Phases of Digestion

Phases of Digestion

Your digestive system will process 170,000 pounds of food over the course of your life.  Your digestive system has more nerve endings than your brain.  These facts are amazing and helps us to realize how critical the digestive system is to human health.  One of the most important functions of your digestive system is to physically and chemically break down food to allow for absorption further down the digestive tract.  What is the point of eating all this healthy food if your body cannot break it down properly to get the nutrients that it needs to benefit you?  We feel the digestive system is one of the most important yet overlooked systems in your body.

A simple way to think about digestion is to equate it to a car wash.  Each phase in the car wash is critical and dependent on the previous phase being completed.  These steps must occur in the right order.  You would never dry the car before it’s been soaped.  So let’s break the digestive process down so that you have a better understanding of how this amazing sequence of events takes place and turns your food into nutrition to fuel your body.
Digestive Health

Phase 1 – Food for Thought

Digestion starts in the brain.  The smell and anticipation of food triggers the brain and digestive system to start releasing enzymes and gastric juices to prepare for the incoming meal.  It is important that you are in a calm and stress-free environment when you eat.  This will keep your body in the “rest and digest” mode.

Phase 2 – Chew Your Food: your stomach does not have teeth!

Mom was right, chewing your food is good for you, but she may not have told you why.  Chewing your food is one of the most critical steps to digestion.  The physical crushing of food in your mouth breaks increases the surface  area of your food and unlocks the nutrients in the food for further digestion in the stomach. bigstock-Assorted-metal-gears-on-white-17158397Chewing your food also stimulates stomach secretions and mixes your saliva with your food to start the breakdown of carbohydrates. This critical step is not reproduced anywhere else and therefore is critical to the process.  If you food is not properly chewed it will disrupt the entire process that follows, there is nothing that can replicate this step for you.

Phase 3 – Stomach

When food enters the stomach, your stomach starts to secrete hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes that work mainly on breaking down protein.  The hydrochloric acid also sterilizes your food stomach to prevent bugs that may be in your food from entering your bloodstream.

A common reason for heartburn is a lack of stomach acid secretion or dilution of enzymes.  This results from not chewing your food, or drinking lots of water with your food.  Food remains partially digested and starts to rot. This rotten food becomes acidic (lactic acid), which is acidic enough to burn your esophagus, but not acidic enough to digest your food properly. For this reason, in our office, we often prescribe digestive enzymes that actually acidify the stomach contents.

Phase 4 – Pancreas

The next step once the food has been sterilized and acidified is to further break down that food via the release of pancreatic enzymes.  The pancreatic enzymes also alter the pH of the food to make it more alkaline in preparation for entry into the jejunum.

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Phase 5 – Gallbladder Secretion

The final major step in digestion takes place once bile is released to emulsify fats.  These fats are chemically broken down by bile so that they can be absorbed.  The gallbladder does not make bile, it stores it.  Bile is made from cholesterol and toxins that are neutralized by the liver.  Bile not only digests fats but it further sterilizes the bowel and promotes regularity.

The physical and chemical breakdown of food is critical to proper digestion and absorption. The problem with undigested food is that it is these food particles can leak into the bloodstream. Then the immune system will recognize that food particle as an invader. This is where lots of food sensitivities come from. This immune response can also increase inflammation and raise blood sugars, causing a system-wide reaction.

Woman choosing between healthy food and caloric food

What can you do to help with proper digestion?

  • Choose the right foods
  • Chew your food thoroughly
  • Don’t drink more than 8 oz. of fluid with meals
  • Eat in a relaxing environment
  • Eat fresh fiber first
  • Eliminate food allergens (get tested)
  • Identify and eliminate any microbes or parasites
  • Get a comprehensive stool test to identify digestive system health

At the Onna Lo MD Clinic we help you get to the underlying cause of your digestive issues, instead of just treating the symptoms.  We help you find out WHY you don’t feel well and what you can do about it.

A Functional Medicine Approach to Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is the common name for a set of symptoms that result from the adrenal glands being worked to exhaustion. For the majority of cases, adrenal fatigue is secondary to some other underlying health issue such as chronic, hidden inflammation.  Stress can come in a variety of forms, but your body’s response is the same.  It can take years for your adrenal glands to fail to meet the demands of your daily life, ultimately resulting in adrenal fatigue.

If you’re suspecting that you have adrenal fatigue.  Ask yourself if you suffer from these adrenal fatigue symptoms;

  • get tired for no reason
  • have trouble getting up in the morning
  • need caffeine or energy drinks to keep goingAdrenal Fatigue
  • crave either salty or sweet snacks
  • either have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • chronic allergies
  • never get sick
  • get sick often
  • poor memory
  • poor concentration
  • depression
  • menstrual cycle irregularities
  • chronic pain
  • slow healing from injuries
  • bruise easily
  • inability to handle stress

If you answered yes to any of these questions then consider adrenal fatigue.

The Anatomy of Adrenal Fatigue

The adrenals are two small glands, each about the size of an almond, that are located above the kidneys. The adrenals have one of the highest rates of blood flow per gram of tissue, and the highest content of vitamin C per gram of any tissue in the body. Each adrenal gland is composed of two separate functional entities. The outer zone, or cortex, accounts for 80% to 90% of the gland and secretes adrenal steroids (cortisol, DHEA-S, aldosterone and small amounts of sex hormones). The inner zone, or medulla, comprises 10% to 20% of the gland and secretes the catecholamines (adrenaline and nor-adrenaline). Cortisol, DHEA, and adrenaline are the three main adrenal stress hormones. These hormones help you to buffer stress and adapt to everyday life demands. We’d love to talk to you about natural adrenal supplements.

Under stress, healthy adrenals increase their output of cortisol and DHEA to enable you to preserve health. They also secrete adrenaline, giving you a boost of energy when needed (ie mother lifting car off of a baby). If this becomes chronic, the adrenals can no longer keep up with the demand, and DHEA levels begin to fall, signifying adrenal fatigue.  In addition, the over-secretion of adrenaline can cause you to feel anxious and nervous.  Complaints of insomnia, fatigue, depression, irritability, and digestive difficulties are also common.  As adrenaline surges during stress, digestive enzymes are simultaneously lowered, and blood sugar levels rise.  As this becomes a more chronic occurrence, the results of high cortisol and adrenaline levels from prolonged stress wreak havoc on the body. Essentially under stress all systems that are required for rest, repair, and digestion shut down.

“Adrenal fatigue is the end-stage of a poorly adapted stress response that can take years to break down.”

Below are areas of the body that are negatively impacted by adrenal exhaustion and the chronic stress response that causes it.

Energy Production

Abnormal adrenal function can alter the ability of cells to produce energy for the activities of daily life. People who have a hard time rising in the morning, or who suffer from low energy throughout the day, often have abnormal adrenal rhythms, adrenal fatigue, and poor blood sugar regulation. The maintenance of a stable blood sugar level depends on food choice, lifestyle, adrenal function, and insulin activity.

Muscle and Joint Function

Abnormal adrenal rhythms are known to compromise tissue healing. Reduced tissue repair and increased tissue breakdown can lead to muscle and joint wasting with chronic pain.

Bone Health

The adrenal rhythm determines how well we build bone. If the night and morning cortisol levels are elevated, our bones do not rebuild well, and we are more prone to osteoporosis. Stress is the enemy of the bones. In postmenopausal women, the effect of stress worsens due to female hormone imbalances.

Immune Health

Various immune cells (white blood cells) cycle in and out of the spleen and bone marrow. The immune system trafficking follows the cortisol cycle. If the cycle is disrupted, especially at night, then the immune system is adversely affected. Short- and long-term stress is known to suppress the immune response in the lungs, throat, urinary tract and intestines. With reduction in the surface antibody (called secretory IgA), the resistance to infection is reduced and allergic reactions increase.

Sleep QualityAdrenal fatigue

In sleep-deprived individuals, the mean cortisol levels are elevated, and the quiescent period is shorter. Evening cortisol level is increased in patients with insomnia, affecting the first part of the nocturnal sleep period, increasing risk for depression. Chronic lack of REM sleep can reduce a person’s mental vitality, vigor and induce depression.

Fertility

Couples with high level of stress markers are less likely to succeed in conceiving. Stress alters the brain signals that trigger the ovaries to release eggs each month, so women under non-stop stress ovulate fewer eggs than less stressed women. Stress can also affect testosterone level and sperm production in men. Helping couples to de-stress while trying to conceive can impact their success rate.

Skin Regeneration

Human skin regenerates mostly at night. With higher night cortisol values, less skin regeneration takes place. Thus normal cortisol rhythm is essential for optimal skin health.

Thyroid Function

The level of cortisol at the cellular level controls thyroid hormone production. Often, hypothyroid symptoms such as fatigue and low body temperature are due to a stress or adrenal fatigue.  Chronic stress will convert thyroid hormone to it’s inactive form (reverse T3) and shuts down the production of TSH.

Gluten Sensitivity and Stress Response

Approximately 12-18% of the U.S. population suffers from a genetic intolerance to grains, such as wheat, rye or barley contained in cereals, breads and pasta. A high incidence occurs in people with Celtic, Nordic, non-Caucasian and Mediterranean ethnicity. The gut becomes inflamed within 30 minutes after consuming grains, and this can lead to an adrenal stress response, increased cortisol and reduced DHEA.

Diabetes - BrainMemory

Sustained stress adversely affects brain function and memory processing. Too much cortisol interferes with the functioning chemicals the brain uses for its cellular intercommunication as well as decrease the function of the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that forms memories. Chronic long term stress, with increased cortisol level at night, makes it perplexing to think, organize, and store new memories or retrieve long-term ones.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

A common adrenal fatigue issue in CFS is impaired corticotrophin release.  As a result, low cortisol and eventual adrenal atrophy may be observed.  Simultaneous use of several therapies can help improve the debilitating effects of CFS.

Glycemic Dysregulation

Chronic low blood sugars can impair normal adrenal function by repetitive over-stimulation of cortisol production. Recurring exposure to high cortisol will impair insulin activity, and invariably lead to insulin resistance and beta-cell exhaustion (diabetes).

Allergies/Autoimmune Disorders

More than fifty years ago, Dr. W. Jefferies (author of Safe Uses of Cortisol) discovered that patients with environmentally triggered allergies and autoimmune diseases dramatically benefited when given cortisol for other purposes. More recently, German researchers reported that disruption of the adrenal axis and cytokine relationships lead to predisposition and aggravation of autoimmune diseases.

Depression/ADD

Several recent publications report a hyperactive HPA axis in depressed patients. Elevated midnight salivary cortisol is now considered one of the best tests in diagnosing endogenous depression. Other anomalies in cortisol rhythm usually accompany the midnight elevation. On the other hand, cortisol elevations and rhythm disruptions throughout the day are typical of attention deficit disorders (ADD).

 

Our Clinic’s Approach to Adrenal Fatigue

As you can see, a chronic stress response that eventually develops into adrenal fatigue has a negative impact on virtually every aspect of health. Stress is reaching an epidemic proportion due to our fast-paced lifestyle and is at the heart of virtually all chronic disease.  As mentioned earlier, adrenal fatigue is secondary to a chronic stress stimulus. These stressors can be in the form of:

  • Dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance in the gut)
  • Food Sensitivities
  • Chemical Sensitivities
  • Chronic Pain
  • Blood Sugar issues such as reactive hypoglycemia and diabetes
  • Environmental factors such as quality of air, food, and water, as well as toxin exposure
  • Fast-paced lifestyle
  • Poor relationships

As Functional Medicine Providers, it is our job to dig through the dirt to find the underlying cause of your stress response gone awry.  Not only do we tell you WHY you don’t feel well, but teach you what YOU can do about it.  Let us help you develop a strategy to conquer adrenal fatigue and restore your vitality and quality of life.

Let us help navigate you towards better health!

Better Mood, Naturally: Mindful Eating with the Brain in Mind

It’s all about Food As Medicine.

If you live in the East bay, check out this wonder group class on How Food can improve your Brain chemical run by a wonderful colleague who use Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction in her groups.

http://www.centerforstressreduction.com/better-mood-class-oakland.html

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