Digestion. What a terribly complicated process! In this digestion mini-series, I want to help simply this crazy and vital process. This post will only go up to the stomach (you may be thinking, but I thought digestion STARTED with the stomach?? I will teach you!), with other posts to follow for the other organs.

Digestion is simply the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food. The ultimate goal of digestion is to reduce food to molecules so small that the nutrients can be absorbed and used by the cells.

Big Ideas:

There are 3 big ideas when it comes to digestion.
1. Digestion is a north to south process
2. The big three organs from a nutritional standpoint are the stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder
3. Digestion is fundamental to nutritional therapy: Every cell that makes up every tissus that makes up every organ depends on the body’s Digestive System to provide the nutrients it needs to keep on functioning.

Beginning at the North (Pole)…

The north pole for the body is the brain! That’s right, digestion begins in the brain. Just the sight and smell of food starts to trigger digestive juices. Have you ever walked by a bakery and started salivating? Or perhaps whenever you make a certain recipe, it transports you back to a favorite childhood memory? This is your brain activating digestion! How cool is that?

Before you even start thinking about eating, you will want to be in a calm and restful state of mind. Have you ever tried to eat when you’re stressed out? Perhaps you have eaten something and immediately went to exercise. Do you remember what happened? You probably didn’t feel very good, and probably needed to find a restroom rather quickly. How come? Because in order to digest our food properly, our body must be in a “parasympathetic” or more simply put, “rest and digest” state of mind. Take 3 deep breaths before you start eating a meal. Sit down. Sit on the floor if you must. Take your time with eating, so that all of the yummy food you eat will actually have the chance to nourish your body!

Your mouth is the physical gateway to the digestive system. Your teeth act as the mechanical breakdown of your food, and salivary amylase (special chemicals in the saliva in your mouth that act only on sugar molecules) acts as the first chemical breakdown of carbohydrates.

It is very important to chew your food well before swallowing. Smelling your food helps to stimulate the production of digestive juices and acids in the stomach, but chewing helps that process even more. Your stomach does not have teeth…please don’t treat it like it does! ­čÖé Before your food moves onto the next phase of digestion (for another post), the pH (or power of Hydrogen) must between 1.5-3.0- that’s very acidic! It takes a while to make that chewed up food that acidic, so the more help you can give your stomach by chewing well, the faster that process happens.

What does stomach acid do really? Doesn’t it cause heartburn, gas, and bloating? Well, let me tell you! Hydrochloric Acid (or HCl, as I usually write in shorthand) is a critical piece for the rest of the entire digestive process. The acid is secreted to around .8 pH, which would completely burn your skin if you touched it! Luckily, our stomach is lined with mucous (that is replaced daily), so that is why we are usually OK with HCl. HCl helps to disinfect the stomach, kill and bacteria or parasites, and activates the enzyme pepsin (which digests proteins). When we don’t chew our food well enough, there is more surface area for the acid to act on. When there is more surface area, digestion is going to take a lot longer than it is supposed to. Your stomach is the perfect environment for food going “bad” if they sit in there too long- carbohydrates ferment, fats go rancid, and proteins putrefy (yuck!). That fermentation process builds up a lot of extra gases, eventually causing the small amount of acid that is in the stomach to belch up somewhere, hitting your esophageal lining. Your poor esophagus is not meant to have┬áany┬áacid on it- that’s why it hurts to much when you have heartburn!

Key takeaways:
1. Take 3 (or more) deep breaths before you start eating a meal, “rest and digest”.
2. Chew, chew, chew your food! Let your teeth do what they do best, and then your stomach can do what it does best!
3. HCl is not the enemy, poor digestion is! Follow 1 and 2, and you will be well on your way to better health!

Stay tuned for part 2! Your liver and gallbladder!