You can think of the stages of our digestion as a set of dominoes, each domino depending on the one before. If the previous step isn’t working right, the next step is going to be affected.
You may have heard about the important role our gut bacteria play in shaping our health and wellbeing. But our gut microbiome depends on the stages of our digestion that go before it. The previous step is the small intestine where we digest and absorb most of our food, but we can also get leaky gut, and SIBO in the small intestine and it can become inflamed. And in turn, the health of our small intestine depends on the health of the stomach and our levels of stomach acid, and the health of our stomach depends on the health and wellness of our mouth and our state of mind. We call this chain of dependencies the ‘Digestive Dominoes’
And so simple considerations, such as chewing our food well, and eating in a relaxed state, away from our desk, can improve the health of our whole gut and improve conditions such as digestive discomfort, reflux, food intolerances, and IBS. These are foundational first steps that everyone with gut issues should start with, before looking into a further course of action.
The Stages of the Digestive Dominoes
🥗🍲 When we see and smell an appealing food, or even just think about it, our gut starts to prepare itself for what is to come.
-> Taking a few deep breaths using 4-7-8- breathing before eating can help to shift our nervous system to a relaxed state, directing energy and blood flow towards digestion, and stimulating the release of stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
🥓🥑In the mouth, salivary juices are already being released. These juices begin digesting food in the mouth, particularly carbohydrates, and are anti-bacterial which helps prevent bacterial overgrowth further along the gut e.g. SIBO.
-> For optimal digestion we need to chew our food well. A useful image to keep in mind is that the food we swallow should not be recognisable as the original food after chewing.
🍉🍈Our anticipation of a good meal causes the release of stomach acid and pepsin in the stomach. These substances are needed to digest food, particularly proteins, further. This acidic environment is anti-bacterial and so reduces the risk of possible SIBO or bacterial overgrowth.
-> Apple cider vinegar and bitter foods before a meal can encourage the release of stomach acid
🍌🧀The food then travels from the stomach to the small intestine, which food is further digested and nutrients absorbed. Bile is released into the small intestine by the gall bladder. Bile is responsible for digesting fats and escorting toxins our of the body. The pancreas releases digestive enzymes to digest our food further. But food entering the small intestine needs to be acidic in order to trigger the release of these enzymes and bile. If you have low stomach acid, the food arriving in the small intestine may not be acidic enough to trigger the release of these enzymes and bile. This can result in food being inadequately digested, resulting in symptoms like bloating, loose stools, ibs and digestive discomfort.
-> The key here is to focus on the previous steps to ensure you absorb your food well, avoid leaky gut inflammation, and small bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Specific foods, such as apple cider vinegar, beetroot juice, turmeric, or a rocket salad, can be used to support the liver, gall bladder and bile flow.
🥙🌶️By the time the food reaches the colon, it should be almost completely digested. The health of the colon and the gut bacteria depend on all the previous stages. An imbalance in gut bacteria in the colon has been linked to chronic health conditions including skin rashes, joint pain, heart health, liver health, PCOS, and other hormonal issues as well as our mood and energy!
-> Eating a diverse range of unprocessed foods, containing pre and probiotics, polyphenols and fibre supports the gut microbiome.
If you’d like to learn more about the Digestive Dominoes, you may be interested in my 10-day self-paced online course. This is a very practical course where you learn what is going in your own gut through a series of tasks (self-experiments) you can do at home, and then learn what you can do about it.