the component nutrients and send each off to the right place. Toxins and stress demand even more nutrients. Unfortunately, at the same time, our food supply is increasingly more nutrient-depleted, so we need our systems to extract all the micronutrients that we possibly can.
• More than half of our immune system resides in the gut. When the immune system is impaired, we are more susceptible to all manner of diseases—from allergies and the flu to auto immune conditions and cancer.
• Our intestinal tract is known as our “second brain” because of the massive production and usage there of neurotransmitters like serotonin, the happy hormone. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles and acts as an antioxidant—400 times more of it is made in the gut than in the pineal gland in the head.
• Toxins from a poorly functioning gut, instead of being sent out into the city sewage, can get absorbed into the blood stream. From there they can cause symptoms and degradation of tissues and function anywhere in the body. Sadly, it is a rare physician who knows to look to the gut when the patient has a skin rash or depression. (Does the mainstream really view all symptoms as deficiencies of drugs?)
• A “leaky gut” (discussed in an upcoming article) can allow disease-causing organisms into circulation. This condition can also permit incompletely digested food to enter the blood stream thereby increasing the risk of food sensitivities and perhaps even auto-immune disease.
Gut 101 – Part A
The first step to improving digestion is to understand how the system works. As fundamental as this system is to our health, precious little is taught about it in health class or even emphasized in medical school for that matter.
The mouth. Sure, it’s where we chew the food into a wad small enough to choke down. (Some people can swallow a whole burger in 2 giant gulps— think teenager.) Here is what is what those speed demons are missing:
• The smaller the particles of food become, the more effectively all the digestive juices can work on it.
• Some digestion, especially of carbohydrates, actually begins in the mouth. An enzyme, amylase, is present in saliva and is mixed into the food by chewing.
• Feedback mechanisms in the mouth send signals to the rest of the digestive tract about what types of foods are coming. That allows for the correct digestive juices to be released on cue at later points along the way.
• Because chewing slows us down, there is time for the stomach to signal the brain that we are full and so we eat less. Calmness also improves digestion—research shows that saying Grace improves digestion.
• We must focus on the food to remember to chew thoroughly. That focus also provides more enjoyment from the food, which in turn makes the meal more satisfying. Then maybe you won’t be asking yourself later as you approach the vending machine. “Did I eat lunch? I’m not sure.”
• If food is better prepared for digestion by chewing, it won’t have to sit in the stomach as long. Food delayed in the stomach is one cause of heartburn.
What could be a simpler or cheaper step (i.e. FREE) toward weight loss or improved health than to simply chew our food longer? If you are a fast eater like I used to be you might have to actually count the number of chews on each bite (e.g. maybe 25?), until eating slowly becomes a habit. The goal is to make the solid food into a near-liquid…at least a paste like smooth peanut butter.
In next month’s article we see what is going on in the stomach and in the following month, the intestines. Meanwhile, chew, chew, chew.Martie Whittekin Certified Clinical Nutritionist Author of the Health e-Note Newsletter Host of the nationally-syndicated Healthy by Nature Radio Show Copyright 2011 Martie Whittekin, CCN
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