There is a lot more to health and fitness than six-packs and burpees, and there is more to nutrition than kale and avocados. You are what you digest, process, and assimilate. You are not just what you eat, you are what you can digest and absorb!
Owning a functional healthy digestion system goes a long way to improving your wellbeing and life quality. The digestive system is known as the second brain for a reason. In fact, 80-90% of your serotonin (one of your happy hormones) is produced in the GI tract (Gastro-Intestinal).
When I refer to the GI tract, by this, I mean the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. The digestive system also includes the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
There has been an increase in recorded IBS cases worldwide, with an estimated global prevalence of 11.2% with only an estimated 30% of patients reporting cases. It’s estimated that 20-30% of the UK population suffers from this infliction.
So, disclaimer, I am not a doctor, always consult with a doctor first before an overly zealous personal trainer with good intentions and a big mouth, gives your health advice.
But arming yourself with the tools and knowledge to better optimize the digestive process, can go a long way into improving your health, GI Tract, life quality, and mental state.
So, the first question, What Is digestion?
“Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into energy and substrates of use by the body”
Second question, Where does digestion start?
I am guessing you said the mouth, right!
Well, my friend, it is the brain, or more specifically the nervous system.
Having a fundamental understanding of the nervous system is the key here, so strap in, this is going to get geeky.
If this is not your jam, just skip to the end where the rubber meets the road and I’ll give you some practical advice on how to improve your digestion.
Let me illuminate you, here is some basic physiology for you. The nervous system is broken down into the central and peripheral systems. The central (CNS) being your brain and vertebral column. And the peripheral (PNS) being all the nervous, synapse, and glands outside, from your finger to your toes. Think the CNS as the command center and PNS as soldiers relaying orders and carrying out commands.
The peripheral nervous system is further broken down into different branches, the Somatic, Autonomic, and Enteric.
The Somatic is the conscious part, moving, and sensation, I think, I move, I feel (I should write song lyrics)
The Autonomic is the “automatic” which is the unconscious control of your body, your heart pumping, organs movement, GI Tract movement. The autonomic is further broken down into the sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The Enteric is a subdivision of the autonomic inner nervous system, lining the GI Tract and sending signals of fullness and hunger to the brain. Again, your gut sends the signals to your brain, so control your gut, control your craving and hunger. This has some serious implications for fat loss and body composition, so if you’re a personal trainer reading this, hopefully, a light has gone on to how important this stuff is.
A better functioning gut will regulate hunger and cravings better and improve client adherence.
When your sympathetic nervous system is upregulated, epinephrine and norepinephrine (Stress hormones) affect every organ, there’s no getting away from it. The sympathetic, often called the fight or flight system, is an ancient evolutionary mechanism meant to get the body ready for a deadly Sabbath tooth tiger attack. So, when the sympathetic system is turned up, blood is taken away from your stomach, saliva is downregulated from your mouth. Your body is getting ready for moving blood and resources into your arms and legs so you can sock that tiger with the weird teeth in the nose. But in today’s society, getting that deadline to your boss in time or confronting the noisy guy in the library can upregulate the sympathetic nervous system.
The key takeaway is, your body responses to physical and emotional stress in the same, what you perceive as stress becomes your physical reality internally with your body and hormone system
Whether it is a fight outside a kebab shop on Saturday or arguing with your other half because she watched an episode of that box set you promised to watch together without you (!!! I’ll take chili sauce In my face any day). Your sympathetic system doesn’t know the difference and will only respond in one way. Releasing stress hormones.
Side note, Stress is not always bad, training is stress and we need stress to change and adapt physically.
We just need stress at the right times and right amounts.
The parasympathetic is the opposite side of the coin, it’s the dude, the hammock, its lazy Sunday petting a kitten while looking at a waterfall. When parasympathetic is upregulated, blood flow increases to the GI Tract, GI Tract mobility increases saliva enzyme secreted in the mouth.
The parasympathetic is the star of the show when it comes to healthy functional digestion.
The top priority when it comes to improving digestive health is control of your nervous system.
So the take-home is, when we eat, we want to be in a relaxed state. If you eat in rush, eat when stressed, this is the first thing that needs to be addressed if you’re having digestive issues.
Here are some practical tips
·Six Deep Breaths in/out before every meal (Deep breath upregulates the parasympathetic nervous system)
Schedule your meals like a meeting
Address global cases of stress. Work-life.
Drink 2-3 Liters of water a day
If you are a personal trainer, try educating your clients about mindful eating practices
With my own clients, if digestives issues are flagged in the initial consultation process, then mindful eating protocols are implemented.
Part 2: We will take on everyone’s favorite topic maceration and how chewing affects the GI Tract.