Digestion is one of those bodily functions that occur without thought -unless it’s going poorly. Most people go through their day letting their autonomic nervous system go through its various functions breaking down and digesting food. But, when symptoms like constipation, heartburn, stomach pain, and bloating occur, it’s time to look at how to improve digestion, discovering the underlying causes.
The most common cause of gas and bloating come from poor breakdown of food beginning in the stomach. Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) is made in the stomach and has a major role in breaking down proteins and killing bacteria. If the body is deficient in the nutrients needed to produce HCL or if the body is simply producing too little HCL, it becomes difficult to break down food completely, creating indigestion and heartburn. Left unchecked, poor breakdown of food in the stomach can affect digestion in the small and large intestines, causing bloating, pain and gas.
Enzymes for Digestion
A key component in digestion includes enzymes. They are made in the stomach and pancreas to help break down proteins and carbohydrates so the small and large intestines can absorb the energy, vitamins and minerals contained in food. The gallbladder releases bile salts that break down fat. If any of the mechanisms involved in producing and releasing enzymes slow or falter during digestion, it can create symptoms of pain, bloating and undigested food in the stool.
Chronic Inflammation of the Intestinal Tract
Over time, with poor digestion, the intestinal tract becomes inflamed. This leads to irritated tissue in the bowel creating a series of symptoms such as pain, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Research has shown a direct link between inflammation and certain foods that contain gluten and dairy. An elimination diet may provide useful information in determining your personal inflammatory foods.
Balanced Gut Flora
Gut flora has been a hot topic lately, both among consumers and among researchers. It turns out that while gut flora (otherwise known as bacteria and fungus living in the intestinal tract) is not new to the body, it does play an integral role in health. An overgrowth of harmful bacteria or fungus can cause excessive gas, bloating, and constipation. Eating high quality natural probiotic foods like yogurt and fermented vegetables assist with the restoration of beneficial bacteria to the intestines. It can also be done with the use of a good quality probiotic.
There are many factors at play when it comes to slow digestion, the main issue being motility or intestinal contractions. When the intestines have slow contractions or slow transit of food through the digestive tract, there may be a problem in motility. This can cause a back up of undigested stool and symptoms of bloating, pain, and constipation. Poor intestinal motility may initially be relieved by an increase in fiber and fluid, however, it’s important to address possible enzyme and HCL deficiencies, along with pinpointing inflammatory foods in the diet.
Discovering the Underlying Causes
The causes of poor digestion are multi-faceted and may be different in each individual. That’s why it’s important to treat each person based on their own personal history, symptoms and body system. The first step is to determine the need for digestive support. Then, consider going on an elimination diet or a 21-Day Purification Program to allow the gut to heal from the foods that may be causing inflammation. Lastly, it’s important to evaluate the diet for adequate fiber and other digestion promoting foods like probiotic foods.
For more information on how to improve digestion, set up a complimentary 15-minute phone session with our Clinical Nutritionist to see how you can improve your diet and to discuss the need for further testing. And, if you live in the area, sign up to attend the bi-yearly complimentary seminar on Inflammatory Foods.