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How Digestion Works and How to Improve Your Digestion

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:05pm

Digestion is basically the breakdown of large molecules into small molecules that are better able to be absorbed and utilized by our bodies. Enzymes are essential for digestion because they speed up the chemical reactions needed to break down large molecules into smaller ones.

Before discussing the breakdown of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats, I should first give a broad overview of the digestive route that food takes as it moves through the body. The first stop in the process of digestion once food has been chewed and swallowed is the stomach whose muscular walls contract and help to mix the food with your gastric juices. This mush of food and gastric juices is called Chyme (kyme). From the stomach, chyme enters the small intestine where it travels passed the liver, gallbladder and pancreas which all contribute to the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. What is left of the chyme then enters the large intestine and is eventually excreted through the anus.

Carbohydrates, protein and fats are all digested slightly differently and understanding those differences can mean a lot when trying to improve your digestion. Different enzymes are needed for each of the three groups of nutrients and if your body is lacking in any of those certain enzymes then your body will have troubles digesting that nutrient.

The majority of the digestion of carbohydrates, for example, begins in the small intestine rather than the stomach. The pancreas secretes an enzyme called amylase which breaks down starches (polysaccharides) into double sugars (disaccharides). Three other enzymes, Maltase (for malt sugar), Sucrase (for cane sugar) and Lactase (for milk sugar) are then used to break down the double sugars into simple sugars (monosaccharides) which can then be absorbed and utilized by the body.

Fat is also mostly digested in the small intestine rather than the stomach but fat must first be emulsified (broken down) by a substance called bile before it can truly be broken down into its basic elements. Once the fat has been emulsified, an enzyme called pancreatic lipase is able to break down the fat into individual fatty acids which can then be absorbed and utilized by the body.

Unlike the digestion of fat and carbohydrates, protein digestion is able to begin in the stomach. The gastric juices within the stomach are naturally composed of Pepsinogen and hydrochloric acid. When protein molecules enter the stomach, hydrochloric acid converts pepsinogen to an enzyme called Pepsin which breaks the negatively charged bonds of the large protein molecule so that it is split up into simpler units called polypeptides. Polypeptides then move to the small intestine where Trypsin is able to break down the positively charged bonds. Another enzyme called Peptidases also helps to further break down the polypeptides into individual amino acids which can then be absorbed and utilized by our bodies.

How smoothly digestion occurs relies on many factors including the presence of the necessary enzymes, the combination of foods eaten, the acidity or alkalinity of the digestive environment and many other factors.

Facts about digestion and ways to improve your digestion:

1) Cooking food tends to destroy the natural enzymes present in the food so eating plenty of raw/uncooked foods can help to ensure the presence of the necessary enzymes and lessen the body’s need to produce them itself.

2) The way you combine foods in each meal can be very important because each set of enzymes can only thrive in a specific PH environment. Enzymes that digest protein thrive in a more acidic environment while enzymes that digest carbohydrates thrive in a more alkaline environment so making sure your meals are made up of the right combination of foods can improve the function of the necessary enzymes. You can find a good description of food combing rules here: Barbara Minton Article

3) Drinking a lot of fluid WHILE eating dilutes your digestive juices and impairs digestion so try to minimize your liquid intake to just a few sips, if necessary, immediately before, during or after meals rather than guzzling tons of liquid. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day when you are not eating though in order to prevent constipation.

4) Antacids like tums and Rolaids hamper your digestive juices so try not to consume these. If you are taking them for heartburn then you should understand that it is actually a lack of hydrochloric acid that causes heartburn rather than an excess so taking antacids just worsens the problem. Try taking Hydrochloric acid tablets instead.

5) Aloe Vera Gel, either fresh from the plant or supplement grade, helps to soothe the stomach lining and can also encourage the absorption of some nutrients. Supplement grade Aloe Vera Gel can be found at most health food stores. I buy mine online from Vitacost Search

6) Healthy bacteria in your intestine help to break down food and also produce much needed nutrients. Taking a probiotic daily can help to balance out the ratio of good bacteria in your stomach. Never buy the probiotics that need to be refrigerated though because if they can’t survive on your shelf then how are they going to survive your stomach acid in order to reach your intestines. Some good sources of probiotics are:
Mercola Complete Probiotics
Vitacost Search

7) Try not to eat when you are stressed out or emotional as this can hinder your ability to digest foods by diverting much needed blood and energy from your digestive tract to other areas of your body.

8) Try not to eat within the 2-4 hours before going to bed so that your stomach has a chance to rest and repair from the constant burden of digestion that it undergoes throughout the day.

9) Always chew your food thoroughly so that it takes less effort for the body to break up the food. Another benefit of chewing thoroughly is that your food has more of a chance to mix with your saliva which contains many valuable enzymes needed for digestion.

10) Remember that gas, bloating and pain are not normal so pay attention to what you are eating and how it is affecting your body. You may be allergic or have sensitivities to certain foods that you never knew you had. Removing those foods from your diet can go a long way in relieving discomfort after meals.

11) There are many herbs and foods that either stimulate digestive juices, tone the stomach or have an abundance of enzymes to aid digestion, so including them in your diet can be helpful. Some of these helpful foods and herbs include: Chamomile, Tarragon, Cayenne, Fennel, Dill, Cilantro, Parsley, Papaya, Peppermint, Spearmint, Sage, Basil, Catnip and Pineapple just to name a few.

12) There are also a few essential oils which can aid digestion including: Bergamot, Clary Sage, Fennel, Dill, Angelica, Anise and Jasmine. A great site to find out how to use herbs, foods and oils to improve digestion is Annies Remedy.

13) Getting more fiber in your diet and making sure to exercise regularly are also standard methods for improving digestion.

- For Educational Purposes Only
- Not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition
-These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA
- These statements are my opinions and conclusion from the knowledge I have thus far

Resources:

1) Thibodeau & Patton, Structure and Function of the Body, 13th Edition, 2008, pgs. 399-413
2) http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/mole00/mole00175.htm
Accessed: 06/15/09
3) http://www.naturalnews.com/025651.html
Accessed: 06/15/09, Author: Barbara Minton
4) http://www.naturalnews.com/022235.html
Accessed: 06/15/09, Author: Dr Emily A Kane
5) http://www.naturalnews.com/025666_aloe_vera_digestion_the_flu.html
Accessed: 06/16/09, Author: Melanie Grimes
6) http://altmedicine.about.com/od/optimumhealthessentials/a/Tips_Digestion.htm
Accessed: 06/16/09
7) http://www.anniesremedy.com/remedy_use85.php
Accessed: 06/16/09

Digestion is basically the breakdown of large molecules into small molecules that are better able to be absorbed and utilized by our bodies. Enzymes are essential for digestion because they speed up the chemical reactions needed to break down large molecules into smaller ones.

Before discussing the breakdown of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats, I should first give a broad overview of the digestive route that food takes as it moves through the body. The first stop in the process of digestion once food has been chewed and swallowed is the stomach whose muscular walls contract and help to mix the food with your gastric juices. This mush of food and gastric juices is called Chyme (kyme). From the stomach, chyme enters the small intestine where it travels passed the liver, gallbladder and pancreas which all contribute to the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. What is left of the chyme then enters the large intestine and is eventually excreted through the anus.

Carbohydrates, protein and fats are all digested slightly differently and understanding those differences can mean a lot when trying to improve your digestion. Different enzymes are needed for each of the three groups of nutrients and if your body is lacking in any of those certain enzymes then your body will have troubles digesting that nutrient.

The majority of the digestion of carbohydrates, for example, begins in the small intestine rather than the stomach. The pancreas secretes an enzyme called amylase which breaks down starches (polysaccharides) into double sugars (disaccharides). Three other enzymes, Maltase (for malt sugar), Sucrase (for cane sugar) and Lactase (for milk sugar) are then used to break down the double sugars into simple sugars (monosaccharides) which can then be absorbed and utilized by the body.

Fat is also mostly digested in the small intestine rather than the stomach but fat must first be emulsified (broken down) by a substance called bile before it can truly be broken down into its basic elements. Once the fat has been emulsified, an enzyme called pancreatic lipase is able to break down the fat into individual fatty acids which can then be absorbed and utilized by the body.

Unlike the digestion of fat and carbohydrates, protein digestion is able to begin in the stomach. The gastric juices within the stomach are naturally composed of Pepsinogen and hydrochloric acid. When protein molecules enter the stomach, hydrochloric acid converts pepsinogen to an enzyme called Pepsin which breaks the negatively charged bonds of the large protein molecule so that it is split up into simpler units called polypeptides. Polypeptides then move to the small intestine where Trypsin is able to break down the positively charged bonds. Another enzyme called Peptidases also helps to further break down the polypeptides into individual amino acids which can then be absorbed and utilized by our bodies.

How smoothly digestion occurs relies on many factors including the presence of the necessary enzymes, the combination of foods eaten, the acidity or alkalinity of the digestive environment and many other factors.

Facts about digestion and ways to improve your digestion:

1) Cooking food tends to destroy the natural enzymes present in the food so eating plenty of raw/uncooked foods can help to ensure the presence of the necessary enzymes and lessen the body’s need to produce them itself.

2) The way you combine foods in each meal can be very important because each set of enzymes can only thrive in a specific PH environment. Enzymes that digest protein thrive in a more acidic environment while enzymes that digest carbohydrates thrive in a more alkaline environment so making sure your meals are made up of the right combination of foods can improve the function of the necessary enzymes. You can find a good description of food combing rules here: Barbara Minton Article

3) Drinking a lot of fluid WHILE eating dilutes your digestive juices and impairs digestion so try to minimize your liquid intake to just a few sips, if necessary, immediately before, during or after meals rather than guzzling tons of liquid. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day when you are not eating though in order to prevent constipation.

4) Antacids like tums and Rolaids hamper your digestive juices so try not to consume these. If you are taking them for heartburn then you should understand that it is actually a lack of hydrochloric acid that causes heartburn rather than an excess so taking antacids just worsens the problem. Try taking Hydrochloric acid tablets instead.

5) Aloe Vera Gel, either fresh from the plant or supplement grade, helps to soothe the stomach lining and can also encourage the absorption of some nutrients. Supplement grade Aloe Vera Gel can be found at most health food stores. I buy mine online from Vitacost Search

6) Healthy bacteria in your intestine help to break down food and also produce much needed nutrients. Taking a probiotic daily can help to balance out the ratio of good bacteria in your stomach. Never buy the probiotics that need to be refrigerated though because if they can’t survive on your shelf then how are they going to survive your stomach acid in order to reach your intestines. Some good sources of probiotics are:
Mercola Complete Probiotics
Vitacost Search

7) Try not to eat when you are stressed out or emotional as this can hinder your ability to digest foods by diverting much needed blood and energy from your digestive tract to other areas of your body.

8) Try not to eat within the 2-4 hours before going to bed so that your stomach has a chance to rest and repair from the constant burden of digestion that it undergoes throughout the day.

9) Always chew your food thoroughly so that it takes less effort for the body to break up the food. Another benefit of chewing thoroughly is that your food has more of a chance to mix with your saliva which contains many valuable enzymes needed for digestion.

10) Remember that gas, bloating and pain are not normal so pay attention to what you are eating and how it is affecting your body. You may be allergic or have sensitivities to certain foods that you never knew you had. Removing those foods from your diet can go a long way in relieving discomfort after meals.

11) There are many herbs and foods that either stimulate digestive juices, tone the stomach or have an abundance of enzymes to aid digestion, so including them in your diet can be helpful. Some of these helpful foods and herbs include: Chamomile, Tarragon, Cayenne, Fennel, Dill, Cilantro, Parsley, Papaya, Peppermint, Spearmint, Sage, Basil, Catnip and Pineapple just to name a few.

12) There are also a few essential oils which can aid digestion including: Bergamot, Clary Sage, Fennel, Dill, Angelica, Anise and Jasmine. A great site to find out how to use herbs, foods and oils to improve digestion is Annies Remedy.

13) Getting more fiber in your diet and making sure to exercise regularly are also standard methods for improving digestion.

- For Educational Purposes Only
- Not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition
-These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA
- These statements are my opinions and conclusion from the knowledge I have thus far

Resources:

1) Thibodeau & Patton, Structure and Function of the Body, 13th Edition, 2008, pgs. 399-413
2) http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/mole00/mole00175.htm
Accessed: 06/15/09
3) http://www.naturalnews.com/025651.html
Accessed: 06/15/09, Author: Barbara Minton
4) http://www.naturalnews.com/022235.html
Accessed: 06/15/09, Author: Dr Emily A Kane
5) http://www.naturalnews.com/025666_aloe_vera_digestion_the_flu.html
Accessed: 06/16/09, Author: Melanie Grimes
6) http://altmedicine.about.com/od/optimumhealthessentials/a/Tips_Digestion.htm
Accessed: 06/16/09
7) http://www.anniesremedy.com/remedy_use85.php
Accessed: 06/16/09

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