Its three AM and you just woke yourself up from a dead sleep with the bomb that you just let underneath the covers. Whats even worse is the dog has vacated the bed and made way out of the room so you know it must have been bad! But on a serious note, many of us in this country don't understand that bad gas or other digestive symptoms are actually abnormal.
Pardon the introduction about something that is actually quite embarrassing for most of us to discuss. The truth about all of these symptoms is that while they can be embarrassing it is your best way to know the status of your digestive system and its always a good idea to pay attention.
For example, bad smelling gas could be a sign of improper digestion due to things like food intolerances or sensitivities, fermentation in the gut, SIBO or Leaky Gut. For many years I way over-consumed carbohydrates, protein powders and bad fats. Mix in an acid blocker and you have all the makings for a very toxic soup. The very awful smelling gas should have been a warning sign for me, but I dismissed it. The gas was a byproduct of fermentation that was feeding the bad gut bacteria and seriously throwing me into dysbiosis (unbalanced bad to good bacteria in the gut). Now my diet consists of high levels of good fats, moderate proteins from the right sources and low levels of carbs that have tremendously improved my gut.
The digestive system is so fine tuned that from north to south its choreographed like an orchestra. The body needs specific things in order to do its job fully. See the full digestion process below. When these fundamental processes inside the process of digestion are not all synced, things begin to breakdown and ultimately leads to degeneration. Nutritional and Physical Degeneration is an excellent book by the way about Dr. Weston Price's travels and studies that show a connection between foods of convenience and illness or disease. The digestive system is at the top of the food chain meaning that all aspects of nutritional therapy depend on good digestion to work properly.
Say you dont digest proteins due to stomach acid deficiency. What impact is that going to have? We could spin off an entire post just about this, but the primary issues stem from the fact that a lot of neurotransmitters and hormones are derived from proteins. If you are not breaking down proteins into chains of amino acids, brain chemicals like serotonin or other mood chemicals will suffer. Another issue here is take gluten for example. The protein strand is just not broken down fully leaving too long of a strand. Ultimately this whole gluten strand ends up in the blood stream through the gut barrier. What do you suspect happens at this point? That's right, its identified as a foreign invader and is attacked by the immune system. Our body tissue gets in the cross fire of this exchange and chronic exposure to this will lead to inflammation and potentially leaky gut and so on.
How about if you dont eat the right fats or the "prescribed" low fat diet? Eating trans fats or fats from rancid commercial oils are two of the types of fats that you should avoid. However, if you eat out this can be ultra challenging as a lot of restaurants opt for cheaper oils to save costs. In turn, the consumer is getting mega doses of these rancid omega 6 oils not only in a significant number of restaurant foods, but in those microwave and prepared convenience foods as well. For those of you that have been scared to eat fats due to government health warnings, this also plays a negative part in digestion. So what is this doing to your body? Right off the bat these fats cause issue and essentially stress the body due to free radical introduction as well as creating a large imbalance between omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Some studies show that we are severely imbalanced in this country with a large percentage of the population at a 20:1 ratio in favor of the omega 6 fatty acids. For optimal inflammatory & pro-inflammatory responses this ratio needs to be at or near a 1:1 ratio. Basically this means that if you are imbalanced, you will struggle with bodily inflammation that is not restricted to any one area of the body. Probably the more significant immediate detriment is the low or not fat diet. Not too much discussion on fats as I will expand on this in a future post, but just know that the small intestine will detect the presence of good fat to continue its own processes. If you are one of the many that severely restricts fat you are risking potential gallbladder issue. Essentially lack of bile secretion prompts from the signaling of CCK, will lead to stagnation and thick viscous bile that doesn't flow. This means two things. Number one you cannot use fats and the other thing is that stones form in the gallbladder. From a digestion standpoint, fat is so fundamental to the body and without it we cannot burn fat for fuel which means a very taxed body relying on the glucose roller coaster. Check out Sally Fallon's The Oiling of America to see just how gross the commercial oil industry is.
So many other things can go wrong in the digestion process. Some can be related to being chronically stressed, drugs, acid suppression or maybe there is a sensitivity involved. Sensitivities are tricky as they may not show up for a few days. Allergies will typically give you indication immediately, but you may have to do some food elimination to get to the root of IgG sensitivities. Needless to say, sensitivities and allergies really tax the body and will derail digestion. Once the intestinal border is weakened and compromised due to the inflammation created by these reactions, its open season by the immune system. The once healthy small intestinal wall that absorbed 80% of the nutrients is now not able to absorb nutrients properly putting the body at great risk for deficiencies across the entire body.
There are easily ten major things that happen with poor digestion and to summarize:
So what are we to do to improve digestion? Everything I think fits nicely into Dr. Amy Meyers Autoimmune Solution four step plan; Remove the stressors, restore, re-inoculate & repair. Even if you are not on the autoimmune spectrum, these are great steps to follow to heal the gut.
The big takeaway here is to listen and take the right action. If we listen soon enough we can stay off the autoimmune spectrum or lessen our risk to develop an autoimmunity or other diseases. But you have to listen and do something proactive. I think the most of us will wait and wait and wait until we have passed that threshold between non-disease & disease. Once you have breached this marker, your health recovery will most likely be quite a bit more challenging. Conventional approaches don't give too much hope as they are not really designed to cure most things, just cover the symptoms. When embarking a new health endeavor, you will most likely feel overwhelmed and frustrated. If you are in this position please reach out to Heart To Health Wellness for a nutritional therapy appointment.
The full digestion process for those interested in a more granular breakdown:
#1 First and foremost the process of digestion starts with your mind set. Are you in a bad mood? Are you stressed? Are you in a hurry? All good reasons to wait to eat until you are in a calm or parasympathetic state. Digestion does not work when the body is amped up.
#2 Take your time to eat and chew your food at the next step of the process. Chewing your food starts the process of carbohydrate digestion, but also readies the food to be further digested down south. Too big of pieces causes stress in the digestive system, so take your time and chew well. If you can chew for 30 times plus, it will provide a great jump start to the process.
#3 Next stop on the evolution is into the stomach. Once the food reaches the stomach, it will begin chemical and mechanical process to break down food. The stomach requires a very precise pH level of 1.5-3 (a pH of 7 is neutral) to carry out its mission. Anything more alkaline than that and the food is just gonna sit right where its at for a bit. This right here is the root cause of heartburn. I discuss more about heartburn in this blog post. The conventional theory is based on the idea that we produce too much stomach acid when in reality we don't produce enough. Going back to the point about being calm when eating is also key here as when we are stressed, we don't produce stomach acid. Just how stressful is our society? We are chronically stressed these days and could be a major contributor to our rampant digestive issues in this country. But back to the stomach we go and its all about HCL. This acid as well as Pepsin is produced by the lining of the stomach and will be tasked with breaking down proteins into peptides. One thing of note is that the HCL will not just break down food, but it will also inoculate the stomach. Basically it disinfects and kills bacteria and parasites that are ingested further up north. This would explain why two people can eat the same tainted food and only one person gets ill. The person with the healthier gut will have the means to get rid of these pathogens before they cause harm in the more sensitive areas of the intestines. So this is quite a dance that happens in the stomach and assuming all processes are working well, the chyme (what the food is at this point) will now move through the Pyloric Sphincter into the Duodenum in the Small Intestine.
#4 In the small intestine, specifically the duodenum, chyme is now further broken down. The choreography continues in the duodenum as numerous hormones are released to first trigger the pancreas to release bicarbonate. The acid in the small intestine at this point is too acidic and Secretin triggers this release to neutralize the chyme so it doesn't burn the inside of the intestinal walls. An additional hormone is released from the small intestine to trigger the release of bile. Cholecystikinin (CCK) is triggered to communicate with the gallbladder to release bile. This is the stage where the fat begins to be emulsified. 80% of our digestion is in the small intestine.
#5 The last stage on the digestion train is to the large intestine. This is where the recycling happens. Water and waste material are both recycled nourishing the colon cells. Any lost nutrients are captured with the help of the good gut flora and converts these to vitamins K,B1, B2, B12 and butyric acid. If the large intestine is subjected to maldigested foods, it will ultimately lead to degeneration causing a gut flora imbalance and weakening of the colon walls. If left unaddressed, it will lead to chronic inflammation resulting in IBS, Colitis, etc.
Ian Sandage is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who speaks from the personal experience of someone with autoimmune disease and the highs and lows of a health journey