Diabetes, hypertension, migraines, even Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s. Do you know what a lot of people with these diseases have in common? Constipation!
Really!!! How? Let’s discuss…
Our gastrointestinal tract (let’s call it gut in this blog) starts in the mouth and ends at the anus. It is like a very long tube. The surface of our intestinal lining is about 30-40 meters square, size of a 1/2 of a badminton court.
Digestion of food starts in the mouth. Digestive enzymes are released in the mouth. Chewing is very important. When we don’t chew our food enough and we just chug it down because we don’t have time either because we are running late for a meeting or we are watching a show and not paying attention to what we are eating, it results in improper digestion.
The food further goes down the food pipe and then enters the stomach. Our stomach produces gastric or hydrochloric acid which is very important for digestion of the food. If you have low stomach acid for any reason, that also impacts digestion. Now, what can cause low stomach acid? A very common cause is taking excess of antacids. If you are taking them, it is important to identify why and fix the cause. Improper digestion and absorption in the stomach can cause nutritional deficiencies of certain vitamins too. Stomach acid can be enhanced by-again chewing adequately-when you do that, our stomach anticipates that food is coming our way and it starts to make gastric juices. Simple things like adding ginger to food, taking diluted apple cider vinegar before meals can enhance it.
As food travels further, it leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine. Here again, various enzymes are released which break down food into very small particles. Carbohydrates like bread to very simple sugars, proteins into tiny amino acids, bigger fatty foods to small particles. If there is a lot of inflammation or disease in our gut, these enzymes are not produced properly and that causes improper digestion. As the food keeps getting broken down, it keeps traveling down from the small to the large intestine and keeps getting absorbed. That is the reason why our gut is so long so that food can have enough time to get absorbed.
Only the smaller food particles are supposed to get absorbed. Cells in the gut lining are very closely attached to each other, they have very tiny gaps to let smaller food particles pass through. Imagine your lining of the gut as a cheesecloth, it doesn’t let big particles to get through but if there are holes in that cloth, you know what will happen. Now, bigger food particles can also get through. When these bigger particles can gut through the gut and enter the bloodstream, these are foreign to our immune system and our body tries to fight them and creates antibodies against them. One can experience bloating, flatulence, even constipation, diarrhea, and develop food sensitivities. Vitamin D modulates these gates/junctions between the cells. Adequate levels of the vitamin are essential for gut health too.
Our body is designed in a way where our body checks out everything coming in. Our gut houses 1/3rd of our immune system. It is the first line of defense against what we are putting in our body just like skin protects us from the external environment. Some scientists call it the second brain. Rightfully so, gut lining comes in contact with so many foreign things every day. If you think about it all you ate yesterday, you can see what all your gut lining was exposed to. It does a marvelous job everyday screening everything and letting only the right things go in but if the assault continues then the system can break down at some point.
Just eating food is not enough. If the process of digestion and absorption is not working properly then your body can’t squeeze out the nutrients and you will be malnourished despite eating nutritious meals. Imagine a donut and now stretch it really really long, that’s how our gut is. The food once inside the hole of the donut has to travel throughout the wall of the donut to get to the bloodstream.
Like we discussed above, it’s a long tube. Food has to keep traveling. We do need adequate water to move things along. We should aim to drink 1/2 ounce of water per pound. Do you know why our parents asked us to take a few moments and say a prayer before we start eating? Doing so, jump starts our parasympathetic system, part of the nervous system that increases our gut motility. So, just taking 5 deep breaths before every meal can also be very helpful. Reduced motility as we know it as constipation is very bad for the body. Our body has done a lot of work and created this waste to get rid of all the toxins. If the exhaust of the car gets stuck, all that smoke will get back into the engine. Similarly, if the gut is not working, if you are constipated, then what waste your body has created will get absorbed back into the body. That can’t be good, right?
A healthy gut is very important. It doesn’t take much to get it out of balance, same way it takes very simple things to get it back in balance. When you put something in your body, be aware of what it is going to do to you. Trust your gut feeling.