Digestion is the primary area of dysfunction in the body that impacts all areas of health, even when no apparent digestive symptoms are present. In my experience, other ongoing issues often resolve themselves once the gastro-intestinal tract has been appropriately addressed. After all, we’re not so much what we eat but rather what we can break down and absorb. This is why people who ‘eat well’ can still look and feel unhealthy.
The level to which food is digested and absorbed dictates energy levels, overall health status and mental well-being.
What is digestion?
Digestion is the process of mechanical, chemical and microbial breakdown of food, extraction, production and absorption of nutrients, and removal of waste. We do not absorb food as such but the extracted vitamins, minerals, amino acids, glucose and fatty acids. We then utilise them to regenerate, produce new cells, hormones,neurotransmitters, etc.
Digestion works in a cascade order. This means that one disrupted process will result in the impairment of all consecutive steps. The brain plays the important role of a command centre. It can take as little as looking at the phone while eating to maldigest.
Most common reasons for impaired digestion:
- processed diet
- stress of any sort
- burning the candle at both ends
- mindless eating
- not chewing food properly, eating fast
- microbial imbalance
- lack of animal protein
- low fat diet
- coeliac disease, gluten intolerance
- nutrient deficiencies
- too much grains (baked goods, cereal, pasta, rice, etc)
- drinking while eating, especially cold beverages
- feeling of fullness after a small amount of food
- bloating, passing smelly wind or too much wind in general
- heartburn or acid reflux
- light coloured or floating stools
- pain or cramping in the abdomen
- constipation or diarrhea
- sticky stool, the need to wipe with multiple pieces of paper
- nutrient deficiencies (zinc, calcium, iron, B12, folate, vit A, D, K2)
- inability to build muscle
- high cholesterol
- poor energy
- slow metabolism
- allergies and intolerances
- loss of smell or taste
- no desire for meat
- recurring infections
- dry or itchy skin, rosacea, acne
- mental issues, hormonal imbalances, cancer, autoimmunity and all other chronic health conditions
Poor digestion is very common. Stress levels and insufficient expertise in nutrition and diet are major factors. Many of my clients have digestion issues and need some help to ´bounce back´
What to do
- Look at your poop and have a think about the smell – much as it may seem gross, it’s an important ‘test’ that will tell you a lot about your health, for free.
- Squatty-Potty or just an Ikea foot stool is a great aid that can be kept in the toilet and used by everyone. It forces gentle squatting, imitating the way humans used to evacuate and making bowel movements easier
- Have a shot of water with lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar (e.g. this brand) before each meal
- If salad is available, have it before rather than with the main meal, and dress it with olive oil and vinegar
- Eat slowly and mindfully – the stomach doesn’t have teeth. Chew well and put cutlery down each time you take a bite. Leave all phones in a designated place before sitting at the table. Tune into YOUR body and how YOU react to the various foods
- Add quality salt to your food (e.g. sea, Himalayan or Celtic) as it enhances digestion of protein
- Try not to combine animal protein with starches, e.g. steak and fries or spaghetti Bolognaise. Have the meat or ragu with vegetables instead and increase the portion if possible. Do not add fresh fruit to cereal, granola or porridge except for ripe banana
- Drink plain hot water during breaks. If available, add a bit of fresh ginger
- Manage stress, e.g. Headspace app, brief workout (especially stretching combined with diaphragmatic breathing), few deep breaths, book, even just a page a day. It is important to have a think about your possible stressors as these go beyond the emotional aspects, e.g. food intolerances or spinal misalignment
- Sleep whenever you can
How I can support you further
During consultations, I analyse the function of the entire digestive tract which includes the state of the gut in terms of dysbiosis, infections, leakiness, inflammation and oral tolerance to foods. All aspects of restoring digestive balance depend on individual factors and medical examination is often invaluable. I can also offer advanced functional testing, with testing kits delivered to your preferred location.
Outside the clinic, I support chefs in developing health oriented menus for crew or guests who may have specific health ailments, with the main focus on digestion. I also help my clients organise their kitchen, pantry, and we can go food shopping together.
Written by Maya Flynn
About the author
Maya Flynn, founder of www.welcometoglow.com is a functional nutritional therapist, certified GAPS practitioner (Gut and Paychology / Physiology Syndrome) and natural health consultant. Consultations online and in Club De Mar Medical Centre.