Digestion 101: Part 2: Dysfunction


In a previous post I summarized what digestion SHOULD look like. So if you have not had a chance to read that yet, scroll down and take a look. I will briefly describe some common ailments related to the dysfunction of the digestive tract. So many of us suffer with digestive issues that we start believing that the dysfunction is “normal.” After living with it long enough we just accept it as a part of life and continue on. As I will explain, this attitude has serious health implications.

You will recall from Part 1 that I talked about digestion starting in the brain. I stated the importance of being in a parasympathetic state while eating, and the need to chew your food appropriately. Remember that just as digestion starts north and continues south, dysfunction follows this same path. So, how you approach the simple act of eating WILL have an impact on the health of your digestion as it progresses further on down the line!

The stomach is supposed to be a very acidic environment. According to Dr. Jonathan V. Wright author of “Why Stomach Acid Is Good For you,” the stomach should be “an oasis of sterility.” We come into contact with an unbelievable abundance of bacteria. One of the goals of this acidic environment is to be the first line of defense against that bacteria. To accomplish the goal of killing off the bacteria we ingest, the pH of the stomach should be low. On the pH scale this is 1.5-3.0. (I will quickly point out, when we talk about the pH scale, the lower the number, the more acidic the environment. The higher the number on the scale, the more alkaline.)

It is this acidic environment that also plays a major role in the breakdown of our food. When the pH of the stomach is too high (more alkaline) this will lengthen the time of digestion. An environment is created where the proteins putrefy, carbohydrates ferment and the fats rancidify. The contents of the stomach are now at a level that causes “backward flow” up into the esophagus. Clearly the contents of the stomach were NEVER meant to come into contact with the delicate lining of the esophagus. Those that suffer from heartburn regularly know exactly what this feels like. As you can see, adequate stomach acid is an integral part of healthy digestion.

The dysfunction that began in the stomach can then continue on to the small intestine. When our food is not broken down mechanically and chemically, the way it was designed to be, then this allows undigested proteins to pass into the small intestine. Remember from Part 1 that the small intestine is the “highway to the bloodstream.” I want to make sure to mention the pancreas and the gallbladder while we are on the subject of the small intestine. Remember that the pancreas is signaled to release pancreatic enzymes and sodium bicarbonate and the gallbladder is signaled to release bile. These actions are necessary in order for your food to continue to be chemically broken down. Incomplete digestion is the result of these two organs not functioning properly. When undigested food makes its way into the small intestine, over time this damages the protective lining of the intestinal walls. This lining essentially becomes “leaky” and the selectivity of what is allowed to pass through is compromised . This dysfunction of the small intestine is called Leaky Gut. This has serious implications for our immune system but that is another post entirely.

Let us move on to see what can happen to the large intestine in a dysfunctional digestive tract. We know have things such as bacteria, parasites and undigested fats that have moved into the colon. What do you think happens to this material? It sits and degenerates in the colon. It disrupts the population of healthy gut flora. The colon is then weakened to the point where inflammation takes over and this leads to a whole host of issues. Some examples are Diverticulitis, IBS, Crohn’s disease, Colitis and the list goes on.

I do realize that this is a very general overview of how things can go wrong in our digestive tract but I think its important for everyone to realize that digestive distress is not a part of a healthy lifestyle. You are not destined to have terrible heartburn for the rest of your life nor should you be destined to have gastrointestinal issues every time you eat. These things can be corrected with something as simple as proper nutrition and learning how to manage stress.

Be Nourished. Be Well.