How the Digestive System Works
First let's get an understanding of exactly what the digestive system is and how it works. It actually starts in your mouth as soon as you put food in and chewing is the first step. The more time you spend on chewing, the more the food is broken down before it continues on down the esophagus to the stomach. There are also digestive enzymes, like amylase, in saliva in your mouth which helps in the breakdown. The mouth actually can also absorb many of the nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, the body needs right away. Once the food gets to the stomach, it breaks down more by mixing with acids and enzymes like pepsin. This stage is vital for proteins to be broken down into polypeptides and amino acids. Next stop is the small intestine where around 100 trillion microorganisms that live there help break it down even more. This is the step where the liver adds in bile and the pancreas adds in digestive enzymes, both adding to the breakdown process as the food travels through around 30 feet of intestine. In the small intestine are villi lining the tract. Villi take the nutrients that have now been extracted from the food and put them into the bloodstream. The digested food then has to pass through the ileocecal valve and into the large intestine which finishes off any digestion that is needed, absorbs water from food and decides what is still usable and what needs to go out as waste.
Causes of Poor Digestion
People suffering from anxiety commonly exhibit symptoms of digestive problems. Much of this comes from the way anxiety works on the brain. Anxiety activates the body's fight or flight response. When this happens it takes most of the brain's concentration and attention. This cuts back on energy for other brain functions such as control of the muscles used in digestion. For those who experience short term occasional anxiety, this is not noticeable, but when it is a more chronic condition it can interfere with the digestive process and lead to symptoms of gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea. Anxiety can also lower your serotonin levels. Serotonin is needed to send signals to the intestines and lower levels means an interruption in these signals. Anxiety and stress also have a negative effect on the friendly bacteria in the gut necessary for proper digestion and for performing immune system functions.
Digestive problems can also be caused by sensitivity to certain foods. For example if you are lactose or gluten intolerant and eating foods with these, you may experience digestive problems after eating. This is a condition in which the digestive system is unable to digest certain sugars or proteins. Food sensitivities or intolerances usually produce symptoms such as abdominal cramping, bloating, gas and diarrhea and an elimination type diet may be needed to find out which foods are at the root of the problem.
Around 40% of older people have at least one and often more digestive problems during a year. According to Ira Hanan, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center, constipation is the biggest culprit. It is not uncommon as we get older to have heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux (GERD-type diseases) because we don't produce as much stomach acid as when we were younger. Many people think these digestive problems are due to too much stomach acid, but according to Dr. Mercola and other experts, it is the producing of less stomach acid than we need for proper digestion that occurs as we age responsible for these symptoms. When there are lower levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, the pancreas does not get signaled to produce the right amount of enzymes needed for digestion. This can cause the intestines to become clogged and result in constipation. Along with aging comes the slowing down of the muscle contractions that move food through the digestive system. That causes more water to be absorbed from waste and manifest as constipation. Constipation can also be attributed to some of the medications that older people typically take.
Not Enough Healthy Friendly Bacteria
Good digestive health is also dependent on a good, healthy balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines. These are also known as probiotics. These friendly bacteria, such as acidophilus, do well in an acid environment and are able to make lactic acid from stomach acid to add to the acidic environment of the small intestine. A healthy supply of these probiotics is necessary to clean up toxins, help rid the body of waste, and kill off bad bacteria. If you don't have a good balance of these probiotics, you may notice symptoms of gas, bloating, stomach cramps, intestinal cramps, stinky bowel movements, constipation, and diarrhea
Poor Nutritional Habits
Processed foods, sugary foods, junk food and fast foods can all contribute to killing off your good bacteria and feed the bad bacteria and yeast. Around 80 million people have too much yeast that has grown in the intestines. This can lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, yeast infections, migraines, weight gain and other conditions. Eating too fast, skipping meals, eating when upset, or on the go are all other nutritional habits that are not conducive to good digestion. Eating too much protein all at once can lead to putrefaction which is a process where bacteria in the intestines are turned into toxic gases and chemical substances.
Natural Solutions for Poor Digestion
If you are having digestive system problems, stay away from fried, sugary and processed or junk foods. Make sure you are eating enough fiber-type foods and easy to digest foods. Plan meals that only have one to three different foods to give your digestive system a break from having to work too hard. Exercise helps your body with the digestion process too and if you are dealing with a condition stemming from anxiety or stress, jogging has been found effective. Saving water for an hour after eating or 10 minutes before eating can also help your digestion. Drinking with a meal can water down the chemicals needed for proper digestion. Make sure that in between meals you do drink enough water however as that is important for digestion and overall health.
Dr. Mercola suggests that supplements of probiotics, enzymes and hydrochloric acid can aid the digestive system. My favorite probiotics are this form of acidophilus designed to help the body process food efficiently and eliminate waste and this form of bifidus that contains the beneficial Bifidobacteria, which lower the pH of the intestine and helps in the manufacture of specific B-vitamins. Digestion requires lots of energy and the more energy it takes to digest food, the less that's available for other physical and mental activities. Digestion of enzyme-deficient food is especially hard on the body, affecting its natural vitality and feelings of well-being. These enzymes contain amylase, cellulase, lipase, protease, and lactase for more efficient digestion, to avoid the after-meal energy slump, and help break down fats, carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. You can also get all these probiotics and enzymes as well as the superfood nutrition of a blend of marine and freshwater algae, organic mushrooms, and sprouted grasses and grains, some of the most nourishing foods on the planet; in convenient packets. These packets supply you not only with supplements for your digestive system support but also Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids, a complete amino acid profile, beta glucans in their most bioavailable forms, over 60 micronutrients and 130 triterpenoids.
Digestive problems are no fun and can interfere with quality of life. No matter what age you are, digestive problems can occur and as we get older, the risk only increases. Start making some changes to your eating habits, some dietary changes and supplementation if you need it to help your digestive system do the best job it can for you.
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