Your stomach secretes acid which not only breaks down the food we consume, but also destroys bacteria and parasites that may have entered with the food. So, to have ample acid is protective, it protects us from harmful things entering with food. The food stays in your stomach churning for between 1-3 hours. At the bottom of the stomach there is a doorway called the pyloric sphincter, it is considered the quality control center for the system. It regulates the passage of food to the small intestines. When we have proper pH in the stomach the pyloric sphincter is triggered to release the food into the intestine. The first part of the intestine is a transitional area, the stomach contents pH should be between 1.5 to 3 and mucous is secreted to raise the pH so it can continue through the small intestine without doing damage.
If, in this first part of the intestine, the stomachs contents pH is higher than 3, your stomach contents will not be released until absolutely necessary. Food staying in your stomach too long can cause fermentation, putrification and maldigested food and lead to gas, bloating and back flow of food into the esophagus. It can also lead to a deficiency of B12 and other nutrients and proteins that aren’t fully broken down. The acid triggers hormones and enzymes along with bicarbonate to be secreted and if the acidity isn’t there, these signals are not produced which hampers additional signals further down the GI tract.
With the contents staying in the stomach longer, the mixing is still happening and it’s easy for acid to spill out of the LES, the classic sign that your stomach isn’t acidic enough. Less obvious signs of improper stomach acidity are food sensitivities, a diagnosis of an autoimmune condition, unexplained bouts of nausea or diarrhea, food sitting uncomfortably in the stomach after eating, acne, obesity, fatigue, pale skin due to anemia, muscle cramps, hair or nails that won’t grow, and seeing undigested food in the stool. As you can see, you may not have typical signs of low acid secretion, but so many small seemingly unrelated symptoms point to it.
Here's an example. I am 52 years old, about two years ago I noticed that I had some swelling under my armpits. I thought it was weird, so I started to work on my lymphatic system, drank extra water and spent some time in my sauna, exercised a little more. Nothing made it budge.
Would you think something like this was related to digestion?
It wasn’t until I started to optimize my digestion that it went away, within three months. Like I said, an improper pH can come in many forms and a lot of the time we don’t connect it to digestion.
How can you optimize digestion?
These remedies can get you started. You can find all the items in a regular supermarket. If you find that these aren’t working for you and you need more support, reach out!
In my practice I talk about digestion ALL the time. It’s one of the places I start with everyone. Why? Because this is where the outside world meets you. I always get puzzled looks when I say this because we really don’t think about the body like this. What do you mean, my digestive system is outside of my body? Yes, technically your digestive system is inside you, BUT it’s a place to process the outside world.
Think about your digestive system for a minute, it starts with an opening at your mouth and ends with an opening at your butt, like a hose. A hose running through you, the stuff inside that hose, is the outside world and it’s not until the food goes through the hose that it’s able to enter into you.
In my last article I talked about why it’s important to chew your food. In this article, I’m going to focus a little further down to the stomach. So many people that come to me have issues directly related to the digestive system, they have symptoms of heartburn or indigestion and many are on or have been on Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) or other acid blocking medications. They are told that because they have these symptoms, they have too much acid and it needs to be decreased.
Let’s think about this for a minute. When do we start having symptoms like this? Typically, we start getting light nudges from our body in our late 30s and it winds up getting worse as we get older. If heartburn was an issue of too much stomach acid, wouldn’t children and teenagers have heartburn and indigestion?
The fact is that by your mid twenty’s your stomach acid naturally decreases, this is a normal part of aging and can set the stage for heartburn and indigestion and lead you to think that you have too much acid.
So what’s happening to give you heartburn?
At the top of the stomach, there is a doorway called the lower esophageal sphincter. This doorway opens and closes to allow food to go in and keep the food in the stomach. If the stomach does not have the proper acidity, this doorway can open when it should be closed. As food inside the stomach is being processed, a little bit of acid can splash out of this doorway onto cells that aren’t capable of handling acid. This is the feeling you get when you have heartburn.
Your stomach is meant to be acidic. It’s meant to be the place where the chemical breakdown of food happens, it also is meant to protect you from pathogens, bacteria and viruses. If you are taking medications to decrease your stomach acid further, you run the risk of nutrient deficiencies, parasitic infections, H. Pylori and an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria. These medications can be helpful to reduce pain and esophageal inflammation, but they don’t address the underlying cause.
What can do to assist your body in healing?
How well do you chew your food?
Did you know, chewing your food is an important part of digestion? It is! It is often overlooked as part of the digestive process and many times, with certain foods, we chew our food a couple of times and swallow. If this food is meat, you feel it slowly go down your esophagus. I remember this feeling well. When I ate meat, I felt it so tedious to chew that I often swallowed after a couple of bites and felt it almost getting stuck in my esophagus. This is not good, instead of the stomach receiving a smooth broken down mass of food (called a bolus), it receives chunks of food.
We need to chew our food well. When we do, we start the chemical process of digestion which enhances saliva production. Saliva contains enzymes like Amylase that help to break down and moisten the food. Your teeth and tongue help to mix the food and enzymes so that the food glides down the esophagus easily and can help take some strain off the rest of the digestive system.
How is this? When you chew your food, your intelligent body sends chemical messengers to the rest of your body, it tells your stomach to start producing digestive juices because food is coming. If your food is chewed thoroughly, the digestive juices can get right to work efficiently because the surface area of the food is bigger. If your food is received in chunks this can result in gas, bloating and indigestion. Did you catch that? Not chewing your food can result in some of the symptoms that bring you to me! As we travel further down the digestive tract, if we miss this one critical step in digestion, it can also result in leaky gut which can open the doors for so many health issues.
So, how well do you chew your food? Examine your oral health. Do you have teeth that hurt, dentures that don’t fit right? Sensitive teeth? This can all impact how thoroughly you chew the food. The amount of times you chew the food will vary depending on what food you are eating. For instance, if you are having a smoothie, just a few times is sufficient, if you are consuming animal foods, you want to chew that to an almost liquid state. As the saying goes “chew your liquids and drink your solids”. Chewing may seem like an insignificant task, but it is the first step and essential to optimizing your digestion!
A New Year, A New You
If you’re like me, by now you have probably been inundated with emails for detoxes, weight loss gimmicks and fat loss supplements, all discounted to entice you buy. A new year a new you, right? Get healthy in the New year! Try this for 30 days and lose 20 lbs! You know what I’m talking about. These ads lure you to believe that if you follow a specific protocol (that is usually impossible to follow) or pop a pill, you will lose weight. Then when you lose the weight and gain it back, you are left thinking you just didn’t have enough willpower! Why? These diets are gimmicks, they are designed this way so the writers can make money time and again because you think it was your fault you failed. It was NOT your fault, you were tricked into thinking there is one thing that will help, a quick fix. These gimmicks do not teach you how to eat or even what foods might be better for you. There are no quick fixes and, we, as a culture, need to move away from this “diet mentality” and really learn about how food affects us individually.
What I want for you in the new year is to learn to change your lifestyle so you never have to think about dieting (or detoxing) again and so you don’t fall for a quick fix. I want you to change your mindset regarding eating. I want you to know that there is no one diet plan that is going to work for everyone all the time…at least not for the long term. I want you to know that there is so much more to being healthy than just losing weight.
Here are four things you can put into place immediately to start you on your new health journey:
1.Eat whole foods – this does not mean looking at foods that say whole wheat flour. A whole food is how you find the food in nature. An apple, celery, kale…these are whole foods.
2.Eat organic as much as possible – the pesticides that are sprayed on food are meant to kill insects, they affect humans too but at a much slower rate.
3.If you do buy packaged foods – read the ingredient label, it should contain a small list with only things you know. For instance: wheat berries, or dried apples
4.Research the ingredients - Can you say the ingredient? Do you know what it is? Is it organic? Is it verified GMO free? If you can’t pronounce something and don’t know what it is, or is genetically modified, put it back on the shelf!
Making small changes like these can help you now in the New Year and be a catalyst to a lifetime of health as well!
It's all connected
We just started another year; I want to start the year out talking about how our body is connected. How each body system works synergistically with another. You see, we live in a world where medicine has specialties. These specialties separate the body into parts, each specialty zeroing in and treating one specific part. They see the body as separate systems, NONE of them practice looking at the body as a whole. It reminds me of the analogy I read a long time ago about the blind men who were at different areas of an elephant, each arguing what they thought it was through their lens. They each saw a piece of the elephant, not the whole. They were each right in what they saw but they were missing critical information.
The same holds true when we look at the body like this, each specialty looking at one area, we miss seeing the whole picture. In my practice it leads to questions like, but I don’t have digestive issues, why are we looking there? That’s a good question, it’s where we break down the food into the nutrients needed to feed our body. These nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream that travels throughout the body, this super highway is moved by the beating of our heart, all of the nutrients that are absorbed through our digestive system are fed into the bloodstream for distribution. It doesn’t just stop at one place and fizzle out, it continues feeding the whole.
In functional nutrition, we make the connections of how each system is impacted by another. We look at the body as a whole and look at things like how food impacts the body. How do those heart blockages impact the rest of the body, can we do anything nutritionally to support the body or medical intervention?
A really good example of how medicine separates the body system is if we look at a cancer diagnosis. In conventional medicine, you receive a protocol that is targeted for a specific site. The oncologists all follow the same protocols, these protocols are written out for them...if this doesn’t work then go to that and I am not saying to abandon conventional medicine because it does have its place. What I am saying is, we need to dig a little deeper and trust ourselves enough to ask the tough questions to yourself and your medical team? What if these questions led us to a better place? What would happen if we were to change our mindset and take charge of our own health? Ask questions like what is my body trying to tell me with this diagnosis? What else can I do? What can I learn from this? Will a change in my diet or lifestyle support me in my journey?
These questions are good, these questions lead us to empowering ourselves, they lead us to taking charge of our health and not just being passive in our health care. We need to start a grass roots movement to get back to trusting our body, honor the processes and realize it’s all connected!