The body uses nutrients from food for energy, growth, and cell repair, hence, you want to optimize your nutrient absorption. However, nutrient absorption can vary tremendously, depending on many factors. So how do you know if you have poor digestion or malabsorption? If you have a number of the symptoms listed below, you may have a digestion or nutrient absorption problem.
- Belching and/or flatulence
- Feeling full hours after a meal
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Gallbladder disease
- Food allergies
- Weak, cracked finger nails
- Iron deficiency
- B12 deficiency
- Skin problems, such as acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and rosacea
Digestion involves the disassembly of the food you eat, its movement through the digestive tract, and the chemical breakdown of the large molecules of food into smaller molecules. Digestion begins in the mouth when we chew and swallow, and ends in the small intestine.
One of the most important factors in nutrient absorption is digestive enzymes, which break the chemical bonds in proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and turn these compounds into microscopic substances that can be used at the cellular level. Without these enzymes, nutrients will never reach the cells that need them and they will merely get passed out of the body.
Chewing is stage one of proper digestion
Digestion starts in the mouth with saliva and the digestive enzyme amylase which breaks down starches into simple sugars. Coupled with the chewing action, the food is predigested into smaller pieces and a semi-liquid form, making it easier to digest when it reaches the stomach.
- Most people do not chew their food thoroughly. When large particles of improperly chewed food enter the stomach, it may remain undigested when it enters the small intestine. There, bacteria will begin to break it down, potentially leading to gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping, and other digestive problems.
Stomach acid is key to stage two of good digestion
The food moves from the mouth down the esophagus, through a one-way valve called the esophageal sphincter into the stomach. When it gets there, it is the stomach’s job to temporarily hold the food, churn and mix it, and begin to break it down. Depending on the contents of the meal, this process takes between 40 minutes to a few hours.
Glands in the stomach lining produce gastric juice which contains stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCL) and the enzyme pepsin that digests protein. Stomach acid, being extremely acidic, sterilizes the food and destroys pathogenic bacteria and parasites, as well as their eggs and larvae.
- Aging, stress, poor diet and lifestyle habits all contribute to a decline in stomach acid production.
- Not having enough stomach acid may allow bacteria and parasites to survive and proliferate. About two-thirds of the world’s population have a type of bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) that live in their digestive tract. After a number of years, H. pylori may cause ulcers in the lining of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine.
- Low stomach acid gives rise to low pepsin production, which means you cannot digest protein properly. As a result, the food stagnates and ferments, setting you up for digestive problems.
- In most cases of heartburn and acid reflux, it is the result of too little stomach acid, not too much. When the stomach is not acidic enough despite it being full of food, the esophageal sphincter may fail to stay completely closed, leading to heartburn and acid reflux.