Here’s Today’s Tip… Digestion.
Many variables can affect our digestion as we get older.
Here are some of the main factors that can hamper digestion.
- Mindless eating. Believe it or not, the first step in digestion begins before we even put food in our mouths. The sight, smell, and even the simple thought of food initiate what’s referred to as the cephalic phase of digestion, which signals the release of stomach acid and certain digestive enzymes.
- Insufficient chewing. The mechanical digestion process begins in the mouth when the food you eat is exposed to your saliva, which contains enzymes that break down carbohydrates (salivary amylase) and fats (lingual lipase). Chewing, which is also part of the cephalic phase, triggers the rest of the digestive process, helps the digestive tract muscles work properly, and signals the pancreas to release digestive enzymes.
- Digestive enzyme production. As we get older, digestive enzyme production naturally declines. This is tremendously important because these enzymes are crucial for breaking down the food we eat. As a result, digestion becomes less efficient, and digestive distress ensues.
- Stomach acid production. Despite what you may have been told, many digestive-related issues (e.g., heartburn) may actually signal inadequate stomach acid production. I know that’s a shocker, but the truth is that the body secretes gastric acid (stomach acid) to help digest proteins and as a defense mechanism against “bad” microbes. With age, stomach acid production declines. On top of that, many people take acid blockers/reducers, which only compound the problems.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Numerous vitamins and minerals are essential to ensure the digestive system is working optimally. For instance, several B vitamins (Thiamine, Niacin, B6, Biotin, and B12) play important roles in digestion. What’s more, magnesium is a co-factor in over 300 enzymatic reactions, and it can improve gastric motility and enhance laxation. Meanwhile, manganese and copper are essential for the proper breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
- Gut dysbiosis. The responsibilities of healthy gut microbiota (the vast community of microbes that inhabit the digestive tract) are multi-faceted and far-reaching. Of course, among the chief functions are digestion and absorption. Along those lines, in a state of “dysbiosis,” when the “good” microbes are unsuccessful at controlling the “bad” ones, gut- and digestive-related issues almost invariably ensue. However, it’s important to note that gut microbes (e.g., probiotics) play a much more limited role in digestion than enzymes. They are primarily responsible for breaking down some of the food we can’t digest (e.g., fibers).
- Stress. Stress can do a doozy on digestion, which probably isn’t too surprising given its seemingly limitless reach on all aspects of health. For starters, stress activates the “fight or flight” branch of the nervous system, which can directly inhibit the body’s ability to “rest and digest.” What’s more, we now know that chronic stress can compromise the gut microbiota, contributing to dysbiosis and intestinal permeability. Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed, hurried, or eating on the run, digestive-related issues (e.g., discomfort, heartburn, constipation) seem to stockpile?