If you've had a chance to read my About section, you'd know that I suffered from many digestive symptoms growing up but was always within "normal ranges" in my blood work and never had a disease, so no one could figure out the cause.
It was the most frustrating feeling. I knew I never felt good but doctor's would only offer me some medication to ease the symptoms rather than a solution to the actual cause of the problem.
After a while I started to wonder if I was just built this way, it was my genetics, or worse, maybe it was just all in my head? It's a terrible way to feel.
But no - listen to me. If you're not feeling good and you have any sort of digestive stress (bloating, gas, constipation, stomach pain, diarrhea, etc.) it is not normal - these are indications that something is awry and this will affect your overall health.
Why? If you're digestive track isn't working properly, then there is a good chance you aren't absorbing the nutrients that your body needs.
For some weird reason, I never thought to go to a holistic practitioner growing up and if someone could have just explained to me how digestion works and where the problems begin, I probably could have saved years of pain and suffering!
So that's exactly what I'm going to do for you today. In a short & sweet way, I hope to easily describe the process of digestion by going through all of the organs involved and what can go wrong. Then, I will leave you with some natural solutions.
Here we go.
You may think that digestion begins in the stomach, but it actually starts in the brain!
It tells your mouth, stomach, pancreas, liver and gallbladder to secrete specific enzymes to break down your food.
If you are emotionally stressed or are eating something you're body is unfamiliar with (i.e.: refined sugar), your brain will divert your energy from digestion to eliminating your stress.
Natural Solution: de-stressing activities such as yoga, meditation, working out, etc., take a few breaths, sit down and relax before enjoying a meal, wait about 30 minutes after a meal before engaging in any high energy activity, etc.
The next part of digestion is in the mouth, through mechanical breakdown with chewing and chemical breakdown with enzymes secreted from your saliva.
Tip: the act of chewing triggers your stomach (through the brain) to start releasing digestive enzymes/juices. Have you ever heard your tummy rumble when you're chewing gum? It's because it's tricking the body into thinking food is coming.
If you don't chew your food enough, this will lead to undigested foods sitting in your stomach - one of the causes of bloating.
Sometimes, no matter how much you chew your food, it can still be indigestible (i.e. grains + legumes). These are derived from plant seeds and have protective linings in order to withstand any harm in hopes of being planted one day! (I wish I had as much strength & hope as these little guys haha).
Any undigested food leads to gas.
Natural Solution: take small bites, chew thoroughly, avoid grains + legumes, refined sugar, alcohol, anti-inflammatory medications, etc.
In your stomach, you have "stomach acid" known as hydrochloric acid (HCl). This is your first line of defense against any pathogen that you consume. (You probably eat more pathogens that you think!)
When your stomach acid is insufficient, you guessed it, it doesn't kill all of the pathogens and you might get "food poisoning". This leads to an increase in BAD bacteria and pressure in the stomach.
This pressure can cause the stomach contents to back up and sometimes spill into your esophagus a bit, which causes acid reflux.
So, when you are experiencing acid reflux, you most likely don't have too much acid, but not enough! Crazy, right?
Natural Solution: take 1 tbsp of lemon or apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 tbsp of water as a "shot" 15-20 minutes before eating. This will begin/stimulate your HCl production. If you have severe acid reflux, HCl supplementation may be needed.
Your liver does so much for you - detoxification, protein synthesis, bile production, etc.
Your gallbladder stores bile (which helps break down your fats) and then releases it when needed
If you feel pain near your sternum or middle back after eating a fatty meal, this could be an indication that something is blocked and/or gallstones may be forming.
If your poop (yes, I said poop) is floating or green, yellowish or light in color, this is a sign of undigested fat.
What if you don't have a gallbladder?
You should focus on eating saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, etc.) Contrary to common belief, they are actually easier to digest because they have a shorter chemical structure compared to mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
You should also consider supplementing with bile salts for optimal digestion & absorption.
Natural Solution: avoid alcohol, fruit, and grains.
Your pancreas produces hormones, helps digest proteins, and transports sugar from the blood into cells.
If things aren't working properly causing your blood sugar to be out of whack, you might experience dips in energy through the day, being "hangry", moodiness, difficulty loosing weight, anxiety, poor sleep habits, etc.
Natural Solution: If you are experiencing any of the previously stated symptoms or know you have high blood sugar, are pre-diabetic, or are diabetic, I would highly recommend adopting a grain free diet. In addition, focus on supporting your liver/gallbladder as these can directly affect the pancreas.
This is about 20 feet long & where most of your food is absorbed.
This is also where your immune system will categorize what is "safe" and what is "dangerous". It recognizes small molecules of food (amino acids from proteins, glucose from carbs, and fatty acids from fats). It DOES NOT recognize undigested food. This causes an immune/inflammatory response (attack, attack, attack! there is a foreign invader in the body and it needs to get out now!)
What is undigested food? Food that you didn't chew enough, that wasn't broken down enough previously in the stomach, food that has a protective covering (grains + legumes), artificial foods such as refined sugar, etc.
This inflammatory response is expressed differently in each person - for some it is stomach pain and bloating, for some it is a migraine, for some it is eczema, for some it is arthritis (chronic inflammatory response), etc.
This response can happen ANYWHERE in the body so it looks different for everyone.
Natural Solution: avoid hard to digest foods (grains + legumes and foods that TAKE nutrients to digest rather then GIVE us nutrients such as: refined foods, sugar, alcohol, etc.)
And the finale! Your large intestine/colon is about 5 feet long. This is where most of your water and micronutrients are absorbed (vitamins & minerals) after the bulk of the work is already done by your small intestine.
Your colon has lots of good bacteria that creates a healthy and well-functioning environment.
What happens if you have inadequate bacteria? Or somehow bad bacteria has invaded?
This looks like: poop that is small, dense, difficult to pass (constipation), or foul-smelling.
Natural Solution: first, make sure that you're drinking enough water to allow for enough lubrication for the poop to pass, eat fermented foods because they have probiotics (sauerkraut, fermented carrots, kombucha), avoid stress (peristalsis or the movement of the large intestine is halted during stressful times), or supplement with a probiotic.
Different probiotics work for different people, so if one doesn't seem to be working try another one.
Probiotics are a great solution for diarrhea, they can usually help get your bowel movements back on track fairly quickly.
So there you have it. If you have any questions or are still confused as where things might be going wrong specifically in YOUR body, please reach out to me and let's finally get you feeling better. XO