ABSORPTION - HOW IT WORKS AND HOW TO IMPROVE IT
In order for our bodies to digest nutrients, food has to be broken down. You could have a ‘perfect’ diet (what is perfect anyway?) and eat an abundance of wholefoods, but at the end of the day – are you actually absorbing what you’re eating? No matter what we choose to pick up and eat, at the end of the day, it needs to end up in our cells in order to provide benefit.
So what happens when we eat? A combination of chewing, mixing, crushing and the action of digestive enzymes breaks down large food molecules into smaller ones, so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. We have a number of different enzymes which break down certain molecules all the way from our mouth to our intestine. Each enzyme is shaped specifically which means it can only break down specific molecules, e.g. lactase (enzyme) breaks down lactose (sugar found in milk).
Breakdown of digestion;
When we chew, it breaks food down into smaller particles. Enzymes in our saliva begin breaking down starches and fats. Muscles in the throat then push chewed food down into the stomach.
Mixing occurs in the stomach as it moves which churns food up and breaks it down further. Acid in gastric juices and enzymes released from glands in the stomach help breakdown proteins and fats, which turns them into amino acids and fatty acids.
The liver produces bile, and the gallbladder stores and concentrates it. The acidic liquid from the stomach is neutralised by bile (which is alkaline) before it passes through to the intestines. Bile also plays an important role in digesting fats.
DUODENUM/PANCREAS In the duodenum (the very first part of the small intestine), enzymes are released from the pancreas which help digest carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
The most digested liquid, which is full of simple sugars (from carbohydrates), amino acids (from protein), fatty acids (from fats), and undigested fibre pass along the small intestine, where the majority of nutrients and water are absorbed into the bloodstream. Finger-like protrusions called villi increase the surface area of the walls of the small intestine which helps increase absorption. Nutrients that are absorbed into the blood, pass a check in the liver, then travel to parts of the body where they are needed.
Faeces pass slowly through the large intestine, allowing bacteria to ferment indigestible fibre. Any final water and vitamins, including those produced by bacteria are absorbed and the remains are compacted as waste.
A few tips to improve absorption;
Chew! Your grandparents were right when they made you chew 30 times before swallowing
Eat mindfully - put the phone away, sit down and actually focus on what you’re eating
Don’t drink water while you’re eating a meal - drink between meals
Investigate any food intolerances or sensitivities - see a Naturopath ;)
Eat a wide variety of food
Don’t drink tea or coffee whilst eating - tannins can bind to minerals, reducing their absorption
Avoid over the counter medications such as proton pump inhibitors, as they actually weaken your digestion - if you’re experiencing heartburn, get to the root cause of the problem
Pain killers, if taken consistently affect the lining of the gut and can lead to poor absorption
If you’re someone who experiences alot of stress, take 3 deep breaths before each meal to shift you out of fight and flight mode
Reduce alcohol, as it damages the stomach and small intestine lining
reach for good quality cooking oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or even ghee
Symptoms of poor absorption;
Frequent diarrhoea, bad smelling wind/stool
Hair loss, weak nails, dry skin
Unexplained weight changes
Iron deficiency anemia; just to name a few
We may choose the best foods out there, but if we are not able to break them down or something interferes with absorption, then we wont reap the benefits.
If you’re someone who experiences any of these symptoms, or needs help with overall health, feel free to contact me over at www.jacquelinelovett.com.au
Written by Jacqueline Lovett (BHSc Naturopathy)
**This post is for educational purposes only. Always check in with your health practitioner before making any changes to your diet, or introduce any new supplements or herbal remedies. This is especially important if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have any other health conditions**