Digestion is the centre of health. Without the proper absorption of nutrients in the gut, none of our other organs can fully operate as intended. Ensuring that both the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) as well as the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) are delivered to our body systems is the first step towards optimal health.
Digestive conditions treated by Naturopathic Doctors:
- Crohn’s disease
- Gas + bloating
- Heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
Your digestive tract is a specialized tube with each section playing an irreplaceable role in the breakdown and absorption of food. We must ensure that each section is fully functioning and symptom-free.
Digestion in the Mouth
Digestion actually begin prior to putting the food in our mouth. Once we see, hear, smell or even THINK about food, the salivary glands in our mouth start to secrete digestive juices which begin to break down the sugars in our food. It also lubricates the food as it is mashed up into a bolus to be easily swallowed and passed down the esophagus into the stomach.
Digestion in the Stomach
When the stomach receives the signal that food is on it’s way it secretes acid that serves two purposes:
- Sanitation of microorganisms entering on the food
- Stomach acid kill many bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites hitching a ride on your meal. This keeps the upper GI tract low in microbial diversity and prevent invasion of lower GI regions by harmful bacteria.
- The churning and acid of the stomach act to break down food, especially helping to breakdown proteins in our meal. The rest of our body is protected from the burn of acid as the stomach seals off the its contents from the rest of the body with two sphincters (circular muscle); the lower esophageal sphincter at the top of the stomach, and the pyloric sphincter at the bottom. If the upper sphincter does not close properly, some acid can splash into the esophagus causing pain (heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux). The stomach itself is protected from being harmed by acid because it is coated with a thick mucous layer. Some bacteria (H. pylori) can damage this mucous layer making the stomach lining sensitive to harm.
Digestion in the Small Intestine
The small intestine is where nutrient absorption occurs. The pancreas, liver, gallbladder and intestinal cells themselves aid in the last stages of food breakdown. So essentially, at the end of the small intestine the original food no longer exists. It is now the end product as protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fibre. In a highly coordinated manner the first three components are absorbed into the blood stream to be built back up into many different things that our bodies need. The fibre and any remaining nutrients then pass along to the large intestine.
Digestion in the Large Intestine
This is where we house a huge amount of bacteria. The bacteria digests any remaining nutrients and some of the fibre, and they help us in a couple of ways:
- Vitamin production — including K and Bs
- Immune system regulation — these bacteria interact with our immune cells to keep us on our immunological toes. This dance helps us to remember when to react and when to relax. When this balance is off we can develop allergies and even autoimmunity.