Doctor of chiropractic and licensed acupuncturist, Dr. Jeff Donahue is one of those extraordinary holistic practitioners who combines these disciplines of health with nutritional analysis and exercise physiology to balance the three dimensions of life and health: the physical, metabolic and energetic dimensions.
Dr. Jeff is the creator of the “Well Life Blueprint,” which is designed to increase your reserves of energy, which your body needs to heal from any issues, and for continued growth. His goal for his clients is to help maximize their lifestyles to enhance energy, creativity and intuition.
Dr. Jeff emphasizes client responsibility and teaches you how to take care of all aspects of your health and wellness. If you would like to speak to Dr. Jeff about your concerns, you may reach him at his office at 480.654.2920 or through his website www.DrJeffDonahue.com.
This is the first of a multi-part series to help you better understand your role and influence on one of the most important systems within the body, the digestive system.
The control of organs and glands within our bodies are largely outside of our conscious control; we have little say in immediately being able to regulate our temperature or blood pressure, for instance. They are regulated by nerves that automatically drive their function, the autonomic nervous system. We have no direct input in their regulation, but the health and function of our digestive tracts, as well as the health of all the rest of our bodies, is directly related to the fuel we select to put into our gut (a simple term for the digestive system), as well as the actions we take to support good digestion.
Simply, the digestive system is just a tube, starting from the mouth and ending at the anus. However, this tube is responsible for the feeding and fueling of the trillions of cells that comprise our bodies. Additionally it is responsible for the elimination of the waste products generated from processing the raw foods and the running of the cells. All of this happens without you having to worry about a thing. You eat food, you feel satisfied, you live your life and you eliminate. Repeat, over and over. No problem.
If your gut is working, and you don’t notice anything, than congratulations! The system is doing what it was designed to do; break down and absorb nutrients from food and fluids, and eliminate the wastes, all taking place in the ”background” of your life. When this system is working well, you are insuring that all of your cells are getting the best fuels and nutrients for them to function optimally.
If you had or currently have digestive symptoms, welcome to the club. When there are interruptions to “normal” digestion and symptoms occur, it’s the body’s way of saying that things aren’t right, and that a change may be needed. We will cover the most important points of a great digestive system over these next couple of articles. I want you to have a working knowledge of this most vital system that forms the foundation of your biochemical dimension.
Digestion starts before you even pick up a knife, fork or spoon. Your peripheral nervous system, specifically your sensory branch, has receptors within the body that signal to the brain that it is in need of fuel. We feel that in our bodies as hunger. If we even start to think about feeding, the central nervous system starts to shift the balance of attention from the muscles and movement to digestion, absorption and fueling/recovery of the cells. This is the shift of our autonomic system from sympathetic to parasympathetic, and the thoughts of food readies the glands and organs to begin their work, while the physical body slows movement. The emotional dimension shifts from one of constant readiness to relaxation and introspection. This is the time the physical body rests and recharges, thanks to the movement of blood from the extremities to the core.
These stirrings intensify as more senses are incorporated. When the sight or smell of good food are detected and anticipated, the glands begin to gradually release digestive juices, and the smooth muscles of the organs start to awaken as they contract. If your tummy ever roared or groaned when you were hungry, those were the muscles responsible for that sensation. There will also be an increase in saliva, as our mouth readies to receive food. We start to move the muscles of mastication, those needed to chew our foods, and we increase swallowing and lick our lips. These are instinctual responses preparing the body to start the fueling process.
Your stomach starts to produce stomach acids in anticipation of the coming food, and the increase of saliva in your mouth contains a digestive enzyme, amylase, which breaks down carbohydrates. When your taste buds come in contact with the food, your digestion kicks into high gear. All systems are go as digestive juices increase rapidly to deal with now what is identified as real, and not potential foods.
Liquids pass easily through the mouth to the stomach, as the nutrients contained within are generally very small particles. Larger, solid foods need to be first broken down physically to better release the nutrients within. The process of chewing uses the unique designs of our teeth to cut, tear and crush the food. This breakdown of the food stuffs is minimally about making sure that nothing poses a choke hazard; the most important part of chewing is to increase the total surface area of food to be exposed to the chemicals that are the second part of digestion. The more total area of food exposed, the greater concentration of nutrients available to be processed for assimilation into the body and bloodstream.
Sufficient chewing is a much underrated consideration with digestive concerns. Chewing more and holding the food in the mouth longer mixes it with more saliva and amylase. This helps to bind and provide lubrication to the little bundles of chewed food as they travel down the esophagus to the stomach.
“Wolfing” your foods down and swallowing larger particles of food without chewing enough severely strains the tract. Not only do you limit the available nutrients in your food to the digestive process, but these larger particles of undigested foods undergo a process of putrefaction, or rotting, which can cause digestive upset and imbalance as food moves down the tube.
Tips for Better Digestion: Part 1
Eating and digestion is best accomplished at a time set aside to do just that. The act of obtaining and preparing foods sensually and mentally starts the digestive process and readies the body for receiving and processing the fuel. Working or multi-tasking (i.e., driving) while eating is working against your body. If you can’t get out of “sympathetic” or work mode, your system will never be able to fully move into “parasympathetic” mode, where digestion occurs. This limits the digestive juices and compromises the efficiency of the system. Energy extraction will be at a minimum, while digestive imbalances will occur because of the putrefaction. Set aside and take the time to enjoy and savor your meal without distraction. Your gut will thank you.
Chew your foods thoroughly, using your tongue to mix them within your mouth. This will increase your sensation of the different flavors within the foods, as you better prepare the food for its start down the tube. Chew until you feel a ball of “mush” within your mouth.
Sip water as you are eating to help your digestion, and limit larger intakes at this time. Now is not the time to be drinking a lot of water. You want to help your food move easily from your mouth and down your esophagus to the stomach, but too much will dilute the digestive juices in the stomach, and cut down on the effectiveness of the chemicals responsible for separating the nutrients from the food. That will be our topic for the next installment of gut health and making sense of digestion.
Yours in health,
Dr. Jeff Donahue